Harper at the Children’s Museum. (Photo somehow in LlGC ~ NLW’s Flickr photostream)
Who remembers the “It Happened to Me” column from Sassy magazine? I always wanted to contribute, but sadly, nothing ever happened to me. No abusive boyfriends, no messily divorced parents, no getting sold into slavery, UGH.
Once you’re a parent, however, there are many more opportunities for terrifying and dramatic things to happen, and/or for small things to suddenly become terrifying and dramatic.
Here’s one thing that happened. It was a few months ago, and I think my heart JUST now stopped racing from it.
Harper got lost.
At the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
For, like, five minutes.
It was just how you think something like that will happen. I was bent over putting Ollie’s shoes on, and a noisy Catholic school group of older kids swept by like a flock of geese in plaid, and when they were gone, so was Harper. My friend who I was there with and I looked at each other, looked around. “Harper?” I peeked around the corner.The looking-at-bugs-with-magnifying-glasses section? Nope. The pretend-pizza-shop? Nope. Huh.
My urge to be a calm, collected, non-freaking-out mother has me constantly quieting my brain’s urge to panic, so I stuffed Ollie into the carrier and started fast-walking around in a sort of hectic fake-calm, calling Harper’s name, looking around, garbling incomprehensible things at bystanders: “Did you see my? Dress and braids? Harper?” After a minute, my friend and I exchanged a look, and I commenced internal freakout. I just KNEW she’d been SNATCHED BY AN EVIL CHILD-SNATCHER who would obviously pay admission to get into the Brooklyn Children’s Museum just to CAPTURE INNOCENT BABIES.
I raced to the admissions desk by the front door, and sputtered: “Child! Missing! Girl! Mine! Blond!” A young man nodded and said, “Ma’am, it’s all right, it’s only that you’ve endangered your child by blogging about how adorable she is, you fool, don’t you know that only creepos read the internet?” “Excuse me?” I said. He repeated himself: “You stay here. We will find her. This happens all the time. Don’t worry.” Then he said into his walkie-talkie, “Code 3″ (or something.) For some reason it was very reassuring to me that they had a code for this. Oh, so it’s just a thing that happens so often they can’t even be bothered to say it! That’s good!
I stood at the desk mournfully watching the door and the busy street beyond it for an excruciating 20 seconds or so. Then another employee called out, “Found her!”
And there she was: happily driving the city bus, a few feet away. “Hi Mama!” she chirped. I threw myself on her, squeezing her with crushing freakout-love, causing her to wiggle away and look at me like I was crazy. A nearby nanny I know from around the neighborhood told me she’d recognized Harper and told her to stay put until her mommy found her. I fought an urge to smother the nanny with hugs and kisses too.
Turns out, Harper was completely unaware that I considered her lost. “But I knew where you were,” she explained. “YES BUT I NEED TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE TOO,” I said, squeezing her hands as I did for the next three days. It did make me realize this was a conversation we’d never really had: what to do if you’re lost. My friend shared what she’d heard, which was to tell your kid that if she is lost she should find a lady or a mommy to help her. In my day you were supposed to look for a policeman or someone official looking, which actually sounds ridiculous now, which is sad, but whatever.
Now whenever we are somewhere crowded I remind Harper in a strained, trying-to-sound-nice-but-really-still-freaking-out voice, that she always has to be able to see me. The other day at the botanic gardens she made a point of walking backwards while drilling my eyes with hers for a good minute before she forgot and started running after a bird. Whatever. I remind her now and then about the “find a lady” rule, and try to still not freak out about things too much, and to remind myself of how in the end, that was a pretty good way to learn that lesson — in a protected, indoor place for children, where they even have a code for it.
So here’s another thing that happened: we had a fire in our home. (I already blogged about it over at the day job blog, in a post that actually sort of had a point.) Yes, home, the home we just PURCHASED. It was pretty sweet. I’m super glad we didn’t burn the building down. The co-op board just hates when that happens. So, yeah, this ceiling fan we’d inherited (whatever, it was ugly) had stopped working, but apparently deep in its tinny guts it was still trying to work, and sort of, like, exploded? All of the sudden, flames were shooting out from the ceiling. I was kidding before when I said it was sweet. It sucked. But again there were many “thank goodnesses.” I was home with Ollie while Harper was at school, so she didn’t have to be freaked out by it. Again, it could have been so much worse. I was right there. I was holding Ollie. I saw it happen, was uninjured, called 911, they arrived in a split-second, there was only a bit of smoke-damage.
And on the upside, I got to answer for myself the question: what would you grab in case of a fire? Our carefully-curated “fire folder”, containing our birth certificates and wedding photo negatives and such? Nah. The kid and the dog. That’s it, not even my wallet, oof. But hey, at least I took the dog with me to freak out in the lobby while greeting the firemen with a quivering “There! Up! My kitchen! Fire!” When I told Adam the whole story he said, “Hey, you took Quimby! Nice!” with just a touch of surprise.
So anyway. Those were the scary things that happened, and you know what? Even though I’ve now been able to write this “It Happened to Me,” I think I’d rather just keep having a boring life where nothing really too bad happens. I’m a fiction writer anyway.
(Which reminds me…the last round of revisions of the novel have been turned in! So I can once again spend my evenings doing relaxing things. Like finishing moving in. Yes, it’s been two months. Shhh we’ve been busy.)