Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lost and Found

Last week, George had a dream about losing Jack. He told me about it before heading off to work. “We were in this huge space, like a mall, and Nick alerted me to the fact that Jack was nowhere to be seen. You weren’t there. I was totally freaking out until I found him near a row of doors, with some lady tying him to a pole. I felt such unbelievable relief when I fell to my knees and gave him a hug.”

Isn’t it odd how, in dreams, things like strangers tying lost kids to poles are perfectly normal? I once dreamed that a potato was growing out of my knee. This evoked only mild curiosity in my dream self, but upon waking, I wondered if I needed to see a shrink. What would Freud do with that? No wonder I have insomnia.

Today, George and I took the boys to the Cincinnati Museum Center, which houses several different museums, including a really fun Children’s Museum. A few weeks ago, we saw an advertisement for a new Egyptian mummy exhibit. George and I both love history. Nick is interested in ancient Egypt. How could we resist?

We arrived early, saw most of the mummy exhibit, watched the Omnimax film Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, and went to the atrium café to eat. After lunch, we planned to finish the mummy exhibit, and then go to the Children’s Museum. Jack just wanted to go to the Children’s Museum. When we all finished eating, George and Nick carried the trash to the bins across the dining area, and Jack and I followed them. When I reached George, he asked, “Where’s Jack?”

“Right here,” I replied, gesturing to my left where he was a second before.

Only he wasn’t there. Jack was gone.

Those of you with children can imagine (and may, in fact, have experienced for yourselves) the panic we felt: the pit in the stomach, the rush of adrenaline that makes you feel like you’ve just jumped off a bridge and suddenly realize you forgot to attach a bungee to your ankle. Yeah. That same horrible feeling George had in his dream, only this was real.

George sprinted for the door to see if someone had taken Jack outside while I continued searching the huge, crowded atrium. George came back inside just as I started looking for a security guard. Figuring that Jack may have gone to the Children’s Museum downstairs, George sprinted down the escalator while I briefed the security guard.

“We’ve lost our son. He’s seven and has autism.” In that moment, it dawned on me that Jack does have autism and might not be able to tell someone he was lost. He’s never been lost before, and I had no idea how he would react.

I gave a description of Jack’s clothes and hair, which the man relayed on his radio, announcing a Code Three. He was so calm, and it didn’t dawn on me until later that he probably deals with Code Threes regularly, seeing as he works security in a Children’s Museum. For me, I just appreciated his level-headedness as he moved across the atrium straight to the photo kiosk near the trash bins. I hadn’t even noticed the kiosk, but we'd all walked right past it on the way to the trash bins.

Jack loves photo kiosks. The guard found Jack’s coat inside. But where was Jack?

The guard, Nick, and I crossed the atrium to check the other photo kiosk, and as we passed the hallway to the Omnimax theater (where I’d searched fruitlessly earlier), I saw Jack walking beside a woman pushing a stroller.

“Jack!” He saw me and ran into my arms. As we hugged each other, the woman pushing the stroller said, “He told me he needed help. He said he was lost.”

“Thank you,” I said, unspeakable relief in my voice. I turned to Jack and said, “I was so scared, honey! Why did you leave me?”

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I got lost.” He was surprisingly matter-of-fact about it.

“Don’t EVER do that to me again. Stay right by me.”

“Are you angry, Mommy?”

What do you say in these situations? What I wanted to say was, “Yes, I’m furious you scared me so badly, and when I’m done hugging you, I’m going to KILL you!” I figured that might be a tad hysterical and got a grip on myself. “No, I’m not angry. I was scared, and now I’m happy you’re back. And I’m proud of you for telling a grown-up you needed help. That was the right thing to do.”

I thanked the security guard and realized that George was downstairs still in full panic mode. I held tight to Jack’s hand while he, Nick, and I headed downstairs. We met George halfway down and his relief matched mine. We continued downstairs, where I found a bench, sat down, and tried really hard not to sob hysterically. I was shaking and queasy.

Jack said, “Mommy, I’m sorry. Am I in trouble?”

“No, you’re not in trouble.” I pulled him onto my lap and just held him until I could stand again. We spent a few more hours in the museum, bought souvenirs, and headed home.

This evening, George said, “Every time I looked somewhere and didn’t see him, I sank deeper into a pit of despair.” He posted about the horror on an internet forum, and a woman shared how a similar episode with her first born triggered premature labor of her second. I believe it.

Jack says he wasn’t scared while he was lost; he says he just needed to ask a grown-up for help. George and I, on the other hand, are having a tough time shaking the panic. I have to suppress sudden urges to burst into tears. He keeps mentioning how horrible it was. We both feel that we lost ten years of our lives in that ten minutes Jack was missing.

Fortune’s Wheel, a powerful image in medieval literature, turns constantly, making happy people sad, and sad people happy. One doesn’t expect a full revolution in such a short period of time, however; it’s extraordinarily disorienting. But we’ll calm down eventually.

After all, what was lost has been found. Sometimes, dreams do come true.


  1. Wow! How very scary! Merry Christmas!!

  2. Beautifully related. My heart stopped right with yours.


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