We’re parents. We live in fear.
When they’re infants, we frequently check that they’re still breathing in their crib.
When they start shaking their heads uncontrollably, or obsessively brushing their hand against the top of their seat belt, we rush them to the pediatric neurologist for a battery of tests.
Our kids fall off play houses, bang their heads against iron railings, get stung by wasps–we worry about the long term physical, mental, and emotional implications.
And then there’s the dreaded ABDUCTION. Seems like every day there’s a new story about a child snatched outside their house, on the way to school or returning home for the first time. Sometimes in plain sight of their parents. Amber Alerts adorn our highways, interrupt television programming, greet us in the morning on our milk cartons, headline the Today Show.
No wonder I was struck with sheer terror when I told my boy he could run ahead at the football stadium as we made our way to our seats. For a moment, as he energetically bounded up the ramp leading to our section, I focused on his back as the numbers on his jersey disappeared into the crowd, and smiled thinking about his love of the game, his superhuman recall of statistics, players’ names and numbers, scores from prior games we attended, the way he strikes Clay Mathews’ pose and growls.
Then, POOF!, I snapped out of my reverie and realized what I had just done. I had just given my seven-year old permission to run off on his own in a crowd of 80,000 people. Granted, I assumed he would wait for me at the top of the ramp. But since I did not give him that ultimatum, there was no reason for him to stop at the top.
The next moment, the only thought crossing my mind was how idiotic a move I’d just made letting my kid run off without me. My romantic thoughts about his love of God’s greatest gift to sports fans and how he’d become an exceptional athlete some day were quickly quashed and replaced by fear, panic, and dread.
I ran to the top of the ramp. He wasn’t there. I ran back down. Not there either. I thought, ‘He can’t call me because he doesn’t have a cell phone. Will he think to go to an adult if he’s lost? What if he’s scared? Alone? Cold? Does he know where I am? There’s no possible way I’ll find him now. Maybe they’ll announce they found a lost kid. Are there information centers in the stadium? Football fans don’t abduct children. HOLY SHIT!’
I headed away from our section. ‘No,’ I thought, ‘I should stay near our section in case I can’t see him behind all these people. He may pop out any minute.’ I returned to the entrance to our section. Still nowhere in sight. I turned in the opposite direction. ‘Still can’t see him. Maybe he’s back at the top of the ramp. I’ll go back. No, maybe he went to the concession to ask someone to find me. No, someone has him…’
I was helpless. Nothing I could do. I’d have to go to our section and tell my father-in-law I just lost my son / his grandson.
Climbing the stairs just before making the turn to another flight of stairs leading to our section, I prayed the kid might have been smart enough to go straight to our seats. Was it possible? Did he know the stadium well enough to navigate to our seats?
[When we were kids, we would take the bus to Mayfield Mall and The Old Mill without our parents. There was never any discussion (at least of which we were aware) about our potential abduction, murder, etc. Just a quick goodbye and we were out the door on our way to unsupervised adventure. Times were different back then. No Internet. No Amber Alerts. Just good ‘ol fashioned fun–kids roaming the streets by day and reporting back home by dinner time.
My brothers and I often reminisce about those times. We could be anywhere, doing anything, without having parents scheduling dates for our play time. In the words of Snoop Dogg: “Being young, wild and free.”]
Turns out he was just fine. Knew exactly where to go. Found his way to our section, hunkered down with his grandfather, didn’t bat an eyelash when I arrived and attempted to hide the look of concern on my face while telling him I didn’t know he was going to go straight to the seats and I thought he was going to wait for me.
Young. Wild. Free.