The tunnel cave is a little creepy.
In this Alice In Wonderland-esque creation it's very dark, everything is black-lit and it opens up into a maze of giant playing cards that even I find a little confusing.
Naturally, my children love this bizarre attraction, one of many at adorable amusement park Storybookland where we visited yesterday.
Another little girl around 3, however, did not share their opinion. She was terrified by the tea party scenes, dark lighting and scary cave. She was screaming for her mommy and terrified, shaking as she trembled in the mouth of the cave. She was pitching a fit and sobbing.
Big A, my 6 year old, began yelling "Where's this girl's Mommy?" as my 2 year old, Little D, looked around worriedly.
I'm the only adult in the cave so I hold out my hand and say "Should we go find your mommy?" She nods in relief, takes my hand and we exit out the mouth of the cave where we all came in.
I stand out there with a few moms but no one seems to recognize the girl. I point to her and yell out, (sort of like an idiot) "IS THIS ANYONE'S CHILD?" Nothing. "Really?" I ask, apparently to no one in particular. I ask the child what her name is. It's Brianna. She doesn't know her mother's name.
"What does she look like?" I ask Brianna.
"She has hair" is the response this little cutie gives me. I am still holding her hand.
A few of the moms begin looking around but there's no sign of Brianna's mom.
"Okay," I say to her. "Your mom is here somewhere. We're going to find her right away." I figured we should walk around to where the cave spits you out into the maze of cards and perhaps her mom was waiting for her there. I was scanning the park for a park worker, hoping they would know the protocol for a lost kid.
Brianna, simply happy to be out of the cave, walked along with me, hand-in-hand. It was a little scary how much she trusted me. She would have gone with me anywhere. It makes me realize how trusting and vulnerable most children are. It scared me a little. A fleeting thought hit me that if I didn't find a park worker soon, maybe the mom would think I was trying to steal her daughter. So we kept walking towards the cave exit as Big A asked every passing woman "Is this your kid? Is this your lost kid?"
"Don't worry," I told Big A. "We'll know who her mommy is the second we see her."
"How?" he asked.
"Because she'll be sprinting," I said.
5 minutes had passed.
5 minutes can seem like 5 years when you've lost a 3 year old child. You imagine far-fetched scenarios of horror. It brought me back to when Big A was around that age and we granted him the privilege of walking back to the pool from the beach by himself for the first time. Clearly drunk on his newfound freedom, he chose to instead "wander around the beach looking for kids with cool toys." (That's what he told us later on.)
Those five minutes of racing around the beach, trying to find a small child that couldn't yet swim, as the bright sun mocked me, were (besides his emergency hernia surgery last year) the worst moments of my entire life. I was praying the whole time that he was okay. When I finally caught sight of him, I was filled with relief and strangely, anger, in equal parts. I hugged him so hard I may have bruised a rib.
I knew Brianna was fine because she was with me. The person I was really feeling for was her mother. By now she would have realized that Brianna was missing and she was probably in her own personal hell. At that moment I spotted a frantic-looking blond woman in a blue tank top.
"Can I pick you up?" I asked Brianna. She nodded happily.
I yelled across the park as I held up her child "Looking for this?"
Brianna's mom's face flooded in relief as she began running towards us. She leapt over two chained off areas and through the Beanstalk Bounce as she raced over to us, grabbing her daughter and holding her tight as she fought back tears.
"I couldn't find you anywhere! Where did you go?!" she demanded in an anger I understood completely.
"Are you okay?" I asked her "I know that just took ten years off you life."
"20 years! But I'm fine now," she said, squeezing her daughter. "I'm sorry! I took a phone call...a work call...just for a minute..when I turned around...she was gone. I can't believe this happened."
I explained where I found Brianna and that she was upset but that she calmed down as soon as I said that I'd take her to find mom. The mom thanked me profusely and apologized again. She was as terrified and embarrassed as I felt when I lost Big A 3 years ago. I said "you're welcome" pretty quickly and walked away with my kids as not to prolong this mother's humiliation.
I totally got it. It's the worst feeling in the world.
I hope that Brianna's mom enjoy the rest of the day and eventually forgave herself for simply being human. Over-extended parents get distracted. Small children sometimes wander off. It doesn't make her negligent or uncaring.
As with everything I'm not sure I would have understood this if I hadn't already been though it.
And as for Storybookland the kids went on the roller coaster 6 times and I maintain this cute little family-owned theme park still has the best funnel cakes I've ever tasted.