This event happened a few years ago, but I was reminded of it today while speaking with a colleague about Momentous Mommy Mishaps.
I had to go to Kohl’s and return a pair of pants. We had already been to Target and the grocery store, and the girls were sick of shopping. They had picked out a couple of treats between the two locations, and all they cared about was getting home and digging into the ice cream or the cookies. It was just one more stop, and it was only going to take a few minutes.
I parked and dragged all of the girls from the car. Lizzie, who was only three, wanted me to carry her into the store. Even though I was not in the mood to carry her, I obliged; I just wanted to get in and out.
We rode the elevator up to the customer counter. Luckily, the line was very short. From where we were standing in line, the girls could see the toy aisles, and they wanted to look. What was the harm? Carson was already eight and Maggie was five. I trusted them to stick together in the three aisles and peruse the toys.
“Stick together,” I instructed. Just as they walked away, Lizzie began to squirm in my arms.
“Down, Mommy. Down,” she said. She was pointing at her sisters who were looking at Barbies and books.
“Carson, can Lizzie stand with you?” I asked. They were only a few feet away from where I was standing. They were in my line of vision.
“Yes, Mommy,” Carson replied.
I put Lizzie down on the ground. Before I would fully let go of her, I grabbed her chin so that she was forced to look me directly in the eyes. “Stay with Carson, okay?” I said. She shook her head “yes” and moved over by Carson and Maggie. She immediately picked up a Barbie doll and gazed wantingly at its packaging.
“Next Please.” It was my turn to move to the register. I handed the woman the bag and the receipt.
“Any problems?” she asked as she looked over the pants.
“No,” I said. To be honest, I just didn’t like them when I got home. It happens.
After a bit of inspection, she was satisfied that I did not soil them or do something dastardly to them. She picked up the scanner and tried to scan the bar code, but it didn’t work. She pressed a few buttons on the register. Nothing.
“Oh Mary,” she said with a hint of annoyance in her voice. “It’s doing it again.” Mary, the other woman at the Customer Service counter, walked over and started pressing buttons, to no avail.
Feeling a little anxious, I turned to see the girls. They were not in sight, but I could hear them talking in the toy aisle. I didn’t like that I couldn’t see them, nonetheless. I shifted slightly, and I thought about the ice cream that was probably starting to puddle in my grocery bag.
The women fiddled around for another few minutes. The whole time, I stood anxiously wishing I could see the girls. Do I walk away? Should I just walk away? The ladies kept pushing miscellaneous keys trying to get the register going again. The line behind me was growing; it was at least ten people deep.
After yet a tenth failed attempt at getting the register rebooted, Mary said, “Why don’t you use the other register?”
My anxiety was growing. I worked retail when I was younger. Seeing a line like the one that had formed was making me nervous. Yet, the woman helping me didn’t even seem to notice. She nonchalantly walked to the other register, punched in her code, and calmly returned my pants.
Handing me my receipt she said, “There you go.” She smiled, and I felt like she thought she had done a really good job.
I grabbed the receipt, gave her a half-smile and walked over to the toy aisles. My girls were not in aisle one. They were not in aisle two.
“Carson?” I yelled.
“Yeah Mom,” I heard from near the far wall. I walked down the aisle to find Maggie and Carson standing in front of a Leap Frog toy playing with it.
My head began to tingle. “Where’s Lizzie?” I asked.
Carson’s eyes got big. She turned a full circle. “She was just here,” she said apologetically.
I felt the panic set in. I walked toward the seasonal decorations. “Lizzie,” I said louder than I normally would speak, but not quite a shout.
No answer. No Lizzie. I wanted to run and shout and scream her name.
“Follow me,” I said to the other two girls. We got to the end cap by the books. “Carson, you and Maggie stand right here. Don’t move.” I could hear the distress in my own voice. I needed to be able to see them as I walked down the aisle to find Lizzie.
“Okay Mom.” She grabbed Maggie’s hand. I don’t know if she was trying to reassure me or herself.
I walked to the middle aisle and looked in every direction. I decided to start walking toward the center of the store.
“Lizzie,” I said again. This time, I would say it was on the verge of a yell. A few people looked up from where they were standing. I smiled, trying not to convey myself as a lunatic.
Nothing. No response. No Lizzie. I sense of foreboding came over me. Was she kidnapped? Are there security cameras? Who would take her? Is she hurt? Oh please, God, please let me find her.
I broke into a jog, and this time, I did not care who heard me. “LIZZIE,” I shouted. I was in a full-blown panic.
“We have a Code Yellow near the second floor registers. Code Yellow,” I heard a voice say over the intercom system.
God, please let me be the Code Yellow! I ran toward the registers, and a half-dozen adults were standing together. As I got closer, I saw Lizzie holding something in her hand.
Immediately, I felt relief. “Lizzie!” I leaned down and hugged her. I looked at all of the adults looking at me. I felt like I had to make-up a lie. I couldn’t exactly admit I left her in the care of an eight and five-year old while I spent over five minutes trying to return a pair of pants. “I was looking at something, I turned for one second, and when I looked down she was gone!” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement, and they murmured how it could happen to anyone.
I thanked the sales clerk, smiled at the other patrons, picked her up, and kissed her profusely. “Honey,” I said. “You scared, Mommy. Don’t ever do that again.”
“Okay.” She contentedly laid her head on my shoulder.
We turned the corner to go back toward the toys. As we neared the girls, two older ladies walked by us talking. I heard the one lady say, “What kind of mother leaves two young girls by themselves? Despicable! Simply despicable!”
My ears burned. I grabbed Carson and Maggie and made a B-line for the parking lot. I needed to leave before someone called 696-KIDS!