After the friends went home, I took the boys to Trader Joe's to restock the now-empty fridge and pantry. Benjamin had a little Lego mini fig with him, and he was making the little man jump off the shelves and into the cart. It was getting annoying as he'd throw his whole body at the cart with a loud screech to simulate the little man flying through the air, crashing into the cart. I kept asking him to stop, told him to put the mini fig in his pocket, and keep the noise down. Then Nathan started loudly complaining that it was taking too long, which was as grating as a kid chanting, "Are we there yet?" on a long car trip. Honestly, have you ever been to Trader Joe's? It's tiny. Three or four aisles, max. There's no way to take a long time there, which is possible to do at Von's or Ralph's or Food 4 Less with their dozens of aisles. I was getting annoyed at both of them for exhibiting the kind of grocery store behavior that I trained out of them when they were three or four. They'd just had a long, fun day that I'd arranged and now they were getting on my last nerve. How's that for gratitude, I thought. So much for my previous good feeling about my great life.
I went to check out and when I ran my debit card through the machine, the entire machine came right off it's stand. The cashier tried to help me get the card through, but it was chaotic. He handed me my receipt and I stepped away with my cart. But only Nathan stepped away with me. Benjamin was nowhere to be found.
Thinking Ben must be in one of the other checkout stations, I had Nathan walk up and down to look for him. He wasn't there. I had Nathan stand with the cart so I could look up the ends of the aisles, and there was no sign of him. I got a very metallic taste in my mouth and felt my knees buckle. I grabbed the cashier who'd rang me up and said my younger son was missing. He went into action, an employee at the door, an announcement on the P.A., another employee sweeping the aisles. I stared out the front door, looking at several cars backing out of parking spaces, and my vision blurred and my heart pounded as my imagination ran wild, thinking that one of those cars might have my baby in the back, being taken away from me. Just as I started crying, I saw Benjamin's head bobbing down the checkout lane as he skipped up to me. All the employees cheered and said, "we've all been looking for you!"
Benjamin had seen the bathroom in the back of the store, and since it was taking me so long to try and pay for my purchases on the faulty machine, took the opportunity to go use it. Without saying a word to me. This is a tough one. I am forever encouraging my boys to become more independent and self reliant, which is what Ben's excuse was for going by himself to the bathroom. But I still have a lot of work to do on the area of communication. I was shaking for at least an hour, trying to shut off the part of my brain that was imagining the phone call I would have had to make to my husband if things had gone in a much more tragic direction. And the boys and I had a long talk about not assuming someone has heard you unless they acknowledge you in some way (a lesson I'm learning from the fact that my husband is deaf in one ear and doesn't actually hear everything I think he does).
I hate to go back to making them walk next to me with a hand on the cart so I know where they are at all times like I did when they were toddlers and preschoolers. I don't want my actions to be motivated by fear. And it's hard not to live in fear every day, reading the headlines and walking alongside friends who have indeed lost a child through abduction which ended in horrible tragedy. All I know is that I'm grateful for the little boys peacefully asleep in the room behind me, even if they love to laugh at the word "poo" and make fart jokes and annoy me. I don't want to contemplate life without those precious annoyances.