I used to lose my son when he was little. I wasn’t a negligent mother at all. In fact, I had to force myself periodically to loosen my grip and not smother my children. I was a child in the days when there was no twenty-four hour programming on television at all, much less for children. Children played outside. All of us from the neighborhood would range up and down the street, in and out of everybody’s yards; we would stay out till we got hungry. I’m sure parents in that era were aware that children could be snatched because they taught us never to accept a ride from a stranger, but it didn’t seem to be an overarching parental preoccupation. By the time I had my own children, however, the world of parenting had changed. Stories of abducted children fueled the news, and it was easy to keep children inside with video games and cable TV. Finding the balance between allowing my children to do what God intended for children to do–play–and keeping them safe was something I had to work on.
I first lost my son at my brother’s wedding when he was only about fourteen months old. My brother’s church had bought a small apartment complex next door and used it as their educational building. The wedding reception was in the courtyard of that facility. It was a great place for children to play and was contained, so I wasn’t particularly worried. But I suddenly realized he wasn’t near me and looked around in alarm. Eventually I looked up and saw him at the top of a flight of stairs, grinning proudly. It was an outside staircase, with a steel frame and concrete risers and nothing but air in between the risers, gaps that were plenty big enough for a fourteen month old to slip through. I will never know how he got up there unnoticed and in one piece. I rescued him and held him on my hip for the rest of the evening, squelching his sense of adventure in favor of mundane safety.
When he was two, we were in my grandmother’s yard in Corpus Christi, and suddenly no one knew where he was. Grandma’s yard was only fenced on three sides, so I knew he must have wandered into the front. Grandma lived on a dead-end street, so there wasn’t much traffic, but there was a very busy street only a short walk away. I panicked. Everyone in the extended family searched desperately for about five minutes, and then my father found him inside my car. My little boy had climbed inside and shut the door behind him. Being a resident of a small town in which most people don’t bother to lock their cars in the driveway, I had left the door unlocked. Somehow he got inside. He must have thought it was a new game, the way we dashed around shouting his name. At any rate, he had a delightful time sitting in the driver’s seat like an adult, watching everyone else perform for his entertainment. Again I kept him safe on my hip for the rest of the evening.
When he was three, I lost him at the zoo in Tyler. We were in the fish house, and again I realized that he wasn’t with me. I dashed about, asking everyone I saw if they had seen my little boy. Nobody had noticed him, so I was terrified that someone had snatched him. A zoo employee saw what was going on and called in a lost child alert on his walkie talkie. Immediately, men and women in zoo jumpsuits appeared from all directions and began looking for him. About ten minutes later, someone found him on the other side of the zoo. When the man brought my son back, he was happily swinging his hand, oblivious to the ruckus he’d caused. Again, I carried him for a long time.
A few days ago, my grown-up son moved to Seattle. Seattle is a long, long way from Texas in every way: geographically, culturally, and politically. It had been his dream for years to leave Texas. He wants to have a few adventures while he’s young and single. I can relate to that. I had a brief adventure working at a campground in Wyoming when I was eighteen. I had a wonderful time, but it wasn’t a perfect summer for me. I made a huge dating mistake, and my work schedule didn’t allow me to attend church. I was working with college girls whose idea of a summer adventure involved lots of sex and drinking. By the end of the summer, I was ready to go home. I missed being part of a church, and I missed having Christian friends. I broke up with the man I had unwisely dated for a while and experienced crushing remorse for having hurt him. I don’t want my son to experience the same negatives that I did when I left home for a while, but I know he has to live his life. He has to make mistakes and learn his own lessons. I’m battling fear just as I did when he was little. I can see a hundred different ways that something can snatch him, and I can lose him.
He flew to Seattle on a Friday. We left the house at 2:30 a.m. and arrived at Love Field in Dallas by 4:00. We walked inside with him to get his boarding pass and check his bags. We watched him enter the security labyrinth, which at that time of day was short. Then we had to go back home. My husband had to drive his bus route at 6:30, and we both had to teach. I would’ve liked to stay and watch his plane take off, but we just couldn’t. We were inside the airport no more than fifteen minutes, and then my son was gone. I was reminded of the proud baby at the top of the stairs, the grinning toddler in the car, and the little boy happily swinging the zoo employee’s hand. The same unadulterated delight was evident when he left for Seattle. As I taught my classes that day, I got occasional progress reports on his journey in the form of texts. He sent a stunning aerial photo of Seattle encircled by clouds and mountains. I smiled and cried at the same time.
When I was a new mother, exhausted and stressed out, my Granny told me, “This is the easiest that it ever gets.” She was right. I started out with my son safe on my hip and spent the next few decades losing him slowly.