I think it's kind of weird to call something a near miss, when you never actually know what the outcome would have been, even if you're pretty sure it would be bad. Nonetheless, in our 3 weeks since moving here, Holland, has had just as many near misses.
I've mentioned to some of you that's it a bit tricky - this whole getting around a big, bustling city with 3 kids that are used to just getting in the car anytime they have to go somewhere. They're not used to the walking, they're not used to the navigating, or the trains, and Holland, in particular, is not used to all of the crowding. The kids really take it personally if someone brushes by or makes full contact on the street - even when it's clearly overcrowded and the only way is through the throng of bodies. I sometimes have to stifle laughter when we're out because she gets SO mad about people pushing her around on sidewalks. Nobody is looking at her (that's part of the problem) because she's so wee, but she's glaring and throwing elbows and occasionally lifting her hands in that "watch what you're doing" gesture. She doesn't want me to help her in these situations and refuses to hold my hand. She often walks too close to the edge of the sidewalk and I actually saw a double decker bus glide by and touch the sleeve of her shirt on one hair raising occasion (but I'm not including this traffic meet-and-greet in the list of her top 3).
So, along with the walking, there is public transport on the tube, trains, and DLR. You don't have to take a quiz later, so it's okay if you don't understand the difference between them - not important to the story - so long as you know to mind the gap and are aware that there are automated doors on said transport that open and close at stops for a predetermined amount of time. (The exact amount of time remains a mystery, as does the presence of any sort of warning indicator.) And as you can imagine, there are warning posters all over the transit area depicting a pigtailed silhouette trapped behind the doors, while mum looks on helplessly, looking vaguely faint-y. Beware of child separation. Well, this constitutes 2 of Holland's near misses. (She didn't actually get separated from us, that's why I'm calling it a near miss.) The first time she hopped on a train (the wrong one) and Cal acted as a human shield, blocking the closing doors and getting her back on the platform. The second time was probably my fault because we all got on the tube and I realized it wasn't the right direction and so I quickly said, "get off," and she was the only child that obeyed. This time, I pried doors open (while wearing wonder woman cuffs, no less) and swung her back on to the tube with us. If there's a theme to any of this, I suppose it's that Holland gets swung around a lot for a 5 year old. She's a twig. I can guarantee you that now, all children have been thoroughly lectured about what to do if separated while traveling.
Now let's switch gears to the BIG near miss, because it's fun to talk about heart attacks.
We go to the Maritime museum several times a week because it's so close. Which means my kids are familiar with the building. There is the gigantic floor map of the world and they can use tablets to virtually sail around and pick up items, or there's a boat simulation that allows them to be captain of some seafaring vessel I can't readily identify, and lots of other maritime stuff. But my kids prefer the gift shop. Yes, we frequently just end up cruising the gift shop, touching everything, and making the staff suspicious of our intentions.
On the day of the incident, it was just me and the girls. We were killing time and browsing the kid toys for the 206th time, each girl dropping lame hints that they think will encourage me to buy them stuff out of the kindness of my heart. (Yes, they actually think that I might have one.) The gift shop has multiple entrances, but is set far enough away from the main museum, that it feels like a closed space. So, here's what goes down:
Finley decides she needs to show me something in the back of the shop, so I leave Holland in the kid section and follow Fin to the penguin display. It's not a big place and if there isn't a crowd, I can see Holland from the back, because the displays only come up to waist level on me. Finley gives me her spiel and I recite all the reasons I'm not ever going to buy a wind-up penguin. At this point, it's probably only been 2 minutes, and I start to scan the front of the store for Holland. And I actually start having this internal conversation with myself about whether I let her be too independent because I am so used to the older kids. I can't see her, but there are people milling about. She could be behind a display. So, I head back to the front and begin searching the kid area more thoroughly. She's not behind anything and she's not sitting down on the nearby bench. I tell Finley to walk back between all the displays and look for Holland because she's probably wandered back there, while I stay in the front and keep a lookout. Finley comes back and shakes her head, annoyed that I've asked her to participate in caring for another human. This is the point (and I know you moms will know this feeling - the feeling when you are trying to decide if you will panic and how long you will wait until you begin to fully freak out) that the pit in my stomach wells up and adrenaline is creeping up from my limbs and waiting to pounce on my chest. But, I will not freak out. Yet. I bark at Finley to stay put in the front of the store and I cruise back once more through the displays myself, willing her to appear the entire time, but no, she is not there. She is not in the store. Dread.
