The problem with having an “escape artist” child is compounded when the child has a slightly absent-minded mother.
Most mothers have at one time or another experienced the sinking feeling that comes when her child wanders out of sight, or worse yet, is not found for some time. I have endured this sinking feeling several times, thanks to my youngest son, Clay, who was fearless and a bit of an escape artist as a child.
He never sensed danger from the outside world even though he was constantly warned to hold Mom’s hand, look both ways when crossing the street, and not to run when at the pool’s edge.
Of course, the problem with having an “escape artist” child is compounded when the child has a slightly absent-minded mother. From age two until about age eight, Clay would often accuse me of “losing him.” It was sort of a game to him. Clay had a way of wiggling away from my grip; he would carefully slip his hand out of mine when he sensed I was preoccupied, for example, during a shopping trip. And, yes, his escape happened more often than I liked to admit.
When he was three, I “lost him” in a giant JC Penney’s store in Topeka, Kansas. He was found by a clerk in the under counter storage area in the lingerie department when she was innocently looking for a particular bra size for a customer. I heard the clerk and the customer laughing as a red-headed little boy flew out of the cabinet and crawled under a circular rack of fluffy robes.
I know I was red-faced as I tried to coax my giggling son out of the display of robes. Why had I not noticed that he wasn’t by my side like his older brother, Craig, who was always afraid to let me out of his sight?
When he was four, Clay casually walked away from his family at Disneyland. His father and I watched him saunter through Magic Kingdom, following another family that Clay hadn’t bothered to identify as the right family.
We finally ran ahead to catch up to him, and he just coolly remarked, “You lost me again.” I guess we almost did lose him that day, but he was never convinced that he was in any danger. As he got older, he would promise to stay by my side—no need to be seen holding hands with Mom—right?
I was finally encouraged a little by Clay’s responsible attitude as he proudly became a Cub Scout. So when I was elected to be in charge of roll call for Pack 23 when the Cub Scouts went to Scout Night at the Royals, I only hesitated briefly. I was the only mother on the bus, and I had four Cub Scouts in my charge, as did every dad on the bus.
For most of the night I found myself at the concession area or patiently waiting outside the men’s room door, constantly counting to four, then ushering my brood back to their seats.
The dads in our group weren’t as concerned about the boys they had been assigned, and they let the boys roam freely in the stadium. I decided that these dads hadn’t heard as many scary stories about abducted children as I had, and I tried to keep track of the whole pack of around 35 boys. Needless to say, I didn’t watch much of the game.
I envied my husband, the Cubmaster, who was conveniently on a business trip the night of the event. He had begged me to take his place on the bus for this annual event, so I called all of the names of the scouts on my list as they boarded the bus on the church parking lot that evening. I assured our bus driver that we were all there, and we took off on a very noisy two-hour ride to Kansas City’s Royal’s Stadium.
Clay chose not to sit with me on the bus. He was happily situated between two of his best friends sharing the snacks we had packed. I was happy to sit with Jon, one of the dads who was married to a close friend of mine. He and I shared stories about our sons who both seemed to have the inclination to get lost.
Climbing the stairs to find our nosebleed seats, I observed that the stadium was a sea of blue Cub Scout uniforms. How would we ever keep track of our pack of boys? I was somewhat reassured by the sight of experienced Scout leaders who were assigned throughout the stadium to make sure everything ran smoothly for Cub Night at the Royals. The Cub Scouts of Pack 23 had worked hard all year selling Christmas trees and greenery at Christmas and then popcorn in the spring to make enough money to attend the game, and they were in a celebratory mood. I did enjoy the experience at first, but I was relieved when the game finally ended after extra innings and we gathered up our group.
Even though it was after 11:00 P.M., the boys were still going full force as the dads and I herded them to our bus which was in a long line of school buses from all over north Missouri. When we finally got everyone seated, I pulled out my list and started calling names. When I came to Clay Johnston, I repeated his name two times, a bit irritated that he thought it was funny not to answer.
Finally, one of his friends said, “He’s not here, Mrs. Johnston, really.”
This is when my heart sank. Jon noted my panicked look, and gently said, “I will find him.”
“Not without me,” I sobbed. We left the bus full of anxious dads and Cubs—not so anxious because of my lost son, but anxious to get on the road toward home.
Jon approached the Scout leader who was assigned to our parking area. The Scout leader implied that there was really no problem. Lost or misplaced Cubs were sent back to the Stadium’s lost and found.
The darkened stadium looked completely vacated except for the janitorial staff, and they were rushing to get their jobs done. I breathlessly asked the first worker I saw where I could find the lost and found. He told me it was on the fifth level. I looked skeptically at the deserted stadium, but Jon and I climbed to the top where we finally saw someone who looked official stationed at a desk. “Do you have my son here?” I blurted out.
The man in charge of lost and found sat behind a desk that was covered with jackets, backpacks, and a couple sets of keys. Obviously, this lost and found was set up for smaller items. The man at the desk shook his head slowly, and said that there had been one boy “turned in,” but he had been “claimed.” He suggested we go back to our bus. Maybe he was there by now.
Jon couldn’t keep up with me as I sprinted back to the parking lot. When we arrived at the bus, we were greeted by a grinning Scout leader and a very distressed looking Clay by his side.
Yes, Clay had been the solitary lost boy at the stadium lost and found desk who was claimed by the Scout Leader who promised to get him to the right bus. It seems that Clay had followed the wrong scout troop to the wrong bus (reminiscent of the Disneyland experience).
When he boarded the bus, he didn’t recognize anyone. I am not sure if there were tears when he realized his plight, but the first words out of his mouth when I gave him a hug were, “Why did you lose me again?
I am sure that most of us have been warned: “You will be paid back when you have children one day,” and as a father of three, the older more responsible Clay can attest to that. His three lively children require the same repeated warnings I always gave Clay, along with his constant watchful eye. Oh, the stories he will be able to tell!
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