“Mom, do you have my shoes?”
My six-year-old son asked me this when we arrived home from the park, the park not just around the corner. Its thirty minutes away.
“Nope, buddy. Do you not have your shoes?” I am well versed in this shoe hunting game conversation.
“I left my shoes at the park. Under the bench.” He confessed.
Partially responsible due to being the adult and parent, I remembered that in my attempts at getting four boys into the car, to leave the park, I failed to notice that one of my children had not put his shoes back on his feet. Everywhere we go, the first question my boys typically ask is, “Mama, can I take off my shoes?” Sometimes I say “no” but usually after the hundredth time, I just give in. They would rather be barefoot. Always. And so would I. They have not hurt their feet in a freak barefoot accident at parks. Ever. And we go to the park all the time. Knock on wood. So, I don’t fight them on this bare-footed tendency. After all, they are part monkey and I think shoes most likely hinder their superb climbing capabilities. Blackened toenails much? Yes. I will most likely be the mother (sneakily) washing her child’s feet off in the sink of the ER if we ever land in there with a broken limb. Or barefoot related accident.
I negotiated with my six-year-old son. We would drive back to the park, thirty minutes away. Oh, I already mentioned that. To teach the old “time is valuable” lesson, I would require him to help with housework for the amount of time spent driving to and from the park to retrieve his lost “glow-up”shoes. Well, they actually weren’t lost. They were forgotten. Left behind. Poor Sketcher glow-up (too small) of shoes. I honestly doubted they were even going to still be there. However, it presented an opportunity to teach a few valuable lessons.
His twin brother opted to hop out of the car and stay home with his dad. And his little exhausted brother fell asleep in the car on the way back to the park. I got to have a meaningful conversation with my six-year-old son. I recognized that earlier he had befriended a little boy at the park that nobody was playing with. My heart swelled up. We talked about how important people are. And how he included that little boy. And that I was proud of him. I told him that people matter the most. Always. I told him that shoes cost money and it’s important to take care of them, but they can be replaced. I told him that he mattered WAY more than a lost pair of shoes. That we could buy another pair of shoes. I looked back in my rearview mirror and he had tears in his eyes and said, “you can’t buy another Julian.” Yep. 100% truth. I normally would not have been so even keeled and carefree about the time spent driving back to the park but I had unexpectedly gained eye-opening, heart aching perspective from earlier in the day.
It’s every parents worst nightmare. Or one of them anyway. Somehow your child gets lost or separated from you. In a place where people are around. You panic. It’s a heart ripping, pounding, agonizing feeling. There are cars coming and going. The world should just stop. Everybody should stop what they are doing and help you find your child. Cars full of people pass by. Strangers, who don’t know your child. They don’t recognize that you’re out of breath, searching, thinking the worst things, as you look frantically, maybe yelling out your child’s name even though you cannot see him. Or her. Anywhere.
I witnessed a kindergarten classmate of my boys heading down the hill, a biker, on her last day of school. My boys pointed her out from the car. That wasn’t her. She never came this way to school, I thought. My boys were right. The crossing guard hunched down to talk with her. School traffic eased by. She tried pushing her bike down the steps to the school entrance but she was sobbing. Something was really wrong. She was alone. That wasn’t right. I dropped my boys off and got out of my car and went over to her. She began telling me that she lost her daddy. They had come a new way to school and she got lost from him. I tried to calm her, telling her that he was probably looking really hard for her and I told her to head into her classroom. I knew that she was safe, yet really sad and scared. I reassured her that I would go drive around and find her daddy. I would have him come to her classroom when I found him. I knew I would find him. I had to. I thought that he must be sprinting, with his stroller, panic-striken not knowing where his daughter was. I began driving around the neighborhood. I saw him finally, though it was probably only minutes, I am certain that it felt like hours, or days for him. The relief flooded his face entirely when I told him that his daughter was at school and safe. I told him that I promised her when I found him that he would go see her in her classroom. Not that nine layers of security could begin to stop him from going to hug his sweet daughter.
Kids get biking too fast. They get focused on playing so hard and they wonder away. We once temporarily lost a child at a school carnival. It was awful. He had snuck off to a bounce house. It still hurts to think about. And remember that panicked feeling. Kids can focus so intently on what they are doing. Or where they want to go. This characteristic can be really amazing and it can be completely terrifying, as a parent.
Driving back to the park for a pair of old shoes that may or may not be there seemed tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of today’s events. Even if we didn’t find the shoes at the park, I know that I would have been grateful to have an hour-long car ride with my deep thinking, sensitive and big-hearted son. I think he knows that people matter the most. They don’t listen or hear me a lot of times, but today I think he heard me. There were no brothers to interupt. Just me and him talking about really important stuff. I hope and pray that should one of my children ever get lost or separated from me that someone will notice and do everything in their power to help. I can always buy another pair of shoes. But never ever could I buy another Julian. Or Asher. Or Colby.