Monday, June 25, 2007

Toddler Tragedy

It could happen to anyone. It may very well have happened to you before. You go out somewhere with a loved one, have a good time, then head home for a relaxing evening in your recliner with a good book. Only to discover when you decide to call it an early night that when you started home for the evening, you left your loved one behind! What are you going to do? You made it all the way home, relaxed a little while, got ready for bed, only to find that when you crawled into bed, someone was missing!

Can you imagine such a tragedy? What if it was your wife or child that you left behind? Or a pet? All very tragic situations, to be sure. But you're an adult, you can deal with it. You can hop in the car and go back to pick up your forgotten loved one. Or call them, or hope that they call you. You can probably remember right where you left them. Everything's going to be allright.

But what if you were a child. Not yet four years old. With no real control over what happens. You can't drive, you can't call your missing loved one, because your missing loved one can't answer a phone -- can't, in fact, even speak (to anyone except you, that is) -- because your forgotten loved win is Winnie the Pooh.

Can you even imagine how tragic that would be? It happened to my son last night. We went into church and dropped him off in the children's area. The last time I saw him, he was happily walking into his play group holding Pooh by the arm. Ninety minutes later when we picked him up to go home, it didn't even occur to me to look for Pooh because he usually doesn't take Pooh to church with him.

At 8:30, one hour after leaving church, as we prepared to put our son down to bed for the night, he started looking for Pooh. I knew it immediately. When he got out of the car to come into the house, Pooh wasn't with him. I knew that. When he walked from the church to the car, Pooh wasn't with him. I knew that, too. Which could only mean one thing: Pooh was still at church, potentially locked in for the evening!

In my shorts and t-shirt, I threw on some flip-flops and dashed for the car, racing at speeds somewhat in excess of the legal speed limit, barely stopping at stop signs, rushing to get to the church in hope that someone would still be there -- a custodian, someone, anyone -- that could let me in to retrieve my son's forgotten loved one, talking to my wife on the phone while I drove asking her to call the church to see if she could catch someone there, which she couldn't, and pulling into the church parking lot in less than ten minutes.

I immediately spied what appeared to be a custodian or grounds keeper walking across the parking lot with shovel in hand and raced across the lot to meet him.

"Is there anyone still in the church?" I asked.

"Probably in the office," he said. "But services are over."

"I know, my son left his Pooh here tonight," I explained.

He directed me to the back of the building where I would find the only unlocked entry door to the building at 8:45 on a Sunday evening. I pulled to the curb and jumped from the car, scanning the windows for any sign of life. There, in the second window from the door, I saw movement. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn't too late.

I rushed into the door and tried to get into the administrative offices where the movement in the window had come from -- locked! I walked briskly around the large church building toward the children's area while calling my wife to give her an update. When I got to the children's area, Pooh's impromptu prison, that door was locked as well!

Now, as I worried about my son not having his beloved Pooh until the next day, I also began to grow concerned that the movement I had seen in the window was someone beginning to leave the building -- that I, too, might be locked in for the evening if I didn't get back near the offices quickly. As I raced back around the large church toward the door I had entered through, I was approached by a man carrying a key.

I explained my predicament and he took me immediately to the children's area, where we began our search and rescue operation for Pooh. He was in one of two rooms, I knew that, unless another child had stumbled across him and taken him home. I checked the first room -- the room I had last seen my son carrying Pooh into -- and there, atop a white wire shelf well out of the reach of every human three year old I have ever seen, sat a tattered and worn, but much loved, Pooh bear.

When I got back home and poked Pooh's head into my son's room, he cried out, "Thank you, Daddy!" He came to me and gave me a hug and said, "Thanks for finding Pooh. I missed him. He's my friend."

As I tucked my son into bed, he told me, "He was on that white thing and I couldn't reach him and they wouldn't let me get him."

"Pooh?" I asked him.

"Yes," he said.

All that time, while I dashed and raced and risked mistaken confinement myself, my son knew exactly where his beloved Pooh was.

In the end, everyone was where they belonged, tucked happily and safely into bed.

Tragedy averted.

Just barely, though. My son had been asking all evening if he could stay up to watch Scooby Doo, which comes on at 8:30. Often we allow him. If we had done so last night, he wouldn't have discovered Pooh's absence until after 9:00, surely too late to catch someone in the church and recover Pooh.


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