Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When You Don't Have the Right Keys

The whole incident was about four and a half minutes.

There were tears.
No blood.
But many tears.

Can a mother who really does want to keep her children admit to turning her back on her 17-month-old for....mmmm...20 seconds? Or is there state intervention after 19 seconds? If "The State" should be monitoring presently, we'll say it was no more than 19 seconds. Certainly not crossing the line into negligent, but long enough to produce adrenaline when my back was no longer turned.

It was snowing. I had three kids with me, lots of bags, boxes, folders, and keys. I was juggling everything in an effort to unlock the south west door of the church even though I wanted to be in the south east corner. But my key only opens one door. I parked in a handicap spot not wanting to use a sled to schlep everything through sodden snow on my way to the door.

We managed to make our way inside, going from completely frozen to intolerably hot. Regardless of how often I push buttons on the thermostat in this room it holds itself in the "Perpetual Tropics" region of 80 generous degrees Fahrenheit. After opening windows I laid out bagels and cream cheese as brazen means of bribing teenage girls into doing my bidding for the next hour. There is no shame here. Teenagers require lots of food, and lots of bribing. I am not above this tawdry exchange. Neither are they.

I saw a red-coated man in the hall, but there are often miscellaneous people at the church in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. He had keys, which immediately placed him as legitimate in my mind, despite having never seen his face in my five years patronizing this church. While opening a locked door on one side of the room for an early comer, my little Cecily was heading out another door...towards the red-coated man.

After the 19 seconds discussed previously, I became aware that Cecily was no longer in the room and not visible down the long hallway before me. Just as I caught a glimpse of the red-coated man turning the corner at the end of that hallway, I heard Cecily scream.

For half a second I imagined Cecily, held tight under the deceptive warmth of the red coat, going away from me with a face I had never seen before and might never see again.

She screamed again.

The sound was too close for her to be hidden under a coat on the other side of the building. But I couldn't see her....anywhere.

Then she was crying long frantic sobs that came, unmistakably, from behind the library door, held fast with two heavy bolts, for which there were no keys on my ring.

"HEY!" I yelled. "HEY!", because I didn't have a name to go with my desperate call to the red-coated man. I bolted down the hall, leaving Jonah and Caroline to console the terrified Cecily trapped in complete darkness behind two inches of solid wood. I rounded the corner with still no glimpse of red. My heart can handle only so much adrenaline before it pounds itself into cardiac arrest. Who will have a key? How long will it take them to get here? How high up is the handle of the long blade of the paper cutter on the counter just to the left of the library door?

She was wailing, and I was flailing, and we were both of us frightened beyond measure.

There he was! The red-coated man bumbling about in a cleaning closet.
" daughter...the door...back's key...can you...please?"
I was catching my breath, having wasted it on the horrific possibility that Cecily had been whisked away under the red coat.

The same coat worn by the gentle man that smiled in front of me. "Oh sure," he said. "I thought you had closed the door to keep her out. She must have been pretty quiet. I didn't even know she was in there."

Ok, well, let's hope he didn't know she was in there, because the alternative is a little perverse.

He rescued her with absolutely zero level of urgency in either his voice or movement. A father who had apparently dealt with this sort of thing before with the realization that a child behind a closed door comes out fairly unscathed. I'm sure I was sufficiently scathed for everyone present.

The red-coated man turned back the bolt on both locks and swung the door wide. Cecily stood there in the dark holding her milk cup in one hand, her face soaked by great watery tears and mucus. She was instantly quieted at the sight of all of us crowded round the open door. I scooped her up, expecting the consolation to be long and painful, but she was done crying. No fretting, no scarring--just a "get me the heck out of here, if you please" and she was off to play with the other little ones that had joined us by then.

Later, after all the girls had arrived and they were salivating over Jackie's coffee cake, I told them we could start after I moved my car form the handicap spot. Someone suggested that, as a mother, I might be entitled to a handicap spot.

Handicapped by three kids and no eyes in the back of my head, as it seems all the other moms get.


Menner said...

I only have eyes in the back of my head when I'm in my own house - where I have an intimate knowledge of every room and what is in it.

The moment we go anywhere else (no matter how familiar, not even the home I grew up in) all bets are off. They could be doing anything. Anywhere. Who knows.

The only reason I feel safe letting Jenny run amok at Granny's is because I figure there are enough grownups around to compensate for my less than 100% diligent surveillance.

My mom says that once you become a parent you spend the rest of your life trying to keep your kids alive or worrying about their livelihood.

Such is the price for such passionate love.

aubtobobtolob said...

holy crap. period.