One day recently, Rafael was explaining to me how he lost the small "UglyDoll" I had bought for him at the toy store a few days earlier. "One minute I was holding it, and then, whoosh! It was gone!" he complained.
I told him, I sure knew that feeling! I guess it goes with the ADHD territory. You let your attention wander for one second, and suddenly you've lost something! (Remember my infamous money clip?)
So. Yesterday I actually lost Rafael!
I took them to the mall (which just happens to be the biggest mall in the state of Illinois, and one of the biggest malls in the USA!) for a kids club event they were having there. The event involved a woman playing a guitar and singing silly songs while the children danced. Most of the kids there were preschoolers, but Little Bear and Rafael had the day off of school, so they were among the oldest of the audience members. Little Bear obediently took Pufferfish by the hand and went to join the other kids while I signed us into the club and got our gift bags, but Rafael hung back. He was either too cool for this type of thing, or too shy to go dance and have fun with Little Bear and Pufferfish.
"You can sit down over there on the steps if you want," I said, offering Rafael a way to watch the musician without having to sit on the floor with all of the other kids.
I got my camera out of my jacket, and snapped a picture of Little Bear and Pufferfish dancing. Although now they weren't really dancing... Little Bear had realized she was the oldest one there, and was starting to put on a sulky face, while Pufferfish was realizing that I wasn't right next to her, and was looking around for me.
I snapped the picture just as Little Bear spotted me. She grabbed Pufferfish and came marching towards me, whining, "Pufferfish wants you!"
"Pufferfish, I'm right here! I can't go in front with the kids, because I'm a grown up and I'm too tall," I told the clinging Pufferfish. "Go dance with your sister and make it fun for her," I implored the pouting Little Bear.
"But where's Rafael?" asked Little Bear.
"He's right... uh..." Okay, where was Rafael? I scanned the crowds frantically, but I didn't see him. "Hmmm, I dunno. Can you just take the baby and dance with her while I look?" I asked.
I walked around the room over and over, searching for Rafael with one eye while keeping another eye on the girls. I couldn't find him. I darted over to the play area a few yards away, and looked for him among the slides and tunnels. No Rafael.
I tried to stay calm. I had lost children before. I had never lost one of these children before, but I had once lost an eleven-year-old boy with Bipolar Disorder and developmental delays who I was caring for. That had been at a smaller mall, and it was a little different because the boy had gotten angry with me and actually ran away, jumping onto an elevator before I could stop him. That time, I had hurried into a cell phone store and asked them to call security. The security guards had fanned out across the mall, and broadcast descriptions of the boy to all mall employees, and within minutes my frustrated little dude had been found talking to a janitor. I was sure, in a mall this huge, the security guards would have an expert way of finding a little kid quickly.
So I went and grabbed the girls, and went to the near by customer service desk to ask them to call security. After a while a sleepy security guard joined us, and "helped" by walking around and around the play area with us, half-heartedly looking for Rafael.
If you've ever lost a kid for even a few minutes in a store, you know the feeling. Your heart stops, and your brain flies ahead of you, imagining every possible scenario that could be happening. He had been right there with me one minute, and then, whoosh, he was gone! How could he have just disappeared? He was not a toddler... it would have been hard for someone to have grabbed him and ran off, without being noticed. And he knew better than to go willingly with a stranger... didn't he? I had talked to the kids about that. He would remember that, right? Right? Where was he? I was carrying Pufferfish in one arm now, holding Little Bear's hand in the other, afraid to let either one of them out of my sight now that the world was such an uncertain place.
"He's seven years old! He's old enough to know not to wander off," I kept saying. "I just don't think he would have gone off without us!"
Finally I thought to ask one of the people running the children's event, "Have you seen that little boy who was with me when I signed in?"
The ladies hadn't seen him, but they quickly started walking around and helping me look for him.
Within minutes, one of the ladies came over to me, a grinning Rafael in tow.
And then it was over, just as quickly as it had started. Rafael was safe! We were all laughing! I wanted to hug him and shake him all at once! "Rafael, where were you?" I demanded.
"I was sitting right over there by the wall," he told me. He showed me where he'd been sitting, on the floor against the wall, behind a group of parents with strollers. "I wasn't lost! I could see you!"
"If you could see me looking for you, why didn't you come get me?" I pointed out.
Rafael shrugged. "I didn't know you were looking for me. I just thought, `Who is Nicki looking for?`"
Ugh, of course!
Here is a picture I snapped of Rafael afterwards, showing me where he'd been sitting against a wall, blocked from my view.
And here are a few pics of Pufferfish, who finally managed to go and dance and have fun!
When the kids were younger, and when Tigerlily used to come with us places, I would write my cellphone number on strips of bright blue painter's tape and stick it to their backs. I haven't done that in a long time, because these days its usually just me and Pufferfish out in the world. and its a lot easier to keep track of one kid than four... and because I thought Little Bear and Rafael were too big to need my phone number on their backs! But I've threatened to go back to doing that... and it may be a good idea!