Well, you see, I had to pick something up from Coquitlam, and I had the two littlest kids with me. We’d been stuck in the van on a hot day for quite a while, and even though I knew it would be pretty stressful to go to IKEA with two toddlers, I just needed one item — a picture frame — and we were driving right by it. RIGHT BY. So I turned, even though I hadn’t been planning to, and I parked in the underground parking lot, and we headed to IKEA.
Once I had made it through the parking lot with two toddlers, a bag, and no stroller, I dragged the kids up the escalator to the showroom to find a cart. Eventually we found one that only holds one child, so I put N (18 months old at the time) in the cart. I encouraged R (who was barely 3) to run along beside me by showing her the arrows on the ground. She loved them, and would run from one arrow to the next, then turn to look at me with a big grin on her face, wait for me to catch up, and then run off to the next one.
We took few shortcuts through the showroom and then went down to the “marketplace” where I switched over to a bigger cart that had room for both girls plus the few items I had already collected because I was at IKEA anyway and we totally needed that stuff. When we got to the frame section, I was hoping that the one perfect frame I was looking for would be easy to find, but it wasn’t. Instead I had to do the most difficult thing to do when you have a cart full of bickering sisters: browse. R soon asked to be lifted out of the cart, and considering that the other option was to let her pester N, I allowed it. She wandered over to one of the arrows on the ground near us and pointed to it. “Look Mommy! Arrow!” she said. “Yes!” I said. Then she pointed to another arrow on the ground, the one pointing back toward us, about fifteen feet away from me. “That one, Mommy?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, glancing back toward the frames for a second. Or was it five seconds?
When I looked back up at her, expecting to see her following the arrow back toward me, she was gone.
You know how when you lose sight of a small child, they are usually close to you, just out of sight and ignoring your voice? I didn’t realize this then, but that’s not what happened this time. This time, R decided to follow the arrows like we’d been doing together before, only she was going against the direction the arrows were pointing, and she was running. Which means that she was not just quietly around a corner; she was literally running away from me as fast as she could. But I didn’t chase her, of course, because I didn’t know that’s what she was doing. Instead, I started to look around me, and around where R had been headed when I looked away, but I didn’t find her. So I started to call her name even more loudly, hoping by now that people would help me look.
And soon someone did stop to help. One helpful woman stopped what she was doing, looked right at me asked for a clear description, and eagerly agreed when I suggested she could go more quickly along the aisles in the direction R had been headed. I told her that I thought she may be running away from me, following the arrows in the wrong direction. I stayed with N who was still in my suddenly enormous cart because I was still frantically hoping she was just close by. But a few minutes later, a man who was hurrying past me said something about how “that other lady found her over that way,” and pointed behind him.
I rushed in that direction, but I still didn’t find them. I was still calling her name, and asking more and more people if they’d seen her, my little blonde girl wearing orange. Then an older woman who was obviously paying attention to the situation said, “She’s that way. I saw them” and she pointed even further along the route, so very far away from the picture frames. I was running by then, with my totally frustrating cart and my one remaining toddler, and finally, FINALLY, there was the beautiful stranger who had offered to help, walking toward me carrying my daughter. She handed my girl to me, and R hugged my neck as I offered an insufficient thank you, and then the woman who had found my daughter was gone.
R was, of course, totally fine. If she was upset about anything, it was just that she had been picked up and carried by someone she didn’t know. She was oblivious to my worry, and happy to get back to kicking her sister. I don’t know how long I had been looking for her, but it was certainly more than five minutes, and probably less than ten. It felt like a very long time.
By now, however, I was lost in IKEA, and a little shaken. I couldn’t find the picture frames again for quite a while, so I was just wandering around aimlessly. When I did find them, I didn’t let either child out of the cart while I browsed, or later when we waited in a long line, or when I paid for my more-than-one item, or when I pushed that cart back to my car.
Soon enough, both my girls were strapped into their carseats and I was sitting alone in the driver’s seat, and it was then that I started to cry. I put my hands over my face and I cried with relief and shock and fear and so much gratitude … But I only had time for a few quick sobs and one deep breath before the toddlers got restless and I knew I had better go if I wanted to get home in time for N to have a nap before school pickup time. So I started to back up my van without paying quite enough attention to where I was and my side-view mirror smacked right into the big huge pole I forgot was beside me.
And that is what happened to my side-view mirror.