Today, one of my worst nightmares came true.
J. is helping my 5 and 3 year olds get ready to leave for their grandparents. There is the usual blissful chaos. On this morning, I choose to be oblivious to it all.
J: Bye, honey.
Me: (annoyed and whiny) Oh, God, please can i just take a BREAK from being mommy today? Please, please, please, just for today. I just wanna be by myself today. My selfish self pleeeeease. Hon, umm, can you take Joshim with you, too? (Joshim is our baby. He is one and a half.)
I knew the answer to this one even before I asked the question. My grumbly self gets off the computer and walks over to the center of the storm. It is time to do the proper "kiss, walk-to-elevator, bye" morning routine.
J: Can I ask you a big favor honey? My laptop's on the dining table. Please?
Me: Sure, hon.
As I walked back to give the computer to my husband, I hear my 3 year old girl shrieking in the hallways.
PANIC. Did she fall and hurt herself? Why the hell is she out there all by herself to begin with?
"EeeeeeehhhhhHHHHEEEEKKKKKkkkkkkEEEEEEEeeeeekkkkk!" was all I could hear through the crack of our apartment door. I immediately knew something was terribly wrong. OHMYGOD. Oona's stuck in between the elevator doors?! We race out the door and find Oona standing alone in the hall.
It was there and then that I realized it.
I asked screaming, "Where's Joshim?!"
Oona points to the elevator doors and she slowly says "Sorry, Mommy. I pressed the button and he went inside."
Intense fear gripped my heart immediately. I started to shake and tear-up. He was out here?! My 1 year old boy, all alone with my 3 year old girl out in the hall? I wanted to run and stay put all at the same time. How are we going to find him? What if a bad person found him? Where could he be? What if someone takes him into their apartment and makes him their own? What if. What if. What if. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Help. Help. My mind was racing. All this time my other two kids were stunned and mumbling "Joshim. Joshim. Poor Joshim" as m y daughter repeats "Sorry, Mommy. Sorry, Mommy..." beside me.
J who was much calmer than me says to us three: "Stay here. I'm going to find him." Just like that he was gone.
Eldest son mournfully says, "If we don't find him mommy that's the last time we see of him." Gad, the honesty of children. I felt angry but I reel it in, grit my teeth and simply said my standard reminder as gently as I could put it: Hey, watch your words, Sol. Remember your words are powerful. Is that what you want to happen? With fear in his eyes he says to me, NO mommy. I had to clench my jaw even harder as I remember just a few minutes ago how I was using the power of MY words "not to be mommy" for the day.
I try to breathe deep breaths while saying out loud to my kids and myself, Relax. Don't panic. It's going to be okay. I am still mommy to my other two kids who are as terrified as I am. I am hardly able to breathe or be mommy or be ANYTHING.
I decide to lock the apartment door. My heart is pounding in my chest, We take the elevator and ran to the ground floor reception area where security is to alert everyone who could help. It is empty. Nobody there. Damn it. I see the security monitors on the counter and feel even more terror. What used to be ordinary screens suddenly looked all sinister in the light of this situation. So many electronic eyes. So many dark, unknown spaces in the building and not one image of my lost son. Just gray, dark, empty spaces and gray, dark strangers walking around. Gray. Empty. Strangers. Walking. Around. All the faces of the child predators on the Oprah show must have flashed before my eyes. I also noticed how I was blocking them out as fast as they came. I was replacing the horrible thoughts with visions of people finding him, good people, and taking him back to us.
We ran again. Come on guys, stay close to mommy. I have never seen my two kids so obedient. They are constantly at my side focused as their mom is to find their little brother.
I alert everyone I see in the corridor on our way back to the elevator doors.
"My 1 year old boy just walked into the elevator by himself."
"If you see a little boy, please take him here. He's 1 and a half and he walked into the elevator alone."
These were the words out of my mouth but what I was actually thinking was:
"I'm dying here. Please help. Please help. Help! Help! Help!"
The look on my face must have been of complete and utter desperation. All three people I repeated my pleas to jumped into action without a moment's hesitation. One father who before running off to search for my lost boy said that this exact thing happened to his 2 year old son. At that moment I felt some relief from his shared experience, his calm sureness, his command for the three of us to stay put. A command from a complete stranger. Then he, too, was gone.
We sit quietly, thinking, praying, wondering where J and my baby are. I don't know how long I was squatting helplessly, my two kids on each side of me when the cleaning lady, pushing her big cleaning cart before her, comes out of the elevator with a smile on her face.
"My little boy walked into the elevator and ...." I haven't even finished my fourth desperate request to yet another stranger when she said:
Oh, don't worry. We found him already! Your husband found him.
Oh God Almighty Halleluiah! Those were the most beautiful words I have ever heard from a stranger. I was too stunned to move. I started crying fresh tears and thanked her. I must have asked her one hundred questions and thanked her over and over. Finally I just stood up from my pathetic squatting and hugged her tight. I didn't care if she was covered with 12 floors worth of dust and a dozen cleaning products. I was simply grateful beyond words. I held my other two kids and waited, feeling relief and gratitude. My husband walked out with my precious son in his arms. He was holding onto his dad so tightly with his back towards me. They found him on the 10th floor crying with a young couple. I gently took him into my arms and felt the fear in his embrace. He was still clutching onto his little Mickey Mouse toy I gave him just a few minutes earlier. He quietly held on to me in an embrace I have never felt before. Soundless and clingy. My poor, poor baby. He must have been so scared. I held on to him in the same way and tears just kept coming. I hugged my other two kids. The helpful father came to the floor and was happy for us. We thanked them over and over. Things are back to normal. THANK GOD ALMIGHTY.
This whole thing must have spanned 10-15 minutes but it felt like forever.
My wish "not to be mommy for today" came true in those fifteen short minutes because in that span of time, I lost my child and consequently, myself. In fifteen short minutes I wasn't mommy to my little one. I felt what it was like to lose a child. He was lost. LOST. Time felt like an eternity. Not knowing if I was going to see him in 5 minutes or never was more agonizing than anything I have ever felt.
New tears are forming as I remember how relieved I was when he was brought back to me. I could not stop thinking of how precious these tiny creatures are. MY tiny precious creatures. This whole experience put things in proper perspective. There is absolutely nothing more important to me in this whole world than my children. This whole trauma is a nightmare and a blessing at the same time. Never, never ever again will i wish to take a break from being mommy. Not for a day. Not even for a second. I would much rather be dead than not be mommy to my precious kids. God, I love my children so much. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH IT HURTS.
Please remind me of this little incident when you hear me complaining about how hard it is to be mommy in the future and say to me Be careful what you wish for..."
Here are my other realizations/learnings from this experience:
~ I am in complete awe and gratitude for the kindness of strangers.
~ Visualization worked for me that morning but so did the power of the spoken word or more appropriately, the spoken weird.
~ Never, EVER open the front door unless a grown-ups goes out first. (Glaring at J now.)
~ Practice the block-hand-or-foot-in-between-elevator-doors drill 100 more times with the S and O.
~ Heartfelt thank yous to my darling hubby J - even if I wanna smack his bum for leaving the front door open - for having the presence of mind and quick-thinking to block-hold the other elevator doors with the help of our other heroin, the cleaning lady, Kathy.
~ And again, with feelings, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!
Joyfully, things are back to normal ~
Grateful Mama and Lost and Found Baby
Back to normal/Booger baby central
Precious Baby J with his favorite Barney from Papa and Mama Gramps and his new buddy, Mickey, who stuck it out with him all through the ordeal.