"Stay right there."
The words echoed inside my head as I pulled away to grab a parking spot that had just become free.
My son refused to get in the car until we resolved the issue of his proposed play date. I was illegally parked near his school and the aggressive parking enforcement officer was pulling up behind me, dreams of meeting quotas dancing inside her head. There were throngs of familiar faces picking up their children and a crossing guard nearby.
"Stay right there. Don't move," I said. He pranced with anticipation, his green trucker's hat hanging too low on his forehead because it was the only size left at the store. "I'll be right back."
I parked my car about 100 feet away. As my feet touched the street, I looked over to the corner where I'd left him. I saw the crossing guard. I saw crowds of parents with their children. I saw no green trucker's hat.
I came to that spot and stood. Part of me hoping he would magically reappear to the scene of the crime, part of me hoping I could see him before he got too far.
No green hat.
I crossed the street to the school's front steps where the crowd dwindled. I could hear a few parents chatting with their children about lunch, recess, and plans for ice cream. I moved a few steps forward, a few to the right, left, back; forming fractured circles around the school's marquis.
I began to panic. The way a mom panics when she momentarily loses sight of her child in the supermarket. My heart accelerated while my brain instructed me to calm down. "He'll show up," my intellectual voice said. "He always does."
Right. He's fine, I thought. He was here just a minute ago, couldn't have gone too far. I looked around reassuring myself he'd appear any minute. Nothing. I turned on myself. How could I have been so stupid? I should have forced him into the car. Damn it. Shit. Why do I listen to him? Everyone is looking at me. Shit. I know I'm freaking out. I don't know what to do.
I stood in front of the school sign, feet planted, head turning in all directions. My body paralyzed while my heart and brain battled for power. The longer I stood the less I heeded my brain. I could no longer hear it's voice at all. There were so many noises in my head I heard nothing. I was lost. I didn't know what to do next so I repeated my motions; looking at the corner where I'd left him, the crossing guard, the streets surrounding the school. I was impotent.
A good friend pulled up to the curb unaware of my situation, "Hey," she said, "does J want to have a play date with B?"
"No," I answered. "He took off. I can't find him." I paced back and forth from the car to the marquis like a frantic lab rat. "I'm freaking out."
The look on her face changed to concern justifying my fear and making me panic more. She started to pull over when I heard, "Mom!"
I turned. There was my son, green trucker hat hanging low, strutting toward me from down a side street. "Mom," he repeated, "hurry up, you need to talk to K's mom."
To him these last few minutes were the same as any other, mom not being where he wanted her when he wanted her.
"J," I screamed. "Where have you been?" I grabbed his arm and held it tight. "When I say stay right there, I mean it."
"Okay. Sorry. Jeez," he said trying to get his arm back. "I was at K's car over there. Come on, his mom is waiting."
"Wait a minute," I ordered continuing to grip his arm. "Do you understand what I said? If I say stay, that means stay. This is a safety rule. Do you get it?"
J looked around. People were staring. He was embarrassed. I became embarrassed. "I got scared," I softened.
He ended up going to his friend's house for the play date. I carried on with my day picking up my daughter from school. For hours I felt the after-effects of the fright. I had to tell myself to breathe, intentional, full breaths. It was difficult to concentrate on the traffic and on my daughter's recounting of her day. I had less patience for temper tantrums, rebuttals, or conversation of any sort. I needed my focus on me.
The incident worked out fine. But somehow one more near miss awakened me to the fact that one day it might not. I'm sure time will lull me to sleep as it always does but for today I will be as aggressive as that parking enforcement officer and trail his every move.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
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