“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
― Henry Ford
One night last summer, Thing 2 and I headed out to Target to buy something or other we needed for the house. It was paper towels or dog treats or something we probably could have done without for another night. We got in the car and drove to the shopping center about 10 minutes from our home.
As we shopped, we laughed and teased each other. Thing 2 is always good for a laugh and we never fail to banter back and forth whenever we're out and about. After checkout, we were wagering if he could keep up with the car running beside it.
"You COULD NOT!" I bellowed.
"Yes, I TOTALLY could," he protested. "If you promised to not drive as FAST as you COULD."
"Even if I drove under 10 miles per hour it would be tough for you to keep up!"
We continued debating as we loaded our bags into the trunk. I unlocked the doors with the key fob and hopped behind the wheel. The parking space in front of me was empty, so I eased the sedan forward and then drove out of the parking lot.
Thing 2 was too young to be in the front seat, so I chatted merrily away to the backseat. I drove onto the highway, speeding toward home, talking away. Thing 2 wasn't answering. Sometimes he plays tricks on me, so I called his name. "WHY aren't you ANSWERING me?" I complained. I adjusted the rearview mirror so I could see his expression. It reflected an empty seat back.
I frowned. "Thing 2?"
Still no answer.
"Are you HIDING from me?" Surely, I thought, he was scrunched down in the floor board. I was started to get a little irritated with the game though.
"OK. Joke's over. Answer me, please."
Still nothing from the back seat.
I craned my neck toward the back, trying to make out a figure on the floorboard.
My mind raced. Well, obviously he was IN THE CAR. I'd been talking to him the entire way! Perhaps he was hiding UNDER the seat somehow? Was that even possible? Did my car have one of those trick back seats where maybe he slid into the trunk somehow?
The reality was unthinkable. My mind worked every POSSIBLE scenario except the only one that made sense: I had left my child in the parking lot.
I pulled over at the top of the exit ramp and hurried out of the car to peer into the back seat. No. There was no child. My mouth went dry and my heart plummeted somewhere near the vicinity of my knees. I had left my child in the parking lot.
Gulping for air, I did an illegal u-turn (sorry, police officers, I was PANICKING!) and sped back toward the ramp to the highway.
My thoughts were wild. He had never been left anywhere! I am the OVERPROTECTIVE PARENT! He always wore helmets. He only went to friends' houses whose parents I was SURE were fine and upstanding. I breastfed him! He didn't eat peanut butter until the doctor said it was OK. I mean...I HAD LEFT MY CHILD IN THE PARKING LOT.
I have no idea how fast I moved my car down that highway, but as I sped along, an unknown number rang shrilly in the car, silent save for my wildly beating heart. I answered quickly, hoping to find a Target employee on the other end.
"Hello!" I shouted.
"Mom?" A hesitant voice floated into my ear.
"OHMYGOD, honey, are YOU OKAY?"
"You LEFT ME!"
"OH, I know, I know, I know. I'm on my way right now. OHMYGOD, I'm SO SORRY. I'm SO SORRY."
He told me that he recognized a kid from Scouts and his dad. They had picked him up from his harried run after me through the parking lot and were idling in the lot while he called.
I hung up the phone.
I careened into the parking lot and headed straight for the SUV idling there with lights on. I screeched to a halt, flung open the door and, wild-eyed, walked toward the car.
The dad eyed me suspiciously.
"Rough night?" He peered closely at my face. I'm certain if he was assessing whether or not I was addled by drugs or mental health issues. (And, hey, I can't blame him! I actually am GLAD he was careful about me. Obviously, there was cause for concern here.)
I rambled on about something, probably doing nothing to assuage his fears. He talked to me for a couple of minutes and then told Thing 2 to go ahead and get out of the car. Thing 2 stumbled out of the car and ran toward me, tears now streaming down his face. He had been brave as long as he could. Now that mom was here, he could let loose.
|We took this photo on our NEXT Target visit.|
It was heartbreaking to hear his voice, small and scared and hiccuping through tears in the back seat. I apologized a hundred times and told him that I would not make that mistake again.
He bravely wiped his tears as I watched him in the rearview mirror. And then he laughed, "I can't WAIT to tell Thing 1 that you LEFT ME AT TARGET!"
It's been a while since I left my youngest son in a dark parking lot. But neither kid lets me forget it. "Mom, I'm just going to take the CART OVER HERE. DON'T LEAVE ME." It's a little easier now that they ride in the front seat. I can at least look over and realize that a warm body is occupying the space.
Life goes on. And we fumble along with it.
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