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Little Ninja Lost

I wrote this on November 1, 2014, but I needed to put distance between it happening and posting it.

I had grabbed the keys to my friend’s house in order to run ahead of the group and use the bathroom.

“You want me to wrangle the kids?” My friend asked, as she pointed out the shortcut back to her house.

“Yes, please!” I shouted as I half-sprinted away.

Our neighborhood pretty much blows when it comes to Halloween. It’s a dull neighborhood for the kids to Trick-or-Treat through, and we never get more than half a dozen doorbell rings for candy. Last year we (and other friends) had a fantastic time walking through my friend’s neighborhood, and considering Jack found out just over a week ago that he would have to work on Halloween, we opted for the safety in numbers of returning to the same neighborhood this year. I didn’t even bother buying any candy for our house.

We worked our way through the neighborhood with our throng of costumed kids — some parents in the lead, others bringing up the rear, the rest of us roaming the middle. I kept counting my kids (as is my routine), occasionally jogging up to the front to remind my boys not to run… don’t go past so-and-so… listen to what the parents in the front were saying.

There was my robot-skeleton-zombie. There was my green-glow skeleton. There was my black and pink ninja. And all around us was my village.

Things felt very safe.

Toward the end of our route, as we were deciding to make a beeline for the house that traditionally gives out cotton candy (I brought wipes this year! And we had water! We so had this!), we found ourselves at a driveway with an instant photo booth. Halloween-themed prints for the kids in costumes. They were handing out business info with the pictures. Brilliant.

Miranda hung back while her brothers raced forward. She didn’t want her picture taken. “You don’t have to do it, Lovebug,” I had told her. “Your choice.” She held my hand for a bit and hugged my leg, deciding to be shy for a moment. I started chatting with another mom, and Miranda skipped away toward a friend.

The other kids ran back with their photos, and the group started to move. One mom was hanging back. “Anybody left over there?” I asked her. “Just one,” she replied. “But it’s okay.” She motioned that it was okay for me to go ahead.

And for some reason, I stopped counting.

We found the cotton candy house, and I started handing out wipes to anyone who needed one. Some parents were taking pictures of the kids all sitting there enjoying the treat. We all decided to head back to the house. After all, Ethan and some other kids had early soccer games the next day. I didn’t want it to be a long night.

And somehow I didn’t stop to count.

I was distracted. I had to use the bathroom badly. I grabbed the keys from my friend and ran ahead, feeling secure in knowing my kids were in good hands.

And for the two that were still with the group, they were.

I came out of my friend’s house just as the group was coming through the shortcut into sight. I started my count, not realizing that I hadn’t done it for a while.

Ethan was attempting to negotiate with me to stay and watch the movie. And there was Henry in his green-glow skeleton. And there’s… no, that’s not my ninja girl.

“Where’s Miranda?” I asked.

“She’s right over there,” said someone.

“Where are you looking?” I asked, starting to feeling a little bubble of panic. “I don’t see her.”

“Right there,” he pointed. “Oh… Sorry, that costume looks like hers.”

The bubble quickly grew, and my heart jammed in my throat. I yelled toward the parents who were in the back.

“Miranda’s back there with you, yes?”

Heads shook. Then I saw my friend take off running in the direction from which the group had returned. One of the dads followed suit.

“Oh my god,” I whispered, and took off after them.

I kept yelling for her, all the while thinking that I would certainly be getting a phone call from the group back at the house that she was there all along… that she had run in to use the bathroom or something. This wasn’t real, right? This wasn’t really happening. She was going to be back at the house and we were all going to joke about how my friends had “lost” my little girl. But no one was shouting from behind me that she was there.

This was actually happening.

I ran, yelling for her, asking everyone I passed if they’d seen a little girl in a ninja costume. My slip-on shoes kept slipping off. My heart was racing. My ears were ringing. A few (I think?) moments after I caught up to my friend I heard someone say something like, “We found Abi.”

So single-minded was I that I immediately thought, “No. We are looking for MIRANDA.”

My friend was next to me, talking with a woman wearing flashing-red devil horns, and somehow over my rising panic I heard, “She’s okay. She’s with my husband. He’s a Sheriff.”

I completely fell apart, and if it weren’t for this dear, dear friend who held my arm and steered me in the direction the devil-horned woman had pointed, I don’t know if my legs would have worked.

I felt like we walked for ten minutes before I saw my little girl, held up high and smiling, I dropped my purse and ran. I grabbed her and held her and didn’t let go.

A voice to my right: “Is this Mom?”

“Yeah, this is definitely Mom,” another voice said.

The Sheriff, a happy, good-natured man, said “Well, I know your name, and I know Miranda has a twin brother and a nine-year old brother. I know where she goes to school and I hear you have a huge office. I know just about everything… except your phone number!”

I was on the ground with Miranda in my arms at that point. I was trying not to bawl. “We’ve been working on that.” I murmured something about how I’d been teaching the kids that each section of our number is a palindrome.

As I lifted Miranda up, she smiled down at me and asked me if I’d saved any cotton candy for her. I felt like I was going to throw up because it was at that moment that I realized that she had gotten separated from the group while I was still there. I lost my little girl and I hadn’t even known it.

