We lost Sam at the Magic Kingdom. It lasted all of five minutes, but it was a frantic five minutes, I can assure you. Anybody with small children knows how fast they can vanish. I remember in my teens watching a dear friend’s toddler at the county fair for a few minutes. I was holding Tessa’s hand one second, and then the next, she was gone. Like that. And even though I found her barely half a minute later, she was already yards away from me, investigating the elephant ear stand. It scared me then, and she wasn’t even my personal baby.
Sam’s a runner, and he’s scared us before. Two years ago after dark on the Fourth of July, he pulled a disappearing act on Scott. My niece Kaylee was with us, and I was with her on the lawn getting ready for the fireworks to start. Scott was over at a water slide with Caroline and Sam. He reached over to do something for Caroline, and turned around to no Sam. It was the longest several minutes of his life before a security guy appeared from behind the ride with Sam cuddled up in his arms. He’d gone over to see if there was a train on the tracks. This knowledge did not soothe Scott’s soul when he had the child back. The whole thing was over and done before I had a whiff of it.
But I’m well familiar with the experience of chasing Sam from an impossible distance while he dashes ahead at an outrageous pace. Not this past Christmas, but the one before, Scott and I left our friend Dennis (the same Dennis who was at Disney with us) with his older son, Caroline, and Sam at the top of the slide at the Indianapolis children’s museum. I don’t remember why Scott and I both had to go off, but I do remember that we were pretty sure it wouldn’t go well. And, yes, as we walked away, we both looked back to see Dennis making a mad dash down the sloping ramp that runs up the museum’s center. His son and Caroline were both standing quietly in line, so we knew he was chasing Sam. He had the situation under control by the time we were reunited, but he said, “that kid runs fast” .
I’ve misplaced Sam before myself, but always in semi-safe circumstances, where I know with a reasonable degree of confidence that we’ll find him eventually, doing his own thing, very surprised to have been labeled “lost”. He’s also lost track of me, a couple of times, most notably at Caroline’s school’s Spring Fling this year. I had left him eating and wandered too close to the stage to get pictures of the kids performing. He forgot where I was (very nearby) and set out in search of me, finding instead Caroline’s principal, who knows him well and returned him to me smiling.
But Disney was a little more scary, both for him, and for us.
We were eating in the Tomorrowland café, a locale that has bad associations for our little group. The last time we were there with Dennis and Kristi, their younger son had a pull-up crisis and Kristi wound up with the unpleasant end of a short stick. This time, Sam ordered me to go back for more ketchup at the same time that Scott was making a return trip for straws. Kristi was at the table, and we both told him to stay put, but he took off after us anyway. Kristi turned around and saw him close on our heels and thought we knew he was back there.
We didn’t, and somewhere between the table and snack bar, we got separated. I returned, saw his empty seat, and knew at once what he’d done. Kristi felt terrible, but it wasn’t her fault. I’ve told him to stay put too much lately only to have him ignore me. I should have known what he’d do when both his parents walked away.
Scott and I set back off the way we had come, shouting his name. He didn’t bounce out from behind any chairs, laughing that he’d ‘twicked’ us. He didn’t crawl out from under some table declaring “I was wooking foh Awiel undew da sea.” And he didn’t come sneaking out from behind the snack bar shouting, “I WIN AT HIDE AND SEEK”.
He was lost, really gone, and I was headed fast into a panic. I seized the arm of a white shirted employee. “I’m missing my little boy,” I told him. “He’s barely forty inches, with blond hair, blue eyes, and…” suddenly, I couldn’t remember what Sam was wearing. I could have told the employee about a freckle just under Sam’s bellybutton, but the scenarios in which that identifying characteristic would be useful were too scary to let in right then, and I just went quiet.
He hailed another employee, this one with a radio. The all-call went out, and within moments, three staffers led Sam to me together. He’d been caught trying to exit the building, insisting his Mama was out there. “I was wooking and wooking for you!” he lamented to me. He’d been scared, too, a detail I found somewhat comforting as I picked him up and held him close.
I did not cry, though I wanted to. Instead, I told him, “Daddy and I were looking and looking for you, too, baby. And now we’ve found you. Let’s go finish our lunch.”
We sat down and ate, giving all four adults a few minutes to recover from the panic. I know I kept an even closer eye on him after that. I wish I could say the experience had the same impact on him, but the fact of the matter is that he is still only four, and he’d forgotten the trauma long before we had. By later that night, he was running merrily ahead of us trying to catch up to complete strangers, fearless again as if he’d never been lost at all.