I brace myself and try to put on my neutral face, because at this point, I can feel Finley searching me for cues about how to react, and I know she will freak out if I seem panicked. I am trying to shove all of the images I have of kidnappings and creepy guys at Disneyland (drugging children and dying their hair to sneak them out of the park) back into the box of horrors I keep in my mind. I find the nearest gift shop employee,
"Excuse me, I've lost my daughter. She was just standing there, by the telescopes, a few minutes ago. She is only 5 years old. She is wearing turquoise pants, I mean trousers, with polka-dots, and a purple tank top. She has long brown hair, pulled back in a pony tail. Can you make an announcement?" I sound kind of like a robot.
The woman pauses and then says, "You'll need to walk over to the main information desk and they can help you." She seems very casual, and I want to shake her and yell something all wild-eyed, like, "even Wal Mart has a code Adam for shit like this!" But I don't, because obviously it's not the time to start cultural comparisons, and I realize my fear swearing has taken hold, and we're losing time. Time, time, time. I know that every second counts - that's what all the crime drama shows have taught me. It's been about five minutes since I've seen her and I've convinced myself that she is not lost, she has been taken, and my heart is racing as I think about how I will shatter into a million pieces if anything happens to her. And I can't keep hold much longer of the flood gate which is threatening to spill every violent and terrible act perpetrated on small children into my mind. But I'm also afraid she will come back to the gift shop and not see us, so I command Finley to stay put and not move from the rubber ducky display and wait for her to return.
I begin my hurried and erratic walk to the information desk, which is a short walk down a hallway and then a left turn towards the side entrance. There's a wall of glass, a fountain outside, lots of people milling about and there at the desk (similar to an airline counter) are 3 uniformed museum employees, heads just visible. I am composing my thoughts and preparing what I will say (block the doors, nobody out, search by grid) that will make them move fast and understand exactly what needs to happen. I see one of them stand, a young man, and he makes eye contact with me and starts waving his hand, at which point I hear, "Mandy Watts, will you please come to the information desk, Mandy Watts."
I've been alive long enough to know that Mandy, Wendy, Mindy are all me, and I sense they must know something is going on, because now the standing employee is waving vigorously at me and motioning to the furthermost side of the desk, but I still don't see Holland. I continue past the desk and see a small group of employees and a woman with 3 children - and one of those children breaks free of the group and there is my Holland, red eyed and sobbing, running towards me with outstretched little hands. I really almost start crying because the adrenaline has just skyrocketed through me and the sense of relief is so palpable that I'm shaking a bit. I bend down to meet her and she folds into my chest, wrapping herself away from the onlookers. I glance up and find the woman waiting expectantly while her kids circle the area, and I look into her eyes and thank her, in somewhat of an intense way, because I'm feeling very emotional and because she just gave me back my child, for heaven's sake. "She was outside by the fountain and I could tell something was wrong, so I asked where her mom was and she started crying. That's when I brought her back into the museum because I guessed that's where her family would be." I thank her fifty more times, and pick Holland up hurriedly to get back and collect Finley. And that's when Holland tells me what happened.
She didn't see us in the shop, so she thought we had gone home without her (I mean, have I ever? No. I have never, ever, left her or any of my kids. Way to make me feel like mom of the year). She knew we were close to the house and she could find her way home, so she left the gift shop and walked through the museum and then went outside. Once she was outside in the busy crowd she started to get worried, and wasn't really sure if she should go home, so she said she tried not to be scared and she tried not to cry - she was trying to be brave, but she couldn't hold it in. And that is when the lady noticed her and asked her if she was lost.
Hallelujah for not being brave!
Obviously I reassured her that I would never go home without her, and I explained to her that I had just gone to the back of the shop with Finley. We went over it again and discussed what to do if you get lost, reminding her not to keep looking, but to stay put. It took a while for both of us to calm down.
She is now a bit hyper vigilant about staying by my side after being truly lost. I'm sure it will fade in a few days. I'm still surprised she left the shop when I think about it - it's so unlike her. There are a lot of woulda-shoulda-couldas, but it's pointless to dwell on them at this point - it is what it is. I'll take a near miss over a major incident any day, and I'll continue to tell my kids to "look for the moms if you need help - the moms will help you."
I probably should have given that lady a big awkward stranger hug.