Natalie has been such a stellar kid lately. I know all parents think that of their child, but I really mean it these days. Two is a tough age, no doubt about it, but unless she's mid-tantrum there is nothing not to love about 2-year-old Natals. She loves to play pretend (above she is sitting next to her dolls, who are all lined up for "school and songs!"), "reads" books endlessly, dances like a champ, sings along to her favorite songs in the car (these days her favorite artists are P!nk, Nicki Minaj, Duffy, Taio Cruz, and Lady Gaga), loves to have lengthy conversations with grown-ups, and gives snuggles on command. It's pretty frickin' great.
All of this awesome may have lulled us into a sense of complacency, though, which made us think we can trust the instincts of our sweet daughter more than we should. She is still two. Not even two and a half yet.
We were shopping a few days ago at TJ Maxx (obvs), and while I was swiping my credit card Mike and Natalie put our cart away. Nat was rewarded for her good behavior in the store with the treat of getting to walk behind the cart and push it into the corral, and then she skipped ahead of Mike to get back to where I was standing by the register. As I was handed my bag (omg, so many cute new clothes for the Nat-Attack!), she walked ahead of Mike to make her way around a large display that helps to form a barrier in the checkout line. I could still see her, and Mike was right behind her. Without even looking back, she suddenly darted between two shelves (squeezing through a 4" space like it was nothing) and ran. Straight up ran away. I headed one way and Mike headed the other, both of us assuming we could nab her in a pincer maneuver.
We were wrong.
By the time we got around the barrier, she was nowhere to be seen. We both started to head down the aisle that we figured she was most likely to have chosen, but she wasn't immediately visible and didn't respond to us calling her name. I could feel the panic starting to settle in my stomach as I began to think of all the horrible scenarios that could play out.... someone could offer to help her and walk off with her.... she could head out the door and into oncoming traffic... she could sneak into the back warehouse and get lost or crushed.... It was terrifying.
Really, I think Mike and I handled ourselves pretty well, considering we were both wild-eyed and imagining the worst. I went to the door to make sure she couldn't get out (on her own or with a stranger), and Mike continued calling up and down the aisles while he went to find a sales person to notify. The person he told sent word to the other staff in the building, and one of them came to replace me at the door so I could go help Mike look in the racks of clothes.
In a matter of probably 2 minutes (maybe less? Maybe a little more?) a nice shopper said, "Are you looking for a little girl? She's over there," and pointed to the housewares department. Mike spotted her and chased her down (she continued to run away at full speed, laughing the whole time).
I can't explain the relief I felt as I grabbed her out of Mike's arms and held her tight. "Don't ever do that again, you scared Mommy and Daddy, you can't run away from us, you need to listen when we call for you..."
We thanked the store staff and got to the car before I finally broke down in tears and we had a serious conversation with the kid. She looked horrified that we were upset with her, and kept saying, "I run away! At home you chase me!" by way of explanation. In her head, we were playing a fun game of hide-and-seek, and she just couldn't understand why it was different to play in a public place. "It's funny! I silly! I run and hide!" she insisted.
This little incident was so brief, and was resolved without any trauma. It was the best case scenario for all of us to learn the lesson that Natalie is still a two-year-old with toddler impulses and reasoning. We realize how lucky we are that it went down the way it did. But it was terrifying. I cannot explain the heart-racing panic that I felt as I tried to push aside the thoughts of what could happen to her while she was out of my sight.
I know this is what kids do--I ran away at a family reunion, hid under a table at a big wedding, would stow away in clothes racks at stores. I can't imagine the fear I caused my parents when I did that. I was wrong to think that my own sweet kid would never inflict that kind of terror upon me, and I plan on being so super vigilant from here on out that she will absolutely hate having me around her in public places.