Monday, June 18, 2012

Houdini Toddler

There’s a cold dark place you go when you can’t find your child.  I went there once. This isn’t the run of the mill can’t pick out your kid’s head bobbing in the pool, can’t sift through all the hooded toddlers at the park, just focused on a sale rack for a second and now you’re on your hands and knees at Nordstrom.  This is an all hands on deck, EVERYBODY is looking and minutes are ticking by and your toddler is GONE.  This is when someone gently leads you to a room so you can scream while they hold you.
I stepped into the Toddler Room to pick up my two year old son and in the scramble for lunch boxes and hanging up of jackets I couldn’t see where he might be.  The afternoon kids were settling in for lunch and the hip-height chaos was all around me.  A few seconds passed before I could move into the room and peek around the corner to the area where I usually found him painting. Not there. His teacher saw my questioning look and helped me look.  She opened the door to the outside play area, asking several parents and teachers if they had seen him.
In seconds the entire school was in lock down mode with all able bodies calling his name and looking in the garden, upper school, kitchen, parking lot, office.  This is when it became cold and dark, and I was led by the elbow into an office.  I remember screaming for someone to call 911.
Parents and teachers had begun looking in the creek that runs behind the school and were fanning out into the neighborhood, when a local resident came out of her house and asked if we were looking for the little boy she had in her arms.  He had slipped out the gate in the back of the school and disappeared up a flight of stairs leading to the Homestead Valley Community Center.  Like Popeye’s Sweetpea, skirting disaster at every turn, he had gone past the pool, through a parking lot with a blind driveway, along Montford, a typical Mill Valley neighborhood street with no sidewalk or shoulder, across Montford and up this neighbor’s steep driveway. The fact that he wasn’t run down by an SUV was a miracle in itself.
Ten years have passed since that day, and the two preschool teachers have since retired and moved away. I send them both a Christmas card each year and get one in return.  I know they went to their own cold dark place that day.

2007   originally published in the Marin Independent Journal, edited version
Mary Allison Tierney's essay The Gingerdreadman is included in the anthology Mamas Write, available at Amazon, or your local independent bookshop.

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