He was two-and-a-half. We were shopping the sale racks at the Gap, the three of us. That's all we were back then: Dad, Mom, and Little Boy. We took turns trying on clothes, trying clothes on the toddler, and chasing the toddler. He climbed in the rounders and hid. Crawled under the dressing-room door to ditch me while I had too few clothes on to chase him. Sauntered up to strangers and said, "Hi!", melting them with his million-dollar smile. We took him by the hand, pulled him closer. Joked about getting a leash. Then suddenly, laughing, he ran right out of the store into the main corridor of the Beverly Center and disappeared in a sea of strangers.
Hearts pounding, we looked down the crowded walkways and saw throngs of shoppers, but no little blonde boys. Or maybe lots of little blonde boys, but none of them ours. A sense of panic and dread came over me as we searched store after store, trying not to call his name too loudly as we somewhat frantically searched for our lost child.
And we eventually found him. His only captor was the animated feature playing on an in-store video feed. He was inside the Disney Store. Of course!
This time it's different. I'm not shopping for clothes, although I may be a little distracted as I try on an ever-changing assortment of roles. But I feel a familiar sense of panic and dread I haven't encountered in years. A heaviness weighs on me 24/7. I didn't cry my eyes out at the mall. But I am now. Several times a day. The Boy, now about six feet tall, once again happily, carelessly ditches, hides, approaches strangers he thinks are his friends. I do everything I can to pull him closer, and he usually responds with warmth and affection. Yet sometimes I still wish for that proverbial leash. Because this time I fear we won't be able to find him and reach him so quickly, or in so safe a place. Even though right now he's fast asleep in his own bed downstairs, I'm pretty sure our son is...lost.
This is the boy I wrote about here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. If you can find it in your heart, please pray for him. And for me. For all of us.