The locker room is hectic after swimming lessons. My son tends to get into the shower room with the naked little girls or get underfoot in some other way. So while I help Sophie get dressed I have taken to putting him up on this ledged table where he climbs about but stays in one place and out of people’s way.
Today as I’m combing Sophie’s hair I see out of the corner of my eye this woman R. pick my son up and hug him. This makes some sort of sense; she has been sitting next to me during swim lessons and she and my son have established a rapport. Today she stroked his back and kissed him once. So I see her pick him up and think, kind of odd, but nothing else. A moment later (preoccupied with thoughts of our packing, errands to do before our trip, my daughter’s non-stop talking) I half-notice they are gone and I decide she must be out in the hallway with him, waiting for us as we are almost done. How nice of her.
Not two minutes later Sophie and I are ready and we start looking for R. and Nels. I can’t find them. I think, OK, they’re in the dining area. Not there. The swimming bleachers. Not there. Outside? The racket ball courts? The basketball courts? Back to the locker room the weight room the racket ball courts the daycare the bathrooms.
At this point I am not crying. I am frustrated and embarrassed this woman is somewhere with my child waiting for me and I can’t find them. I ask up at the front desk. I am starting to have a hard time because it’s hard for me to describe what R. looks like. It starts to occur to me someone could have taken him. R. could have taken him. Her physical affections towards my child become less impulsive and well-meaning but completely sinister. I don’t know her, I don’t know her at all, but I saw her pick up my child. I tell the front desk woman to please keep an eye out; this desk staff member who I’ve thought has moments of incompetency, does a great job asking for details and making suggestions. I am slowly starting to unravel because I just need to see my son. I start looking again. Locker room hallway raquetball dining area swimming area foyer front desk. I end up in childcare even though he’s not there, I have to ask. This is when I start crying. “I think someone took him,” I say, because I’ve simply looked everywhere.
The daycare woman is asking what he looks like and asking if I’ve looked X, Y, or Z (yes yes yes of course I’ve looked there) and telling me to go to the front desk (I’m going to, I think we’ll have to call the police). I go to the front desk and I know I look insane, completely crazy. The front desk woman assigns a staff member to me and I (outwardly calm voice, crazy-eyed) say I’m going to take my bag to the car and make sure this woman isn’t by my car (this would be nuts; she doesn’t know what I drive).
Sophie is following me. “Where’s Nels?” “Did someone take him?” I can’t do anything but feel like I’m going to die if I don’t see him soon.
As we go inside the Y I see him with my assigned staff member, gamely holding her hand and walking on the tile lines. He runs to me, “Mama!” R. is nowhere. I pick him up and press his body like clay to my face, my neck and he says, “Mama… you like me!” I can see the staff looking at me with that kind of fear like they think I’m going to yell at them or start screaming about the woman who picked him up but I am too, too overcome to even say thank you. I just turn around holding him and Sophie is next to me and the staff is saying, “We were looking for him!” to reassure me. In my heart I thank them so much that they’d help me when I thought my life was falling into a black hole.
By this time Nels has figured out the Mama he saw less has changed. I take them to the car and they get in their carseats and I let loose and cry and cry and cry.
From the YMCA staff’s point of view, nothing happened. To the woman R. who picked my son up and deposited him wherever she did, nothing happened. For me, I thought I was going to die if he was gone.
I have never, ever been paranoid about stranger abduction in my life, and I don’t think I’ll be paranoid now. R. made a bad choice to remove Nels from my sight and put him who-knows-where. That’s all that happened. He wandered around somewhere for a while during which time I briefly went out of my mind.
One thing that occurred to me later is that there are some people where this nightmare becomes true. I simply can’t imagine the pain of that. For most of us, it’s only a few moments in our lives that resolve in “back to normal”.
I couldn’t stop crying for about an hour after it happened. I feel OK now.