I lost my nephew in a Walmart for thirty of the longest seconds on record. I discovered that it is possible for a five year old to become invisible in the space of seconds. One minute he was there, the next minute he was nowhere to be found, and I was sitting on a stack of ten-pound bags of potting soil, feeling my brain about to melt. For some reason thought that opening my eyes wider would help spot him, or induce a bout of x-ray vision, perhaps. I tried to remember if there was a procedure to follow that didn’t end up in me being charged with child neglect,but no luck. I went through all the ways I could tell my sister I had lost her only child in Walmart, and then tried to open my eyes even wider.
‘He can’t have gone far,’ I thought, desperately trying to put a good spin on my nephew’s debut on a milk carton. I didn’t want to stray to far from my potting soil ground zero, because I knew as soon as I walked away from that pile of dirt, my nephew would appear, not see me, and disappear even more deeply than he already had. Logic is not a thing that occurs when I am in panic mode.
I did make a quick survey of the aisles closest to me, and could actually feel my heart sink in my chest when again he was nowhere to be found.
I had finally resolved to go to the last resort of the lost and ask customer service to put on an announcement that I was unfit to be the temporary caregiver of a living thing when someone tapped my arm from behind. I turned around and saw the sparkling blue eyes and impish grin of my nephew, who had apparently decided that I had suffered enough.
My reaction was pure stereotype: I grabbed him and hugged him as close as he could bear, then held him out at arm’s length and bawled him out for scaring the life out of me. Then I went and bought him a Frosty.
The urge to disappear on out elders must run through my sister’s genes. I remember her pulling a similar stunt on my mom, and once on me when we were kids.
My own son has been thoroughly schooled on why he should never, under any circumstances and on pain of death (or at least a good grounding) hide from Mummy anywhere. I have never played hide and seek with him, and he’s actually lucky I did decide to have children after going through that terror-filled afternoon. My nurturing side took a real shitkicking that afternoon, and I not only thought I wasn’t clever enough to take care of a small child, but also that being the one responsible for losing one I loved so much would probably run me for life. Life, as they say, goes on. Time heals all wounds. The powerful play moves on.