Saturday, March 28, 2009

Startle

Somebody took Naomi.
Like the Lorax, who was "lifted away," it is passive voice - she was lifted. She was taken.
And we have no idea by whom; just very, very thankful that it was not for long, and we got her back.
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי-טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

This morning was a pretty big kiddush, and it was held upstairs - ie a lot of people in a pretty small space. So a bunch of the kids were outside (upstairs, on the 3rd-floor fenced-in roof area) zooming around in little play cars belonging to the daycare (amazingly cute! dozens of them, going wild!).

When it was time to leave, Ted took Gavriel Zev, and I took Naomi inside. I'd left some things in the room of kiddush, so I told Naomi to wait (in the small vestibule / elevator waiting area between the door to outside and the stairs heading down) and ducked into the room to grab them (they were right inside the door), and when I turned around and came back, literally seconds later, she was gone.

Faster than the time she wandered off in WalMart and I had to call security. Literally SECONDS. I called down the stairs, but there was no answer. She likes to hide, but I had a feeling she wasn't playing around - that just wasn't the mood she'd been in a second before.

I thought maybe she'd ducked into the elevator in the split second I was gone (not likely, because the vestibule was full of waiters and trays of food and whatnot, but she's a bit sneaky sometimes...), but decided to check a couple of other options.

I sent Ted off to go down the front stairs in case she was there.
I did a quick check outside, but nobody had seen her come out (there was another mama sitting right on the bench there who knows Naomi).

So I went back to the back stairwell and headed down, calling to Naomi. Again, elapsed time was NOT long, maybe a minute?

I peeked out of the stairs on the second floor in case she was there: nope. (thinking again: did I do that, or go straight down? I forget)

Got to the first floor, came out, checked the coat room and front-of-lobby area: nope.

Went back to the back door where the carriage is, where we usually get our stuff together to go out, hoping to meet Ted.
And there he was, coming out of the ladies' section with Naomi.

Elapsed time, still not long: a few minutes?

At first, I was mad at her, but she looked a bit teary, and told me a man carried her down.

!
!

Which man? Well, all the men look alike... tall with a dark suit, right?
Anyway, I figured it was another father trying to be helpful.

I said, "which man was it?" She pointed towards the door and said "him," but then, a second later, she said "he already left."
So we went out and there was only one man on the street in front, a father we know pretty well, playing with his kids.
Still, I figured maybe he was being helpful and didn't know where we were.

I asked him if he'd carried Naomi downstairs and he looked at me (like that was a dumb thing) and said no.
It would be a dumb thing, I realize now, to carry her down: she is 4, pretty independent, and also pretty heavy. If someone was helping her find her parents, he'd probably just walk down, maybe holding her hand if he knew her as well as this father did. (I've helped his daughter on occasion & that's what I do)

Anyway, we went back inside, and I figured that was the end of it. I told her, "if anybody wants to take you somewhere at shul, just say, 'no, I'm waiting for my parents.'"
She agreed, and we said it a few times to practice.

I kind of maybe suspected at the time that she'd snuck down the stairs herself and maybe invented the story about the man to cover. But I realized later that would be a very sophisticated lie. She's smart, but not that smart.

Well.

Ted talked to her a bit more later when they went to the park. Now, I don't know what his approach was, and what kind of questions he asked, but he got a bit of a different story.

Apparently, the man - somebody she didn't know - picked her up and carried her down to the ladies' section, where she started crying, I guess enough that another person came and told the man to put her down. And then the man left.

First thought: yay for my crybaby daughter!

Actually, "cry LOUD" was the advice I gave her after the getting-lost-in-WalMart incident. If we're ever separated, she has my permission to cry a LOT and LOUDLY. Not that I think she'll need much coaching on that - yay!

Second thoughts, in no particular order:

1) he must have taken her awfully fast, because I really was gone literally for two seconds - he didn't look around for us (remember, Ted was also standing in the vestibule waiting, just distracted with the baby)

2) he must have gone down the stairs awfully fast, because I called down right away when I noticed she was gone
3) nobody is in the ladies' section at that time of day: kiddush was two BIG flights up, and almost everybody who wasn't staying for lunch had already left (except slowpokes like us)

Third thought, and this is only paranoid parental guessing:

Somebody wanted to be alone and relatively undisturbed with my 3-year-old daughter.


Though many people were still in the building, there were two events taking place: a lunch two BIG flights up and a lunch one BIG flight down. The ladies' section would probably be one of the most secluded areas in the building, though I suppose if he wanted to do something really creepy, the handicapped washroom on the main floor would be more private.

This is all I remember of what Ted told me. I'm sure some details are missing.
But I do know I am never letting go of her in a crowd ever again.

I do know that lots of people in our shul look out for each other's kids, and people pick up each other's kids all the time. Mostly babies, but still. Mostly they ask permission first. Mostly, they know who the parents are.

I keep thinking this person, if he's a regular there, would have known us, and seen us standing right there. He wouldn't have taken her two floors down to look for us.
We'll never know exactly what did happen, I guess.

But still... even in a place you trust, where you know and trust most of the people: hang onto your kids.
Added on re-reading: I just want to add here, I am not a parent who panics.

I am not a big panicker.
When I hear about something like this, my first reaction is usually, "my kid did something dumb ... again." What else is new? 99% of the potentially-anxiety-provoking things turn out to be something dumb they have done.

I just figured she'd gone off on her own down the stairs without waiting, either because she was bored or silly. Dumb, right? But the big kids do it all the time, so maybe she was emulating them... as 4-year-olds love to do. Dumb.

Doctors have a saying: "if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras." It's probably a cold, not some obscure tropical brain parasite. But every once in a while, you do get a zebra.

As parents, we have to protect our kids from both the horse of their own dumbness and the zebra of the few-but-many bad people in the world.

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