My children and I arrived home, on an evening like any other, with a car full of groceries. When we pulled into the garage, I asked my two children to run upstairs and take their shower, put on their pajamas, and come help me set the table for supper. My six-year-old daughter dutifully ran upstairs followed by her little brother. I heard the water turn on. My son, however, met me back in the garage with half of his clothes removed. He was frowning. I stopped moving, with numerous bags dangling from my arms, to listen to his problem. The conversation with my four-year-old son went something like this:
“Mom, I can’t find my Lego man.”.
“Where did you last have him?” I asked.
“I had him at school.” (The preschool he attends weekday mornings.)
“I’ll help you look around after your shower, but he might still be at school.”
He gasped. “What if he’s still there?” His eyes darted around, like a nervous bird, beyond the driveway, and down the street.
My fingers had turned purple blue from the weight of the grocery bags. “Lego man will be okay, honey,” I said as reassuringly as I could. I took a step toward the door. “If he is at school, we’ll be back to get him.”
My son followed me inside. I heard his footsteps trudging up the stairs. I finished bringing in the groceries and started rice boiling on the stove while I unpacked my bags. I heard the water turn off upstairs and pictured them drying off and racing to see who could get into their pajamas first. If a winner couldn’t be determined, the race would proceed down the stairs to be the first one to touch the kitchen counter. My in-laws were due to arrive the following day. I tried to organize my thoughts about meals and activities while I chopped vegetables for a stir-fry.
The pajama race must have morphed into a different game, I thought. I heard singing and a loud thunk, typical of a book falling off of their shelf or a bed. I paused to listen for a possible cry of pain. Nothing. The singing continued.
When all the vegetables were chopped, I walked out to the garage to get the fresh flowers I remembered I had secured in the front seat. I located vases to split the arrangements in two and had just laid out the flowers across the counter when the doorbell rang. Leaves and water were dripping from my hands and wrists. I turned in circles, like a dog with an urgent itch on its backside, looking for the paper towels, when nearly instantly, the bell rang a second time.
For a split second I figured the kids might be playing a trick on me since they usually meet me at the door in a frenzy of squeals and curiosity, but I still heard my daughter speaking upstairs.
“Hold on, I’m here!” I called. I settled for wiping my hands on my pants as I high-tailed it for the front door.
A man and woman I had never met stood facing me through the glass storm door. I looked at them and pushed the glass door open slowly before my eyes registered my son was standing in front of them. His golden hair was wet and plastered to his head in places and wind-blown-crazy in others. He stood in his Minion pajamas and bare feet smiling up at me in a full-dimpled grin.
The woman spoke first. “Is this your son?”
I glanced from my son, to her, and back, “Yes. Wha-?” I turned around and looked up the stairs directly behind me where I’d heard the singing voices.
“Finn, is this your mom?” I heard the woman ask him.
I blinked and shook my head. My bewildered mind couldn’t untangle how my son had come to be outside the front door, with these two strangers, who somehow knew his name. I bent down to him and opened my arms without a word. He looked up at the woman and nodded before he jumped into me.
“We found him about to cross Elk Run road,” she said.
I shot straight up. Finn held my legs. Elk Run is a busy 40-mile an hour thoroughfare, at least a quarter mile from our house.
“Elk Run?” I stared wide-eyed at Finn, the boy who has to be pried off my leg when I drop him off at preschool in the mornings.
The man squatted down to Finn’s level. He gave Finn a sympathetic smile, then looked up at me. “He said he left something at school. I couldn’t understand what he said it was, maybe, a Lego toy?”
My stomach fell to my knees. I grabbed for the door handle. I felt Finn’s grip tighten on my legs.
“I’m sorry. My name is Julie,” the woman said with a hand on her chest. “And this is Richard. I’m a real estate agent. I was showing the house on the corner when my client spotted a little boy hot footin’ it down the sidewalk. He noticed there wasn’t an adult with him and literally jumped the fence to walk after him. We followed behind to see where he was going. Cars slowed down and two actually stopped and spoke to him. He didn’t approach the cars. He kept walking. We could tell he was determined to get somewhere, but when he got to Elk Run road we thought something was a little off and ran to stop him.”
“We asked him where he was going,” Richard said. “He said he forgot his toy at school and was going to get it. I asked if his mother knew where he was and he said ‘yes, she said we could go back to get him.’” The man looked up at me again. I felt like a bird stunned by impact with an unseen plate glass window.
Who can unwrap the mysteries of a four-year-old brain? I knew I meant the next day, but that’s not what Finn heard me say. My son took my words as a challenge, and perhaps permission, to go get his toy alone.
