I was listening to the news today as they discussed the search for James Delory, an autistic seven year old boy who has gone missing, along with his dog, in Cape Breton. He's been missing for two days but I had a busy weekend and this was the first I had heard.
I found it difficult to swallow and the tears welled up as I listened to the story. My first thought was: That poor boy must be terrified; his parents must be terrified.
Sadly my second and third thoughts were:
I'm happy to say my fourth thought was: shame on you! (meaning myself)
I like to think of myself as a tolerant person. I like to think that I advocate for and support all well-meaning parents instead of railing against them. The truth is that those same thoughts that inflame me when I read them as online comments after such news articles also run through my mind.
Usually, though, I don't voice these thoughts. (I only do now as an example.) After all, who do they help really? Like his parents aren't already thinking this? Like everyone else hearing the story isn't thinking the same thing? Would saying such things prevent another parent from having their child go missing?
I doubt it. After all as parents we are forced to take calculated risks every day.
Haven't you done it?
I left the baby in his car seat in the care of his older brother, age 4,near the front doors of Walmart. It sounds ridiculous when I write it that simply.
It sounds like I was the worst parent ever. If something had happened to either one of them you would have read in the news that a mother had left her infant in the care of her four year old at the front of Walmart. You would have thought the neglectful mother had gone back to finish her shopping or go to the bathroom. You would have completely blamed her.
I had no choice, though. Or at least not one I could come up with at the time. With the full story you just might understand.
I took the kids to Walmart. It had been a hectic day and we hadn't eaten lunch, so I decided that rather than drag three hungry kids through the store I would take them to McDonalds. I got our cart, put the baby in it, put our coats and diaper bag in it and headed straight to McDonalds. It was a very busy day. The aisles were crowded so I told my big boy he had to stand on the back of the cart and I put my daughter in the cart. I was worried that we might get seperateed in the crowds. We got to McDonalds and I removed everything but the coats and diaper bag.
We sat down. We ate. My oldest got restless and began to try leaving the table and acting out. I got a little frustrated but overall we were fine. Then when we go to leave I discover someone had taken my cart. They took the coats out, threw them on the floor and took my cart.
So here I am with two kids, four coats, and a heavy infant in a car seat. I was upset. Why would someone do that? It seemed so needlessly cruel. They could see by the items in the cart that I had a baby and two kids. Why would they think they needed that cart more than me. Yes it was a busy day. Yes the carts were in demand. But that was just nasty.
So I sling my arm through the carrier handle, throw the coats in the crook of my other elbow and take one child by each hand. Back to the front to get another cart. It's so crowded though that it's difficult navigating through with the infant seat sticking out at my side the big bundle of coats and us walking three across. No one will let us through. Instead they're giving me dirty looks for getting in their way.
And then it happens.
My two year old daughter rips free of my hand and takes off. We're close to the doors. I try to turn us all around and go after her, but I'm being hemmed in. There's a Salvation Army kettle by the doors manned by a nice lady I've talked to before. She knows the kids and always says hello to them. So despite the fact that she's talking with someone else and I can't get her attention, I throw down our coats, stand Harrison next to her, put Emerson at his feet and say "stay here. Tell the nice lady that Mommy will be right back. Keep an eye on your brother."
Unladen of the car seat, coats and kid I can run. I search frantically for my daughter and finally find her hiding in a rack of men's pants. She tries to run again so I grab her. She screams. I rush, carrying her, back to the front.
Meanwhile there's a middle aged lady walking lazily along, leaning on an empty cart. She's in no hurry and she has another woman on either side of her, blocking the aisle. They stop to talk. They block the aisle more. I can't get through.
"Excuse me," I say.
Then a bit louder.
They look at me and ignore me.
My baby is crying. I can hear him and I know my child's cry.
"Excuse me!" I say. I'm a little nasty this time.
"Look lady my baby is at the front of the store and he's crying!"
She stares at me. She wrinkles her nose. She takes in the screaming child in my arms.
"You shouldn't have left him then, should you."
At which point I push her aside and run to the front. "Walk a mile, lady." I say as I breeze past her.
Politeness leaves and I push people out of my way to get to my crying baby.
He's fine. His big brother is fine. He's crouched next to the seat, rocking it while the nice Salvation Army lady - whose name I really should have learned - looks on smiling.
She looks at me. "He's such a good big brother, isn't he."
"Yes I say," near tears, "yes he is."
"He told me you'd be back soon and asked if I could watch them, but he's doing such a good job watching his brother himself." She smiles.
"Thank you," I say and make sure we put all our change in the kettle (which we usually do anyway). Her smile calms me, though I still feel particularly embittered towards rude and nasty middle-aged women.
"She knows how to walk a mile," I say under my breath.
If something had happened and this was a story in the news, how quickly would we have thought:
Why did she leave the children alone? How irresponsible is she?
If I hadn't left the boys and something had happened to my daughter we would have thought:
Why didn't she drop everything and search for her daughter? How irresponsible is she?
With the full story, what do you think?
Perhaps James' mother went inside to get a drink. Perhaps she had another child that took her attention. Perhaps she didn't know he was in the front yard, he had snuck out the front door. Perhaps the stress of raising an autistic seven year old that hardly speaks while also caring for other members of the family and at least one pet had gotten to her and she had, just for a moment, put her head in her hands and cried a little.
We don't know.
I really doubt, though, that she's an irresponsible parent.
And I'm sincerly sorry that even for a moment I thought she was. And I hope and pray her son and dog come home safe.