Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lost and Found and Hunting for Butterflies

Let me start by saying this story has a good ending. Everyone is safe and sound; all's well.

We lost Happy the other day at the pool. He was doing the rounds of jumping off the diving board, swimming to the side, getting out, and jumping off the diving board again. He said that was all he was going to do the whole day. Forty minutes in, he was true to his word.

Every 90 seconds I was saying "awesome jump!" and "cool cannonball!" and "yep, you sure did get me wet, you monster!"

I was sitting six feet away from the stairs on a lawn chair, tucked up against the hedges for some shade. The first time all year I haven't set myself in the direct path of UVA and UVB and radiation and all that crap.

McGee hollered over; something about someone coming home to play after school this week, and I walked halfway in her direction and yelled back across the pool something about talking about it later and for the love of Pete quit yelling across the whole pool.

And looked over and Happy was gone.

Not on the stairs, not on the diving board. I quickly walked over, and peered into the water, that pit of nausea creeping up from inside. Our lifeguard saw my verging-on-panic look and stood up in his tower chair.

"Happy?" he asked.

I nodded. I heard my name, spun around, to the point that you know when the world kinda goes out of focus for a minute you moved that fast? Lefty was calling to me, wanting to know if he could go kick the soccer ball down on the field. I said yes, but where's Happy?

He shrugged his shoulders. I think I must have looked sick, because, being the helpful sort, he said "mom, want me to go look in the bathroom? Cuz when I jump off the diving board too many times, I have to poo. I think the water goes -- you know? Up." He says this as he's using his thumb to illustrate, like he's trying to hitch a ride from some 1960's Flower Power VW bus that's currently parked behind him.

[When McGee was two, she walked out the front door when I was in the shower. I raced through the house looking for her and froze when I saw the front door open, the dogs gone and all of McGee's clothes on the front steps. Gone is every rational, critical thinking, problem solving thought that you would normally use to strategize the best way to locate your child. In its place is gut wrenching terror, panic, blame and making deals with any and all dieties that will peacefully resolve this for you. I ran around outside in my robe for 15 minutes, shrieking her name, the dogs' names, until I found her on the fairway about 40 feet behind my neighbor's house. Running naked though the sprinklers. With the dogs. She probably still doesn't understand the logic that drove me to hug her tighter than I ever had, and then spank her. But, she never did it again, so it must have worked.]

It's like a ripple effect when a kid goes missing. It's not like there's some PA system announcement. One mom will stand up, either too slowly or really fast and scan around for the child they can't find. And, just like that, every other mom starts scanning, looking for that face that says "lost kid" in the crowd. One friend called out to me and said, "Kate, which one?"

"Happy." And, just like that, the pit creeped up and grabbed a hold of my throat. And the strangest thing happens. Your feet refuse to move, but your brain won't stop. Where is he? Where did he go? Is he alone? Did he get into a car? Which car? How many cars have left since the last time I saw him? Oh, God, he wouldn't have gotten into a car, would he?

"MOM!" It's Lefty. He just shakes his head. But, it tells me it was a good thing he went in there to check, because, as it turned out, *he* had to poo. "Did we find Happy yet?"

By now the moms have fanned out...through the pool, the clubhouse and showers, the tennis courts. Two have grabbed their keys to go drive slowly through the neighborhood. I basically haven't moved from where I was when he vanished. It's totally illogical, but this is where I was, so he'll look for me here. Right?

"He's know Happy, he can blend in anywhere if he sits quietly enough," one of my girlfriends reminded me. She's right. He sort of hides in plain sight. The problem, of course, is that he sees no reason to answer when you call for him, mostly because, sheesh, he's right HERE if you'd just turn around and look at him.

Think! He's got orange arm floaties on. He takes them off the instant he gets out of the water. I called out to our lifeguard that we need to find his floaties. He pointed to my chair.

Behind it, tucked in the hedges, Happy. He had fallen asleep on his towel. I scooped him up, the tears flowing, and watched the word spread across the pool that the lost one had been found.

He smiled at me. "Look! I caught a butterfly" and opened his cupped hands. A pair of wings flapped slowly in his tiny hands. "Do you think he misses his mommy?"

I said yes. But even more, I bet his mommy misses him.


Yesterday, we were taking the dog for a walk. Happy was chasing a butterfly; it's his new favorite thing to do. Capture and release. Butterflies, fireflies, those creepy jumpy moth things that somehow have taken up residence in my laundry he was stalking one, he looked up at me and said, "remember when you were sad when I caught the butterfly and took a nap?" I nodded. His story is way better than mine.

You weren't lost, little one, you were just off on a butterfly expedition.

Much better. Let's go home.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2010

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