I looked around me and saw not only my friend, but three of the dads from our group, and the gratitude I felt loosened the already-tenuous hold I had over my tears.

“Mommy, are you happy crying?”

“Yes, love. I am so happy that we found you.”

“I’m happy that I found you, too, Mommy. I was lost and you were lost and now we found each other.”

I love my friends. I love my village. I cannot imagine going through something like that without their unconditional support and love. They ushered Miranda into the house to join her brothers and the other kids watching the movie, and helped me to calm down and breathe.

When we finally made it home, after shoes and costumes were removed and teeth were brushed, I had all three kids climb into bed with me. “Daddy and I will bring you to your beds when he gets home in a few hours.”

As the boys settled down on either side of me, and Miranda on top of me, I kept thinking about the question she asked on the drive home. The question to which I had no answer.

“Mommy? Where did you go when I was lost?”

Trick-or-treating last year was quite stressful for me — I was a shaking mess, and Miranda loudly proclaiming to all who would listen that she wasn’t going to let go of my hand because she got lost the year before certainly didn’t help keep me steady, but we got through it.

Hopefully it will be easier tonight.

The end of an era and the beginning of so much more

Welcome back… 🙂

Earlier tonight I was on the phone with my sister, talking with her about how Miranda losing her first tooth today is making me think that Jack and I foolishly set the Tooth Fairy bar rather high with giving Ethan out-of-circulation coins and that we clearly weren’t thinking about how we would manage to continue that tradition with two more kids, and aren’t I lucky that she wants to wait to leave her tooth for the Tooth Fairy until Jack gets home in a week, and also I suspect Ethan knows we are the Tooth Fairy but doesn’t want to admit it, and blah blah blah.

I get off the phone and I hear Ethan’s door open and I think “Oh crap. He heard me.” He starts asking me if we remembered to rip off the last Countdown to Daddy coming home paper chain. I tell him yes and get back into bed.

Maybe he didn’t hear?

But then he is out of his room again, calls me to the stairwell, and says he’s got “a confession to make that will probably make you super angry, Mom.”


Ethan: “I did come out of my room to ask about the paper chain, but I had actually come out earlier and I heard you on the phone with Auntie Julie and I heard everything and I’m sorry.”


Me: “Well, that’s that, then. I’m sorry that you heard that. Please go back to bed.”

He turns to go.

Me: “Wait! If you blow this… if you breathe one hint of a word about this, you will crush the wonder of two five-year olds. It will be the grinchiest thing you could ever do.”

Him: “I know, Mom. I totally get it. I remember being so totally in awe and excited and I won’t ruin that for them, I promise.”

Me: “I hope you can stick to that promise. This may be the end of it for you, but it is still the very beginning for your siblings.””

Him: “Oh, don’t you worry, Mom. And I will probably have forgotten about this whole thing by the morning, anyway.”

Me: “Go to bed, Ethan.”

Him: “Okay, Mommy. I AM really sorry about this.”

Me: “Goodnight, Ethan.”

Him: “Goodnight, Mommy.” He starts to close his door, then pops his head back out and gives me a lop-sided, apologetic smile. “I love you, Mommy.”

Me: “I love you, too, Ethan.”

Twenty minutes later he comes back out, weeping uncontrollably. “I’m so sorry I snuck out of my room and eavesdropped on your phone call! I’m devastated that I will never experience that sense of wonderment again!”

Holy crow.

I head up to him and assure him that I am not angry with him. Rather, I am frustrated with myself for slipping up and ruining things for him. I tuck him back into bed and explain to him that he may end up experiencing an even more fulfilling kind of joy by watching his siblings. We talk about that for a while, about how he can still enjoy the idea of the Tooth Fairy, even with knowing for sure now that she is not real — not in the way he previously believed.

And what followed was a mind-blowing hour and a half conversation between a forty-one-year old and her almost-ten-year-old son about Santa Claus, God, religion, faith, science, Martin Luther King, civil rights vs. religious tradition, and chess.

Me: “Holy cow, Ethan. It is so ridiculously after your bedtime. We need to end this conversation so you can go to sleep.”

Him: “Mom, this was the best conversation you and I have ever had ever, I think. It was amazing.”

Me: “Dude, I agree one-hundred percent. Next time, though, let’s aim to not start one of these kinds of conversations after lights out, or at least not on a school night.”

Him: “Okay. I love you. Okay.”

Me: “I love you, too.”

“Mom, I really do prefer the book!”

1972 Newbery Medal Winner

(Spoiler warning: If you haven’t already read this book but expect to someday, don’t read this post!)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Ethan and I stayed up waaaaaay past his bedtime last night so we could finish reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (not the first time I’ve bent bedtime rules to finish a fantastic read) by Robert C. O’Brien. I’d been waiting for quite some time to share it with him, but he kept choosing other books. Once I finally convinced him to let me start reading, it wasn’t long until he was as hooked as I knew he would be. Yet again, a childhood favorite proved itself a timeless classic. Such a beautifully written book!

At the end, when Mrs. Frisby was telling her children the whole story, Ethan starting protesting.

