Saved By Play Time

, , , , , | Hopeless | October 22, 2017

(I am shopping in a department store with my five-year-old daughter. It has been a long, stressful day at work, and I have been on edge since picking her up from school. I just want to get my things and get home as soon as possible. I very quickly realize that my daughter is no longer beside me, and I go into Panic-Mom Mode. I call her name and rush around the aisles, until, finally, I see her sitting down on the floor next to a similar-aged boy, talking and playing. She looks up and me and beams a smile.)

Me: “[Daughter], what did I tell you about walking away from Mommy?!”

Daughter: “Mommy, this is [Boy]. He’s five, too!”

Me: “That’s nice, [Daughter], but remember, we don’t have time to play today.”

Daughter: “Okay. Bye, [Boy]!”

Boy: *big flashing smile* “Byyyyye!”

(I take my daughter’s hand and quickly finish up my shopping list.)

Daughter: “Can we get something for [Boy]?”

Me: “No, [Daughter]. We’re just here for a few quick things, remember?”

Daughter: “I know, but he doesn’t have anyone or anything to play with.”

Me: “His mom will take him home soon, so he won’t be bored for too long.”

Daughter: “No, she won’t.”

(This makes me stop, and I realize for the first time, to my shame, that the boy was all alone.)

Me: “What do you mean?”

Daughter: “His mom told him to wait for her, but she’s been gone for aaaaaages.”

(Knowing I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t go back and check, I find the boy in the exact same space that I left him.)

Me: “Hello, [Boy].”

Boy: *big beaming smile again* “Hiiiii!”

Me: “Where’s your mommy?”

Boy: *smile drops* “I don’t know. She went to look at clothes.”

Me: “How long ago did she go to look at clothes?”

Boy: “A while.”

(Knowing he probably didn’t have a good grasp of timing, I don’t know how to gauge this, but I pursue anyway.)

Me: “Do you know what time it was?”

Boy: “Since school.”

(That is a long time, but it wouldn’t be the first time a parent has left a child alone to play in a store for over an hour. I sit with the boy for another ten minutes while he plays a rhyming game with my daughter. I flag down a passing member of staff and let them know this boy has been left alone for almost an hour and a half.)

Employee: “Actually, yes, I do remember them coming in. That was closer to two hours ago.” *suddenly looking shameful* “Let’s bring him up to the customer service desk, and I’ll make an announcement through the store PA.”

(We do just that. The boy says he was told not to go anywhere with strangers, but my daughter takes his hand and convinces him that they’re now friends, so it is okay. The employee makes an announcement to the store, letting the mother know that [Boy] is at the customer service desk, and asking her to please make her way there immediately. After ten minutes, and no appearance of the mother, the employee makes a repeat announcement. Ten minutes after this…)

Me: “What happens now?”

Employee: “I’ve called my manager. They’ll call the police or social services, I guess.”

(A few minutes later, there is a scream from the other side of the floor. There is a scramble of employees to the area. An employee comes back over to me and speaks quietly to me so that the boy doesn’t hear.)

Employee: “We found a woman collapsed in one of the changing rooms. We think it might be his mom.”

(Very quickly, paramedics are on the scene, but I am focusing on keeping the boy occupied, playing with my daughter. He’s not stupid though, and he’s realizing that something is up. Almost three hours after I first met the boy, a woman walks over to us with a concerned look on her face. The manager has told her who I am and how I’ve been looking after the boy. She introduces herself as being from social services.)

Social Services Worker: “We found his mother collapsed in the changing room. The paramedics are about to take her to hospital, and I will be going there, too, with her son.”

(She then explains to the boy what has happened, in an age-appropriate manner. The boy is very upset, and holds my hand through the whole conversation. When the social services worker tries to encourage the boy to go to the hospital, he squeezes my hand even tighter and gives me a desperate look.)

Me: *to the social services worker* “Would I be able to come with [Boy]””

(The woman looks at me, then at the boy, assesses the situation, and smiles.)

Social Services Worker: “Of course. I will need to be present at all times, of course.”

(We all drove to the hospital together, and my daughter kept the boy occupied with some simple back-seat car games. We ended up spending the evening in the hospital, and the boy’s mother made a full recovery. She had been running a fever and collapsed from an infection. Our kids are now good friends and have grown up to become teenage “besties,” all thanks to my daughter’s playful spirit, and a well-behaved boy who wouldn’t stop waiting for his mom.)

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