It happened, and what a nightmare.
We were flying from California to West Virginia with a 3 hour layover in Chicago. Our first time flying with our new baby. One mom, one low vision dad, one 4-year-old, and one 2 month old. Surely a recipe for disaster! The Chicago airport was crazy crowded, so we should have had a clue. Shoulda woulda coulda. We were all exhausted and delirious, running on 3 or so hours of sleep because of our super early flight out of SF.
It was mid-day our time, dinnertime Chicago time, so we ordered some food to go at the airport Chili’s restaurant. As we ordered, Gavin started melting down, trying to lay down on the airport floor, and then dragging his wheelie backpack over my exposed toes several times. I followed suit with my own meltdown, snapping at him instead of realizing he was too spun out to cope and only 4 years old.
Danny insisted we walk while waiting for our food, thinking Gavin just had to run off his spare energy. I stopped at a charging station to juice up my cell phone, craving a break from the wonky family dynamics. We agreed that they’d meet me back there in a few minutes. As I watched them walking away, Danny pushing a stroller and Gavin galloping alongside them, I was suddenly filled with foreboding. I yelled after them, to say something, to tell Gavin to wait with me or to remind him to stay next to his Daddy, I’m not sure. I didn’t get a chance to say anything because they were already swallowed up in the crowd.
Maybe 10 minutes later, my phone vibrated. I answered and Danny’s voice filled my ear, saying, “Gavin just took off.”
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you. I’ve lost Gavin for maybe 30 seconds before in a department store, but that simply did not compare. Huge airport, thousands of people, all kinds of people. And a little four-year-old wheeling a mini-backpack. I imagined the worst: someone grabbing him and him disappearing forever. I imagined a life without Gavin. I imagined that I surely would never be able to forgive Danny, or myself for that matter.
Mostly, I saw Gavin in my mind’s eye alone in this huge airport, and I felt how incredibly scared he must be. I saw the noisy chaos of the airport through his eyes, and remembered how small he is.
Danny retraced his steps towards me, thinking he probably headed back to me. When Danny arrived at my spot sans Gavin, I retraced their steps back to Smoothie World, yelling Gavin’s name. We of course informed customer service, and they started paging him to come to the customer service booth in Terminal 3, as if a 4-year-old would know what the hell that is.
As I wandered the terminal, I repeated in my head, “Please, please, please.” One simple word. And I remembered, strangely, a Mr. Rogers quote. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” I reminded myself there are more helpers than hurters. And surely one of them would grab him first. “Please.”
Eventually, maybe 15 minutes later, but I honestly have no idea, Danny called my cell and told me they were paging us. They had him at United customer service. Four men comforting my little boy. I sunk to my knees and opened my arms. He ran into them. His little face crumpling into tears and his small boy voice saying, “Mommy,” in relief will be forever etched into my brain.
I am so grateful for the helpers in this world. And for this lesson and this reminder. As we adjust to being a family with two little ones, I think I tend to forget how small Gavin still is. He looks so giant next to our newborn, and my expectations of him have skyrocketed. I think I’ve been thinking of him unconsciously as a mini-adult. And he is so not an adult. He is still in the magical, vulnerable time of early childhood, and I need to remember that. I need to remember him, to pay attention and glory in his everyday growth and discoveries.
Now instead of, “Please, please, please,” I am repeating, “Thank God, Thank God, Thank God!”