The boy, who knows to get a verbal acknowledgement from mom or dad if he wants to play outside, walked out the front door. The front door closing must have been the thunk I’d heard. The boy, who isn’t allowed to cross the street without my hand, crossed two neighborhood streets. He stood in his pajamas and bare feet at the threshold of crossing a fast, busy street. I never even knew he’d left the house. It could have been the last time I ever saw my son.
“Finn, I did say that,” my voice trembled uncontrollably. “I meant in the morning.”
“We figured something had to be wrong,” Julie said.
“I know it’s hard to forget a special toy,” Richard said. “But you have to wait for your mom so you can go back together. Can I have a fist bump on that, Finn?”
Finn and he bumped fists like old friends. I forced a smile, but still kept a grip on the door handle and the back of Finn’s shirt.
“Well, on an encouraging note,” Julie said with a smile. “You’ve really taught him how to cross a street safely. When we spoke to him he clearly said he was going to get something that he’d forgotten. I asked him if he knew where he lived and if we could walk with him to tell his mother where he was. He chatted us up all the way here. He’s a super smart kid. I’m sure you are very proud of him.”
“Yes, I am.” I said.
I didn’t really know what to say. Horrific imaginings of my son disappearing in one of those cars, or hit by one, threatened to abduct my own sanity. Just as suddenly, a flash flood of self-doubt and self-incrimination nearly bowled me over. I’m a stay-at-home mom, for crying out loud. I’m privy to every whim of my children throughout the day. However, my son’s desire for this Lego toy suddenly became stronger than his usual cautious character. A toy, that had never been particularly significant to him, sent him galaxies beyond anything he had ever set out to accomplish before.
“Thank you both. My son is here because of you,” I squeaked out before my voice caved in on itself. “Thank you,” I whispered.
“You’re welcome. He’s a good boy,” Julie said. They turned to leave.
“Yes,” I mouthed silently.
I closed the front door and knelt down in front of Finn. I tousled his damp, sunshine-kissed hair and looked deeply into his sky blue eyes. I wrapped my fingers around the infinitely tender smallness of his shoulders and pulled him to me. I inhaled his familiar mango scent and absorbed his warmth and heartbeat. I collapsed in sobs I had never heard uttered from my body. I cried over my son with the full knowledge that I very well could be holding his dead and broken body, but I wasn’t. A profound sense of gratitude washed over me.
I wanted to be mad at Finn. He was guilty of breaking nearly every non-negotiable rule we have for our kid’s safety. Yet, I suppose in his mind he was out on a grand adventure. The first line of one of his favorite bedtime stories popped into my head: Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. (The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown.) Until that moment, I’d never questioned why the bunny wanted to run away in the first place. One day Danny went to the museum. He wanted to see what was inside, are the first words of another favorite. (Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff.) Again, I’d never wondered why Danny’s parents were conspicuously absent when he set off for the museum alone and spent a parentless, action-packed day on the town with a friendly yellow dinosaur. Maybe stories like these helped inspire his growing sense of imagination and power.
Maybe he set out to test his own wings? Perhaps Finn was solving his own problem? How many times have I asked my children to share their own ideas, no matter how absurd, that might fix their issue? Bottom line is that I can’t say with any certainty what he was thinking. I was simply thankful that he had guardian angels watching over him.
My intense emotion caused my son to cry with me. He kissed my eyes and my cheeks. He told me how sorry he was and that he will never do that again. I hope I can believe him. My daughter appeared from upstairs already crying. She’d heard everything and joined us on the floor in a group crying hug fest.
I have since tracked down Julie, the real estate agent, and visited her at her office. Facing her again was a sobering moment. Without a word, we recognized the enormity of what happened. I clutched her neck and cried.
“I watched you age ten years in that one moment,” she said with an understanding smile.
I laughed through my tears and sniffled. “Finn wanted to speak to you.”
Finn stood like a big brave boy in front of Julie. He handed her a beautiful bouquet of flowers he had picked out himself. “Thank you for giving me back to my mom,” he said. His cheeks turned a bright shade of red.
“Thank you Finn,” she said and gave him a hug. “Will you promise to stay close to your mommy from now on? And maybe give her a few extra big hugs today?”
“Okay,” he said with his head down.
“Finn, I have a little something for you,” she said.
Finn’s head perked up.
She went behind her desk and handed Finn a brand new box of Legos.
Carrie Kempisty is a contributing editor for the Flatirons Literary Review and a professional member of the Boulder Writer’s Workshop and the Western Ohio Writers’ Association. She has pursued professional training by taking classes at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Flatirons Community College, Creative Nonfiction literary magazine, and attended Creative Conferences led by Michelle Theall. She is on the writing team for Apex Community Church, a large church in Kettering, Ohio, and contributes articles to its anthologies.