It was several months ago. We stopped in at Target for a usual shop session with all four kids in tow. It was a Saturday afternoon which meant the cute old ladies giving out food samples would be strategically placed at almost every aisle of the store. Which also meant that each of the kids would want to visit said cute old ladies for the food samples they would be giving out. It was Saturday which also meant it would be busy.
We had finished in the dairy and freezer section and started making our way down the aisles when Tanner had finished his third helping of something yummy that he couldn’t pass up. As we headed into the cereal aisle, he handed me his trash at which point I handed it back to him and said he needed to throw it away himself.
“Well, where’s a garbage can?”, he asked. As soon as I began to answer him, he energetically interrupted with, “Oh wait! I remember seeing one back there!”. I told him we would wait for him right where we were and off he went. We continued to browse the cereals not even doubting that he would be right back.
One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes.
As if it was internally timed within my body, I stopped what I was doing immediately and looked at Jarett. “He’s been gone too long.” Jarett’s job in these situations, as with any male, is to remain calm. They don’t get the feeling that we do. And they certainly don’t let it escalate the way we do. And when I saw “we“, of course I am talking about us mothers. And when I say “the feeling” I am talking about that animalistic one. The one that we each had heard about before having kids, but never knew the raw and natural power it yields. Nor did we ever imagine the intense amount of anger and sadness that can erupt from our very core when it comes to these little ones of ours. It’s truly an amazing thing in the best and worst way and no words in the human language can quite describe the depths of it.
I turned the cart and went to the end of the aisle, the same direction he had left us for. I looked left and right. Then right and left. I waited. I looked left and right again. I looked at Jarett. He looked at me. I never would have thought out of all of my kids that Tanner would be the one to get lost. He was the oldest. Independent. Self sufficient. Right?
I was in full blown panic mode. Every cell in my body started to vibrate and my body temperature rose. My palms started sweating. My mind raced and every possible and horrible situation that could happen to him was happening to him. Every news piece I had ever seen, every story I was ever told and every article I had ever read about kids going missing or being taken came rushing to me and images burned into my thoughts like a flame to paper.
Jarett headed into the medicine aisles with the cart, babies and Miss Blake in tow. I started jogging up and down the main aisle, yelling his name. Milliseconds seemed like hours and seconds seemed like days. My head was spinning and in that moment it’s exactly like the movies portray it. Everything swirling around you as you stand in the center of the chaos trying to catch your breath. Heads turned and I searched their faces for any bit of comfort. Any child I heard made my heart beat faster. Every aisle I looked down, nothing. Every time I called out his name, nothing. My eyes began to well with tears as I took deep breaths to hold them back.
I turned around to look down the main aisle and my eyes caught Jarett’s. “Run and pick up that service phone and tell them we have a lost kid…now!”. I shouted. At him. But a mother’s reaction to not being able to find her child is absolutely and unequivocally excused. No matter what and no matter whom the lashing out is directed at. At least that is what I told Jarett later. He turned on his heel and took a few jogging steps to the phone.
“Jarett Clark, please come to the customer service desk. Jarett Clark, please come to the customer service desk.” Those eighteen words were worth more than all of the wealth in the world. Jarett placed the phone back on the receiver as I ran past him. Without even thinking about everyone around me and the heads turning, I ran. I ran all the way to the cash registers and as I turned the corner, there he stood. With a Target employee searching for me through all of the people passing by. He looked my direction and we both took off towards each other. I could feel the entire store watching this scene play out as if it were a scripted drama. It seemed to take forever, but we finally reached each other in the middle. Tears dripping from our eyes, we collided as I dropped to my knees and grabbed hold of him.
He buried his face in my shoulder as I wrapped my arms around him as tightly as I could. Rubbing the back of his head, I just kept telling him it was OK. “It’s OK. It’s OK”. The relief fell over me and I squeezed him tighter as if he would disappear if my grip on him was too loose. I looked up at the Target employee and mouthed “thank you” as another tear or two fell from my cheek.
I stood up as he kept his arms wrapped around my waist and buried his face in my side. I led him through the checkout counters, back to the main aisle, where Dad and the others were making their way our direction. He met Dad with a hug and questions from his sister about what happened. Jarett put his arm around me and kissed my temple as I dropped my head on his shoulder in exhaustion. Complete and total emotional and mental exhaustion.
We stood there for a moment as a family as Tanner explained what happened. How he found the trash can he was looking for, but when he turned around, nothing looked familiar. He told us of how he searched a few aisles and still couldn’t find us. And how he went to the front of the store to customer service to tell him that he couldn’t find us and gave them his dad’s name. Through tears and still trying to catch his breath, he finished with, “Good thing I know your name, Dad, right?” and let out a laugh. Jarett grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him close. “Yes, it’s a good thing for sure.” And of course, we all told him countless times how proud we were of him and how responsible he had been in such a scary situation. And I think I told him I loved him a few dozen times over the rest of our shopping trip. And I don’t think I let go of his hand until we got home.
That night I laid in bed, replaying the entire scene in my head. Going back over it and thinking about if it had been worse. If my worst nightmare had happened. That this amount of anguish I felt in seven minutes had to last longer. If the deepest and darkest fears came true. Those fears that we all imagine when we are alone and our mind wanders. The fears that we don’t talk about, but we all have. Those dark and truly terrifying scenes that you have seen and heard and constantly put yourself in as you imagine them happening in your own life and to the people you love most.
Seven minutes was all it took for my world to come crumbling down that day. That’s all it took for everything I know and feel about being a mother to rise to the surface and completely consume me. Seven minutes for me to realize that at any moment, I could lose it all. In the entire picture of Tanner’s life, this one event will seem like nothing. It will be at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to things he and I will face together and go through, but in those seven minutes I realized how much of myself is wrapped up in him. And he in me. How much of my existence is completely tied up in these little ones. How much of my soul and entire reason for being is held within their hands. Motherhood is the sweetest heart ache I will ever know. A beautiful curse that knows no bounds and never ends and one that cannot be measured in any capacity.
My world came crumbling down that day. And it was built right back up. In just seven minutes.