I thought you had him...

We had one of those parenting scares yesterday. It came to our attention that this was the weekend for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. On a whim, we decided that we'd abandon the much needed spring cleaning we had planned and spend part of the day at this event. It's the Mecca for anyone interested in the fiber arts on the eastern seaboard, with lot's of opportunities spending money. Even a gear-head like me can geek out over all the different designs of looms, spinning wheels and carders. There's also ample opportunities for petting sheep, llamas, alpacas and border collies.

Mrs 'Struction came across a book of knitting patterns that seemed written for our family. After looking through it, she put it back. "I'm going to look over there so you two can discuss what you think would make a good Mother's Day present."

There are hints and there are hints. I'd been carrying junior around for a while, but this transaction was going to require both hands. He'd also been a bit high maintenance all morning. You parents probably know what I mean. Not necessarily crossing into bad, but requiring constant attention. "Careful, thats breakie." "OK, put that down, it's time to go. No really!" "Don't touch that!" "You don't work here, come out of there." Some folks are natural helicopter parents, and I think some are trained by their children. Still, he'd managed to hold it together to get a lesson on a $1200 loom. He picked it up fairly quickly, but was in near tears that we couldn't just buy it on a whim, or for that matter fit it into our car.

I looked around and realized that getting from the display to the checkout required weaving into the claustrophobically narrow cul-de-sac of this particular booth, all the while keeping track of little man and keeping his hands off of all the astoundingly interesting books, kits, tools, and brightly colored yarns.

"Why don't you go with Cluquah while I buy this," I said.

"Ok!" he turned and went after her. There was a rare open patch in our section of the isle, so I could watch him for the entire 2 seconds it took for him to get right next to her. Then I turned my attention to making the purchase.

When I was done, I caught up with Cluquah, but she was alone. "Where's the boy?" she asked.

"I sent him over to be with you."

"No really."

"Really"

"Shit"

Panic time. How hard can it be to find a 6 year old in a huge exhibit hall packed with people? Darn near impossible. We split up and did a quick search. Then she set out for the information tent while I kept looking. My first thought was to cover the exit, but there were six. Probably not a really effective strategy. There wasn't much I could do other than wander hall, scanning the crowd for short people, and mentally kicking myself for being worst parent ever.

In the mean time, Cluquah got to the information tent and had just started writing down his description when he showed up with one of the festival staff. They sat down in the grass so Mommy could have a good cry. Meanwhile I was still frantically wandering the main exhibit hall and realizing that Mr. Observant didn't really have a clear idea of what color shirt his own son was wearing today. Eventually the other parental unit calmed down enough to realize that I might want to know and sent me a text. The entire episode lasted maybe 20 minutes in total, but certainly felt much longer.

Here are a few things I learned from the event.

  • I've cultivated the habit of taking a picture of where the car is before I leave the parking area. I don't always need it, but it can be a real lifesaver. In the future I'm going to take a picture of the boy too. At the very least, it's a lot easier to scan a crowd and find that patch of red (or whatever color his shirt is) than try to recognize a face.

  • Stranger Danger is just plain stupid. Our child is NOT SHY. He'll talk to anyone, which is a far cry from his reserved parents. We've deliberately tried keep him from being afraid of strangers, but sometimes wished he didn't involve us in conversations with the random crazy lady on the bus. I was just the opposite at his age, and I shudder to think what the experience would have been like if he'd decided to just keep looking for us instead of asking for help. He would have kept wandering, ever increasing the r^2 to find him. It's easy to fall into the fear that some random abductor is going to take your child, but the reality is that that's equivalent to winning the tragedy lottery. Pick a random stranger and he/she is WAY more likely to be a valuable resource toward getting back to Mom and Dad.

  • While it's great that he wasted no time in asking for help, it's obviously time to get him to memorize one or both of our phone numbers. Things would have resolved a lot more quickly with that. I'm stopping short of having it tattooed onto him. Vacinations are traumatic enough. Maybe it's time to invest in some temporary tattoo paper

  • Finally, parenting clearly takes years off your life.