It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
We had nothing scheduled for the evening. I was planning to make port-braised short ribs for dinner, a nice slow cooking dish that would fill the house with that amazing smell of simmering meat.
And a storm was coming.
“Let’s swing by the store on the way home and grab some firewood. We can read in front of the fire while dinner cooks,” I told Parker when I picked him up after school.
He was into it. So we headed to a nearby home supply store. As soon as we got into the massive store, Parker spied the racks of coloring books they keep near the magazines. “Can I look at those while you get the wood?”
I’ve been experimenting with giving Parker a bit more freedom in stores. Like letting him unload the shopping cart at the grocer while I grab a forgotten item. Or letting him look at the toys while I shop in a nearby aisle.
It has been liberating for both of us. And I trust him because he’s never been bad about wandering off. Plus, he knows the basic rules (I quiz him on them regularly — don’t go with strangers, yell and run if somebody tries to touch or grab you, etc.).
Turns out I forgot to tell him one of the most basic rules.
I left him with the coloring books, then I headed a few aisles away to get the wood. I was gone no more than 3 minutes. But by the time I got back, he was gone.
And it took about 30 seconds of increasingly frantic searching before full panic set in. He wasn’t anywhere I could see. And by the time I reached the customer service desk to ask for help, I suspect I sounded like a babbling idiot struggling even to give a basic description of Parker.
To make matters worse, the workers at the store seemed rather bothered and inconvenienced by my panic (I won’t embarras the store here, but the HQ will be getting a letter). Suffice to say, if a frantic parent asks that his child be paged on the intercom, you do it. You don’t finish cashing out other customers.
Because I know the stats. When a child disappears, every second counts.
Searches of bathrooms and every aisle followed. Nothing.
Finally, and with the nonchalance only an 8-year-old boy oblivious to the panic he has caused can muster, Parker wandered from around a corner.
When I was done hugging and kissing the life out of him, I finally got the story. He didn’t see any coloring books he liked, and when he couldn’t fine me, he decided to check out the Christmas decorations on the far side of the store.
Perhaps if my brain hadn’t been paralyzed by panic, I’d have thought of that sooner. But there you go.
So now we have a new rule, which anyone who hikes will be familiar with. If you get lost or can’t find me, stay put. I’ll find you. But I can only find you if you stay in one place.
So learn from my near heart attack and additional grey hairs — talk to your child today and do a refresher on the rules. Parker was “missing” for all of about 10 minutes. But I know I aged 10 years in those minutes.
The rest of the evening really did go as planned (though I may have consumed a bit more wine than I’d originally planned). I made the port-braised short ribs and we sat by the fire.