Monday, October 02, 2006

Amazing grace

Okay. Let me see if I can get through this.

Trey frequently employs the phrase "comedy is tragedy plus time." Twelve hours later, nothing about this seems comedic to me, but I'm beyond grateful that it wasn't tragic.

Last Monday, after taking Carter to school, I took Spencer and Katie to the Arboretum on a whim. Great timing: it was the first day of the autumn festival, and Mommy & Me Monday to boot. I talked it up to a neighbor mommy, and we agreed to go together, along with another neighbor and her toddler. Not long after we'd made our plans, I remembered that Carter's school is closed for the first part of this week; I had more than a moment's pause about handling three kiddos by myself, but my neighbors volunteered extra eyes and hands if needed.

So, I got the kids up and ready this morning (always a challenge) and met Kirsten and Barbara and their two boys in the Arboretum parking lot. After several minutes of digging through the car to find three sets of matching shoes while everyone waited patiently for me, I finally pulled myself together and we strolled through the gates en masse.

The lot of us picked out a nice spot in the vast pecan grove to park our strollers, and then let the kids loose. First we frolicked in the pumpkin patch, then we tackled the hay bale maze and finally we visited the barnyard, where goats, fluffy chickens, a sheep and a bunny submitted themselves to the curious poking, prodding and petting of dozens of wee ones.

After generous globs of hand sanitizer had been applied, we spread out a few blankets and broke out lunch. More of it was worn than eaten, but I was still pleasantly surprised at how leisurely the morning was going and how cooperative the muppers were being. Sure, Spencer went wandering every now and then, as he's wont to do, but Carter and Katie seemed content to stay put, which made it much easier for me to go chasing after their brother when he strayed too far. More often than not, they tend to go running in seventeen different directions at once and my head spins like a top while I decide which one to pursue first.

Just past noon, all five kids started to get restless, so Kirsten and Barbara began to consolidate smushed-beyond-recognition sandwiches destined for the trash bin, and we all started to prep for a smooth departure, with high hopes that long and happy naps lay just over the horizon.

Standard first step before leaving anywhere: sippy-cup check. Carter and Katie were still ensconced on the blanket with their drinks, but Spence was crouched in front of a nearby bush, furtively draining Kirsten's son's sippy cup. I retrieved it, returned it with apologies, started to gather my trio's belongings and glanced back over my shoulder at the bush. No Spencer. Hmmm.

"Where's Spencer?" I asked Kirsten and Barbara. Nine times out of ten, when I ask this question, someone has to gently point out that my child is standing right under my nose. Duh. But this time, three mommy heads swiveled, and then swiveled again.

Okay, I thought, he must have toddled beyond the bush. Relieved that Carter and Katie were under four watchful eyes, I strode toward the bush and peered underneath, then through it. No Spencer. Just beyond that patch was the horse and carriage we'd all watched trot by earlier. Of course! I walked just close enough to see that my son's curly blond head wasn't among the group of kids gathered 'round.

Instantly, my heart started to beat faster, as it is right this minute at the memory of it. "Spencer!" I called out, walking briskly to the next patch of trees and bushes. "Spencer!" I looked back over to the grove and saw Barbara, nearly nine months pregnant, walking around, looking high and low.

From where I stood, I could survey much of the grove and the walkway leading to the great lawn, but no sign of Spencer. I felt queasy. I jogged toward the entrance and saw a couple walking my way. "Have you seen a little boy with curly blond hair?" I asked, out of breath. Nope, sorry, they said. Behind me, Barbara was still searching the area where Spencer had just been, just one instant ago. Oh, God, I thought. Is this happening?

I spied an Arboretum employee in a cart and ran toward him. "Help!" I yelled. "Help! I've lost my son!" The words sounded absurd to me, but he said, "Get in," and started to drive as I babbled, as coherently as possible, about Spencer's description. Immediately, he picked up his walkie-talkie and relayed the details as he drove toward the grove.

No, not the grove, I thought, I've already looked there! He doesn't understand how important this is! I leapt from the cart and sprinted toward a sunken, shady spot between the grove and the great lawn. A man was sitting on a bench. "Have you seen a little boy? Blond, curly hair?" I panted. In broken English, he said he'd seen a boy walk through about 30 minutes ago. Although the seconds were dragging by in a weird time warp, I knew it wasn't possible that a half-hour had passed. Still, I followed the direction of his pointing finger, toward nothing.

On cue, the cart circled back around and I hopped on as we headed to the great lawn. There's no way he could have come this far so quickly, I was thinking, but then... there! A little boy with wild blond curls in a pale blue shirt! My heart caught in my throat just as I realized that that boy was wearing khaki shorts, not Spencer's navy ones.