Ethan: “But Mommy! Wait! What about Justin? I have to know if he was one of the two rats who didn’t make it! Did you skip a section?”

Me: “Nothing skipped, dude. Sometimes… sometimes you just have to be okay with not knowing.”

Ethan: “That’s not fair! I have to know! The author didn’t tell us the whole story!”

Me: “Well, hold on a sec, here. The author did tell us the whole story he intended to tell. Don’t forget that this is Mrs. Frisby’s story, and her story does not include knowing who those two rats were, or even whether Nicodemus and the other rats made it to Thorn Valley.”

As much as I wanted to comfort him and assure him that Justin made it out, I couldn’t, and I think it is better that way. The ambiguity surrounding the identities of the two rats–as well as the identities of the six or seven rats found dead at the store–makes for a more compelling, poignant, and thought-provoking read. The masterfully written ending does not give us perfectly wrapped packages of resolution. We are, instead, left to our own conclusions, feeling all at once happy, mournful, and full of questions.

Ethan: “Mommy, PLEASE see if there is a sequel. There has to be a sequel. I need to know what happened and a sequel would tell it.”

Me: “Sometimes, buddy, you have to be content with the mystery. It allows you to let your imagination fill in the blanks differently each time you think about it.”

Ethan, yawning: “Oh, fine. But I’m not happy about it.”

In spite of making the case for mystery, I did a little Wikipedia search after tucking him in. Apparently there are two sequels, written by Jane Leslie Conly, O’Brien’s daughter. According to the Wikipedia entry about the first sequel, Rasco and the Rats of NIMH, “Conly wrote her sequel long after O’Brien’s death in 1973, so even though Conly’s book attempts to answer many of the open-ended questions posed by the original, it is still Conly’s work and not O’Brien’s.”

I realize Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH might be seen by some as “just” a children’s book, but it is one of those books that had a profound effect on me and contributed to my love of and respect for well-written prose. I don’t want to muddy that up–for me OR for my kids–with these sequels. I don’t necessarily want to have answers to those “open-ended questions.” It is suspected that the movie adaptation (The Secret of NIMH) was a major influence on how Conly filled in the blanks that were so deliberately left behind by her father. This does not sit well with me. Maybe I’m too much of a purist.

Interestingly enough, I don’t take issue with Ethan watching the movie…now. We have a goal in our house to always read the book before its movie adaptation, and we’ve often discussed how and why a movie version can be different from the book on which it was based. Since we’re having a lazy day at home today (nothing scheduled, no school tomorrow), we’re having a bit of a movie marathon. Taking a chance that Miranda and Henry won’t remember the movie by the time it is their turn to read the book, I added The Secret of NIMH to our marathon queue. Barely past the opening credits, I had to pause.

Ethan: “Wait, what? What the…? What’s with all the magic and stuff? That’s not in the book!”

Me: “Uh, well, see… sometimes the people who adapt a book into a movie don’t have enough faith that the original story will be enough to satisfy their audience so they feel they need to add things.”

Ethan: “I mean, I guess I don’t totally mind the magic and stuff, but do the movie-makers think their audience doesn’t have a good enough imagination or something?”

Me: “Ummm… I… I… don’t think I can answer that.”

Miranda: “Can we please play the movie now, please?”

Later, as the ending credits rolled, Ethan had a declaration.

“I’m REALLY glad we read the book first. The movie was good and all, but it skipped all sorts of things and made other things up. The book is definitely WAY better!”

That’s my boy!

Instrumental joy

Saturday morning I took Henry with me to the music store to buy new guitar strings, where he just about fell over at the sight of the electric guitars and basses on the back wall. When we went into the back room where the acoustics are he squealed with pure delight as he spotted each of the half-dozen ukeleles.

I wish I could spell how he says “ukelele.”

While I was browsing, I had to hold him to keep him from picking up everything. Kid was so happy he was quivering.

Him: “Mommy, I want that blue guitar up there–can we get it?”
Me: “That’s a bass, dude, not a guitar.”
Him: “Can I get that blue bass, please?”
Me: “Maybe later.”
Him: “I really, REALLY want a guitar, Mommy. A shiny one that is not a shape like is your guitar shape.”
Me: “You mean an electric guitar?”
Him: “Yes! Thank you, Mommy, That’s what I want–a ‘lectric guitar! Thank you!”
Me: “You seem to be under the impression I’ve just agreed to buy you an electric guitar.”
Him: (blink blink)
Me: “Hey! Would you like to pick out some new guitar picks for me?”
Him: “YEAH! THAT’s what I wanted to do! THANK you, Mommy!”

He’s the kid who wakes up smiling from ear to ear.

Yes, I’ve been very silent…

I’ve been so busy, and I keep thinking I will find the time to write, but I end up coming up with some excuse to work on something else. Kids, work, house… it’s always something.

I have about a dozen posts all semi-written in my head, even. I just need to sit down and WRITE. I miss it.

Maybe I need to schedule it into my calendar <g>. I’ll go and do that, and while you are waiting for me to follow through, check out this excellent article my sister Emily wrote, chastising the mocking Western press for mocking North Korea–about unicorns–without first doing their homework.