Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Code Red!! We've Lost the Boy

Saturday found the Blackwell clan enjoying one of our favorite haunts — the local children’s museum.

That's a human hampster wheel, pictured here previously.
And, yes, that's Mrs. Blackwell operating it. 
As I've written here before, this place has a little bit of everything for the boy and, even a few things to keep the adults occupied.

It’s really a perfect spot to hang out and get lost for a while — which is exactly what the boy decided to do.

Rather than set the stage with another description of the museum, I’ll attempt to encapsulate it by saying it’s a three-story zoo, with contraptions, attractions, sounds, and sights the likes of which I’d never imagined prior to entering it.

I’d guess it’s got a capacity of 500 people and, every Saturday morning, they probably jam about 2,000 inside. Well, perhaps not that many but, there’s a lot of people there.

In the midst of this jungle Mrs. Blackwell, the boy and I were having a lovely time wandering around, avoiding bumping into with others and taking in the sights and sounds of this chaos.

Despite the fact that we live in Madison, which has a metro population of about 570,000, we invariably run into people we know when we’re out. It’s one of the charms of living here that it really is a great, big, small town. (That charm evaporates quickly trying to buy milk in your bathrobe.)  

So, there we were on the second story of the museum, I was distracted by a giant Pong Game and just yards away, Mrs. and Master Blackwell were cavorting about in the arts and crafts area.

It was about 11 a.m.

It's like "Pong" but played on a 60-inch screen. One can
see why it captured my attention so completely.
As they explored, Mrs. Blackwell ran into an acquaintance whose daughter used to attend day care with the boy. The parents struck up a chat and, for about five seconds, the boy didn’t have at least one parent’s eyes squarely observing him.

Naturally, the absence of parental oversight — no matter how brief — served as one gigantic green light to get hell bent for leather. And, so he did.

He was gone.

I first learned of this when Mrs. Blackwell yanked my attention away from the technological majesty of large-scale Atari, by asking if I knew where he was.

99.9 percent of the time this query is remedied by pivoting one’s head 180 degrees, to see that your
kid is in sight.

Well, this was the .1 percent. I didn’t know where the boy was and neither did she.

Something called "The Millennium Chicken"? Yep, they've
got that too. 
I’d say a feeling of panic washed over me, but it was more like I’d been pushed off the end of a dock into a frozen lake. It’s shock.

I looked at my watch, it was 11:01. Mrs. Blackwell returned quickly to the arts-and-crafts room, while I began a sweep of the place.

Did I mention this place was a zoo, populated with child upon child, each of whom improbably looked exactly like my son from behind?

This museum has play structures. Rides. A dark room where kids can make shadows on the walls — or just hide unseen in the corner. A hollowed out airplane. Tables. In short, more nooks and crannies for a kid to hide than one can conceive of.

But, my thoughts didn’t go there. I wasn’t thinking about the boy crawling under the counter in the make-shift diner. No, I was thinking that someone had grabbed him.

It’s jarring just to write those words but, hey, I was five when I first saw the movie ‘Adam’, and I lived my childhood accordingly. Which is to say, until I was 12, I had a pervasive sense that, at any moment, one could be kidnapped. Ahhhh fear. Is there a greater motivator?

So, I moved quickly while trying to stay calm. I went directly toward the front desk to tell them I couldn’t find my son.

So where did we find him? Inside of this, his favorite
attraction of course. 
By the time I got there — about one minute after first noticing the boy was gone — Mrs. Blackwell had already made a staffer aware, who’d radioed colleagues throughout the building. They all knew.

This wasn’t reassurance enough for me, as I headed toward the main door and outside, scanning downtown for a sliver of a sign of the boy, and the orange vest he was wearing.

I saw none and returned inside and headed back toward the area where this ordeal began and there, at the top of the stairs of the second floor, stood Mrs. Blackwell — and the boy.

It was 11:06, five minutes, give or take a few seconds, from when it began.

Ordeal over. But what did we learn from it?

I'm not sure I know yet. Regardless, I'll get to that in another post. For now, I'm still trying to climb back on the dock. 

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