I was repeating his description again, unsolicited, to the driver when I heard his walkie-talkie crackle, "We've found him." My mouth went dry and I began to exhale when, unbelievably, another message came through, "No, it's the wrong child." In the background, I could hear Kirsten describing Spencer's clothes, his hair, his age, his size.

My mind whirled with every possible worst-case scenario: they don't bear repeating (and I couldn't bear giving voice to them), but they're the scenarios that all mothers read about, hear about and hope never materialize for them or anyone they might ever know.

For one second, I didn't move; I just sat on the vinyl cushion of that cart with my hands clenched in fists by my side. But in my head, I hit my knees harder than I ever have in my entire life, and I prayed. I don't know exactly what I said to God, but I begged Him to return Spencer to me and made sure He knew how important this litle boy is to our family.

Fueled by adrenaline, I jumped from the moving cart again and began running, now barefoot, toward the barnyard area. I called Spencer's name over and over, shouted his description to anyone in sight as I ran back to the strollers. Carter came running up to me with a worried face and asked me to hold him. "I think Spencer's at the maze," he said, so I scooped him up and dashed toward the maze with him in my arms. No Spencer.

Kirsten came over with an authoritative-looking, impressively calm Arboretum employee who told me with quiet conviction that everyone was looking for my son and that he would be found. I thanked her, I think, and I must have returned Carter to Kirsten, because soon I was running again, this time along the perimeter of the gate.

Again, the cart came around to retrieve me. I wasn't crying, but I was barely controlling my hysteria and I was sure that I looked every bit as crazy as I felt. I could sense everyone around me asking that awful, terrible question that begins, "What kind of mother... ?" I started to think of Trey and then had to push his face out of my mind or I knew I'd collapse in a useless heap on the ground.

Voices came over the walkie-talkie, repeating the same information as I looked and looked and looked... and then, after an eternity, one voice said, "We've found the lost child. He's reunited with his mother. Everyone can return to their normal channels." Suddenly, we were back in the grove... and there, oh thank God, thank God, THANK YOU GOD, was Spencer in Kirsten's arms, looking perfectly blase.

I staggered toward Kirsten and she put him in my arms and I smelled him and held him and, finally, allowed myself to burst into tears. Poor sweet Carter came over and asked to give Spencer a hug. The world spun like a top around me. I could see other mothers in the grove hold their hands up to their faces and then pull their own children closer to them.

The kind Arboretum woman walked over to me and smiled, pulled out a tissue, and said with a comforting little laugh, "We never lose one. An occasional mother, maybe." In fact, Kirsten told me, it had been another mother who had carried Spencer... once lost, now found... across the grove until she'd located the ones who were looking for him. Somehow, he had wandered in the direct opposite direction of that bush, toward the frog fountains.

I couldn't and still can't imagine how he maneuvered away from us in, literally, the blink of an eye. More than ten minutes had passed since that blink.

I'm not exactly sure what lesson I'm to take from this, but it must have something to do with gratitude, faith, perspective and that heady mix of earth-shattering love and mind-numbing anxiety that courses through our veins the second we are literally, inexplicably, irreversibly transformed from ordinary woman into MOTHER. Life can never be the same once you see that sweet, trusting face that needs everything you have to give and more than you could possibly imagine.

My heart is still pounding, my knees are still wobbling and I know I'm not making any sense. But here it all is, for the remembering and the retelling, when he's old enough to properly embarrass. God willing.


Blogger Sugar Photography said...

Oh Amy...excuse me while I have a little sniffle.

How horrible. But thank God he was found.

Do I even need to ask if you guys will be staying home today? ;)


6:17 AM  
Blogger Franklin5 said...

Jen, you know me too well. ;)

Yeah, it might be another day or two till we leave the house again. MUCH, much longer till Kirsten and Barbara agree to go anywhere with us without a security team present.

Oh, and I forgot the post script to this: when my legs finally quit shaking and I felt okay to drive, we made our way out to the parking lot... where Carter had (poor little man) an attack of diarrhea.

Never a dull moment.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Ellie said...

Now that I have quit crying and shaking, I can say that you have gone through a horrible experience. Thank heavens it all turned out OK and you are probably the one most scared. Spencer will never know that he scared you to death. AT least he will probably never remember it. I am sure you will remind him daily for the next 18 years. Love, Ellie

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Lainie said...

Oh goodness, surely that shaved a good 5 years off your life.

I can't even let myself completely absorb what I've just read or I'm afraid I'll completely lose it. I can barely look at sweet Spencer's picture. I'm so glad you are all safe and sound!

Extra hugs and kisses for everybody.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

Oh, Amy, this is harrowing reading, even knowing that all the bunnies are accounted for and well.

I am so grateful to everyone who was there at the Arboretum yesterday and who helped in any way to find Spencer.

Love, love...

8:01 PM  

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