Most anyone who has been the parent of a small child has experienced this: You are out in public, and you make the mistake of taking your eyes off your child for three-tenths of a second, only to look back and see that your child is nowhere to be seen, at which point your brain says, “Well, I guess this is how you become a made-for-TV movie, so pretty much time to panic.”
It happened to me years ago when my son was about five. I was at the Children’s Museum in Atlanta, and my son pretty much vanished before my eyes. As in any children’s museum, there are eight bajillion places a kid can be, so I didn’t immediately go to panic mode. Of course, I did have one of his grandparents with me, so that certainly put a sense of urgency to locate said grandchild.
Parker had climbed under a table and we found him rather quickly, and thus we were not forced to go to Defcon Level Grandparent.
My kids are older now, and I don’t really need to worry about them wandering off or disappearing. In fact, if I’m at a store with them these days, I’ll often remind them that they are free to go and shop at any other place in the store I am not.
But the other day, I had a flashback to that sense of panic. I was checking out at the grocery store when a woman walked in with a small child, probably two or so. She was old enough to walk fine, but she was still at that age where you know that if you introduce a slight incline, her walk will gradually develop into a run which will without a doubt develop into a roll. Fun fact: Most dads find that roll hilarious when done harmlessly on grass, but never share that with moms.
Fortunately, no incline in the grocery store. But there were cookies. The grocery store keeps a little bin of sugar cookies right by the customer service desk, and clearly the little girl knew there were cookies.
As they entered from the other side of the door, the mother stopped and peered into a shopping cart. It was one of those carts that had a whole bunch of items marked down. As she stopped to consider whether she should get the candy canes for 80 percent off, Cookie Monster took off. She sped up, toddling and wobbling across the grocery store.
The mother looked through the cart for about three seconds, tops. She then looked down to her right. And then to her left. Nothing but grocery store floor. She looked left. Then she looked right, in my direction. I saw the look. Panic. Sheer, abject panic. Her worst fears were coming true. Her baby was … and then she saw me pointing at her daughter. Then she saw the woman in the aisle next to mine pointing. And the older gentleman at customer service. And the grandmother who was blocking the other exit doors with her cart. Don’t worry, mom. The village is here.
The mom nodded a rather embarrassing smile and began a hurried walk/run/shuffle combo over to little Ashley, who now had her cookie. Fortunately, we are not a judgmental village. The grandmother walked past and told the mother what a pretty young girl Ashley was.
The mother smiled and said thank you, taking her daughter’s hand (the one that was cookie-free). The walk back to her starting point was no doubt one of those chats we have all had. “Ashley! You CANNOT walk away from me! You need to stay with Mommy!” And let’s be honest — those conversations are way more for the parent than the child, as more than likely, what Ashley was hearing was, “Eat the cookie” on loop.
So in the end, it was that scary moment for a parent at the time that all of us old seasoned vets knew was no big deal at all. It was just cookie time.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike. Visit his blog at www.mikeslike.us.