This week I lost my six-year-old, twice.
Twice this week, tears overflowed the bright blue eyes of my red haired little Benji as he looked at the world, un-tethered and unprotected, and tried to problem solve his way back to me.
The first sad tale of the lost and wandering Kindergartner happened on the bus at the end of a long day of school. Only a few days into life at a new school, Benji was still getting used to riding the bus with his older cousin everyday.
All was going fine, Benj had a few successful school bus rides under his belt and was enjoying being at the same school as his cousin. But then, on that Tuesday, he got on the bus and after waiting and waiting, his cousin never appeared. The doors slammed shut, the bus started to move and my poor boy began to panic.
Benji was sitting next to his new friend, another Kindergartner named Bryan, and the two put their heads together to figure out which stop Benji was supposed to get off at. They decided that he should get off at the third stop. The third stop was not Benji’s stop.
With Bryan’s confidence buoying him up, Benj self-assuredly exited the bus and started walking. Within moments though, he realized he had made a grave mistake. He kept walking, stomping on snow and trying to keep the tears off of his cheeks as he looked at foreign road signs and strange houses.
He walked and walked and walked.
After about 25 minutes of wandering, Benji saw a huddle of girls in front of a house up ahead. He walked over to them, tears running down his face and explained his situation through sobs.
“I know where you live!” one of the girls exclaimed. “You are far away, but I’ll walk you!”
And she did, all the way to our front door. Thank the heavens for that smart girl.As he flew into my arms, once inside the front door, it dawned on me – I hadn’t given him any skills to handle the bus alone. He didn’t know what stop to get off at, he didn’t know what his stop even looked like. For a week, he had just followed his cousin.
“You were so brave,” I told him.
He started crying harder, exclaiming, “I wasn’t brave, I cried so much.”
The next morning we spent quite some time driving the bus route, noting landmarks and talking about what to do if he got lost.
The next weekend, I decided to take my kids to the capitol. I had my two-year-old in a stroller that I was pushing and my one-year-old in a small umbrella stroller that Benji was pushing. We parked in the underground parking and then had a great day, exploring and walking around.
When it was time to get back to the car, we went in the building and stepped into one of the many elevators. I told Benji to press “LL” for the level we were parked on. He scanned the rows of buttons and finally pressed “LL”.
The elevator went down and when the doors opened, I pushed my stroller out. I turned around just in time to see the elevators close on Benji and my baby. The last thing I saw was Benji’s eyes growing in horror.
Boom, the doors shut. I launched at the button, hitting it several times. The elevator was already on its way up. My brain flipped through my options at lightning speed.
Do I jump on another elevator? Do I wait? Do I leave the stroller there so if Benj comes back to that level he will know to get off while I chase him on another elevator?
Realizing that there was no way to guess which floor he had shot up to, I waited.
Right as I was about to make a move, the elevator doors opened.
There in front of my eyes was my happy baby, giggling in the stroller, and two men dressed in suits, consoling Benji. One of the men was on his knee, patting Benji’s shoulder and the other was mid-sentence, explaining that they wouldn’t leave him until he found his mom.
Thank heavens for those wonderful men.
Apparently, when Benji left me, the elevator climbed to level 10. He said the numbers kept lighting up, one and then two and then three, up and up and up. Panicking, he started flipping through the options in his own six-year-old brain.
“I was going to press the button that said BB mom,” he explained to me. “B, for Benji.”
Upon a little further thinking though, he did remember that I had told him to press LL. He pushed it, but the elevator kept climbing.
Can you imagine being those two men, just finished a meeting, waiting for the elevator, and seeing the doors open to my wide eyed Benjamin hanging on to a Minnie Mouse umbrella stroller holding a squealing baby? Then, to get in to the elevator and ride down to LL only to see the doors open on a very distraught mother, on the verge of tears herself, and ANOTHER giant baby in an umbrella stroller?
I’m sure I thanked them (I hope I thanked them) as I gathered all of my babies into my arms. They offered me help, as I’m sure I looked like I needed it, and I shooed them on their way.
Once again, I consoled my distraught Benji while he told me that he thought he was never going to see me again until he died.
Once again, we talked about what happened, about what he did right, about what his options were should he find himself in that situation again. To my delight, he remembered some of the things I had told him earlier that week.
We talked about being lost. He wanted to talk about bad people and good people and how to know the difference. He asked a lot of questions that I wasn’t sure how to answer. We problem solved and philosophized and, in the end, decided it was probably better if he just didn’t get lost anymore.
This job of raising children is a tough one. I can’t even keep all of my children in my sight let alone prepare them for everything. I am grateful for good people who close the gap between me and my children’s needs. I am grateful that the worst did not happen. I am also grateful, though, that my smart little boy is becoming resilient and is sticking with me as we learn how to navigate this world together.