So that afternoon, I tossed the children in the car and we headed out on a shoe-shopping expedition. We were all in relatively good spirits, and I was looking forward to eyeballing the racks at Marshall's.
What could possibly go wrong?
We entered the store and T9 immediately started running in circles. He's recently been pretending that he's a dog, so I assumed he was just chasing his tail and not suffering a brain injury. Plus One grabbed my hand and together we clotheslined his brother and wrestled him into the shoe section.
About thirty seconds later, I had managed to remove exactly one shoe from Plus One when I noticed T9's little blonde head bobbing around the corner. He had spied some rhinestone covered heels: "WOOK! WOOK, MOMMY!" I darted over, scurried him back over next to his brother and I, and continued the process of shoe-trying-on-ing. He was gone again in seconds.
This time around, I simply made a mental note of where he was and quickly tied Plus One's shoe before standing to fetch him. I looked in the aisle next to us, where I'd seen him scurry, and he wasn't there. I looked down the next aisle. No T9. The next and the next were empty, too. "T9?! Where ARE you?" At this point, Plus One had run over to my side muttering something about ONLY ONE SHOE ON MOM, but I was fully entering MATERNAL PANIC MODE BECAUSE OMFG MY CHILD IS GONE.
We'd been in the store for a whopping three minutes.
I grabbed Plus One by the hand and he hobbled along next to me, barely keeping pace. I began shouting at this point, making a mental inventory of all possible outcomes of my missing child. They included:
1. He ran out the door and was hit by a car.
2. He was stolen.
3. He's dead.
You could say I was frantic.
It was around this point that I also started looking to others, my eyes pleading for help. (Or sedation.) Most of the other customers milling about simply ignored my delirium, their eyes focused on finding that bargain cardigan. But one mother stopped to help me, checking racks to see if he was hiding. I looked around for an employee and spotted an older woman with her elbows resting on a podium at the entrance to the dressing room. HAVE YOU SEEN A LITTLE BOY?! She looked at me, shook her head, and yawned. My eyes went wide and I was now shouting as loud as I could, you best believe.
T9! T9! YOU NEED TO COME TO MOMMY RIGHT NOW! AND OMFG I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE JUST STANDING THERE, WHY WILL NO ONE HELP ME?! PANICPANICPANIC
My mind was racing with episodes of 48 Hours, something about grid search patterns, and the faint sound of my older son requesting a second shoe. I don't know how much time had passed, but I eventually heard T9's faint voice calling at me, "I comin' Mommy!" He was at the opposite end of the store, guys, frolicking in the women's underwear.
(This child will be the death of me.)
After I scooped the boy up in my arms, simultaneously scolding and hugging, we walked back over to the spot where I'd left Plus One's other shoe. I placed T9 on a patch of tile and told him he was stuck in the box and DON'T YOU DARE MOVE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. The one woman who'd stopped to help looked over with a sigh of relief and I thanked her. I sent some mind bullets to the effect of Oh my god, I'm so embarrassed, but seriously, no one could be fucking bothered to help?! She replied with a look of, Yeah, you looked like a raving lunatic, but we've all been there.
I decided to stay to try on the stack of shoes I'd accumulated for Plus One, and things seemed to have almost settled back to a point where I could pretend the whole thing NEVER EVEN HAPPENED. Sure, T9 was still shrieking a bit, but HE'S THREE. THAT'S WHAT HE DOES.
But before my heart rate had settled back to a normal pace, I heard a squeaky set of wheels heading my way. It was the older woman who'd been standing at the dressing room, and she was pushing a shopping cart over to where I sat with the boys. I looked up at her, mid shoelace tie, with questioning eyes.
She stood above us, looking down. "Why don't you put him in a buggy, ma'am." She was not smiling or friendly, you guys. SHE WAS HERE TO JUDGE. AND SHE BROUGHT HER BUGGY, TOO.
"Oh, no thanks. He'd crawl right out of it anyway!" I chuckled to lighten the air, but she didn't laugh. She paused, looked at me, then the children, cleared her throat, and walked back over to her podium, leaving her motherfucking buggy behind.
I seem to be doing really well here in Texas, you guys.