Saturday, June 30, 2012

Max takes a walk

Psalm 56:3-4a (NIV)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
   In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
We lost Max today.

It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and it was resolved within a minutes. He wasn’t remotely phased — in fact, the person most worked up about it was a more or less complete stranger who had only met him a few hours earlier. Allow me to set the scene.

We had a new and used cloth diaper sale in the garage from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. (Kristie is in the cloth diaper business in case you need anything.) After the sale, a few of Kristie’s friends hung around helping her get everything back in order. One of the friends had brought along her mother and daughter, the idea being the grandmother and granddaughter would hang out in our yard all morning. I should have fed the kids earlier, but I was waiting for the sale to end so I could get lunch for Kristie and her helpers.

Mothers and children had been in and out of the house all day. There was always at least two other mothers around who know our kids, sometimes as many as five. It was a hectic morning, sure, but nothing overwhelming. Being at Brookfield Zoo last Sunday when Max decided to get a better look at the gorillas was far more harrowing, and even that wasn’t horrendous. But that’s another story.

We had four signs for the sale — one at the end of the cul-de-sac across from our house, one at the corner of our street and two at the north entrance to our subdivision. I let Jack retrieve the closest two but told him I’d have to get the others, which I know Kristie heard. I’m a little fuzzy on what happened next, but as best I can piece it together, Max went outside looking for me. Jack told him I’d gone to get the signs. Max said he want to go with. Kristie said he could, he’d just have to catch up to me. The problem was that as all this went down, I was sitting inside feeding Charlie a piece of bread.

After Charlie got done eating, I went outside to pass him off and go get the signs. I knew Max was not inside, but I did not see him outside. Kristie was at the end of the driveway with her friends. I asked if she knew where Max was, and she did not. This, naturally, posed a problem. Charlie and I cased the house one more time, Kristie and Jack looked up the street. Not finding Max inside, I dumped Charlie in the yard, and Jack and I set off to find Max.

“Max is either picking up the other signs or he’s dead,” Jack said matter-of-factly. Having just pictured him lying in the road the second before Jack spoke, I snapped back at him: “That’s a horrible thing to say! How would you feel it that were true?” I didn’t think it was in any way true, but I didn’t exactly need the eight-year-old mapping out the darkest timeline. Still, I give myself credit for not making things worse by making Jack feel bad about what he’d said, which is something of an accomplishment given his penchant for wildly overreacting to even innocuous comments, let alone those intended to pack an emotional punch.

As we rounded the corner of our street, we saw Max, barefoot, heading back our way on the sidewalk. We also saw a woman driving very slowly alongside him. She’d seen him at out by the subdivision entrance, asked him where he lived (he answered with the name of the town) and suggested he head home, then drove with him to make sure he arrived safely. I told the lady Max thought he was with me so she wouldn’t think we simply allow our four-year-old to walk, barefoot, a quarter-mile from home to play at the corner of a county highway.

I sent Jack home to tell Kristie Max was safe. Max and I walked back to get the signs and conversed a bit about his little adventure. He repeated the entire story for me and, aside from wanting to be carried after walking all that way with no shoes, he was pretty mellow about the entire brief ordeal. I was similarly unaffected, though I’m not sure how many more minutes I could have gone before legitimate panic set in. Maybe I should have lost it the second we realized he was missing, but I’m not convinced it’s beneficial to freak out in such situations. Besides, I’m the calm one, at least for these scenarios.

Kristie was pretty calm, too, especially compared to the other friends and the bonus grandma. I understand, though. We have a lot of faith (perhaps too much) in Max to remain calm in such scenarios. We have a lot of trust (perhaps too much) in the safety of the neighborhood and vigilance of our neighbors. I was sure I knew where I’d find him because Max has never once wandered off at random. We never put up baby gates for him because he literally would not crawl off on his own, he would only follow one of his parents. He doesn’t even like to go upstairs to get a pair of socks if no one else is up there. He walked to the corner because he’d been told I would be there. And while it probably wasn’t the best decision to send him off in that direction without visual confirmation I’d actually be there to meet him, I take solace in two things: 1. I didn’t make that decision. 2. I was the one who realized something was amiss about three seconds after surveying the scene. The only thing I could have done better is set Charlie down and head for the corner the second I suspected he was on his way there.

I’m nearly 1,000 words into this tale, and it’s pretty clear this near-miss of ours isn’t exactly Lifetime movie material. It was over almost as soon as it began, and while Max has learned a bit more about personal safety, it probably was about the ninth most exciting thing that happened to him today (he got to eat two doughnuts instead of breakfast). I might be mostly writing this down just so I have a clear recollection of the events a few years from now.

Yet I do realize how very lucky we are, because there are countless ways it could have been worse. In fact, if you’re ever going to lose a child, I recommend following our blueprint exactly — find him before you even have time to run through all the possible negative outcomes. In fact, I didn’t even get worked up enough to pray. This would have been a perfect time for the “God, help” prayer. The fact my mind didn’t go there immediately is either: A. testament to the serenity I find by placing my trust in God; or B. proof I don’t do a great job of fixing my gaze on the Lord throughout the day. I report, you decide.

We call him the Doodle. Ain't he a stinker?
But now, several hours later when I’d almost forgotten this even happened, I do have a better perspective and a desire to thank the Lord for my blessings. Max and I had some brief quality time before he went to sleep tonight, and as much as I love looking deep into Charlie’s eyes, I need to remember I can still do that with Max for a few more months before he decides it’s weird. Those wordless moments, where we just take each other in — me pondering his future, him perhaps seeing his future in me — are when I truly sense the truth of what a gift it is to be a father.

It’s also a monumental responsibility. And tomorrow, I hope, I do a better job of looking out for him. He deserves my very best, without fail.

A prayer for June 30:

Lord, thank you for keeping my children safe. They are a precious gift and I am ever grateful for the chance to be a father — to be their father. Please help me make the most of this opportunity and give me the strength to bear the responsibility. I will put my trust in you; I revere you as the source of the peace that passes all understanding. Your blessings are incalculable, I will strive to return those blessings in praise. Amen.

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