Okay then. Lexi’s friend, Ally (and my friend, Doreen’s, daughter) has been staying with us this week. The girls were really missing each other so Doreen put Ally on a plane to come visit for a while. When Ally and Lexi first saw each other at the airport, they ran to one another and grabbed each other in an airport hug like something out of the movies. I cried.
Anyway, we’ve been doing fun things with Ally, showing her some of the cool things about Florida while, at the same time, taking advantage of the last couple weeks before school starts to cram in a few more memories. We’ve gone to the pool, to Clearwater Beach, and last night, after dinner, we drove to Downtown Disney to walk around, window shop, and just hang out for a while. It started raining on our way there, so we sat in the car for a bit, waiting it out. After twenty minutes or so, the rain seemed to have passed so we took our chances and headed out.
No sooner had we left the comfort of my van, than it started raining again. We ducked into a store and looked around until the rain let up a bit, then we, once again, ventured out. We walked along, looking in shops here and there as it alternately drizzled and poured. We were walking toward the end of the strip when I realized we’d gotten to Pleasure Island (which is all bars), so I prepared to turn around and walk back. That’s when Jackson said, “Where’s Clayton?”
Now, I do the headcount thing regularly when we’re out. It’s part of my subconscious. It’s an instinct thing. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. So I know Clay had just been with us. But now? Now he was missing. I kicked myself because I hadn’t given the kids my “If you get lost or separated from us” speech. Why hadn’t I reminded him to stay put if he got lost?
My kids insisted they’d seen him running ahead, so we continued to move forward, calling his name, searching the crowd for his face. By this time, it was pouring rain, so as we ran, we glanced in shops, thinking he might have ducked into one to escape the rain. We couldn’t find him. I told the other kids to stay there and watch for him while Austin and I backtracked, frantically calling out Clay’s name while squinting through the deluge of rain, hoping to get a glimpse of his red shirt. Nothing.
Austin and I headed back to the other kids. By this time, it looked like we’d all jumped into a pool. Every inch of our clothing was soaked, our hair was dripping, our shoes were squishing through the deep puddles of standing water and still the rain fell in sheets, making it near impossible to see.
I gathered everyone and headed toward a huge Disney store, thinking that someone there should be able to help, call security, call Clayton over a PA system, or something. Then I saw a flash of red. A little kid wearing a red shirt was running several yards in front of us. I screamed, “Clayton!” Was that him? It totally looked like him. I think it might have been him. Austin and Jackson took off running, trying to catch up with the flash of red that we thought might have been Clay. Jackson slipped on the wet pavement and landed hard on his lower back. They lost site of the kid in red. I yelled out to everyone, “Stay here together! I’m going to get security,” then I slipped into the crowd of people in the Disney store.
At this point, the panic started to set in. Or maybe it wasn’t panic exactly. I didn’t think anyone had taken off with Clay. I didn’t think he’d be lost forever. I was sure we’d find him soon, but the thought of my little boy, wandering around, lost and scared, sent a wave of gut-wrenching emotion through me. I can’t even name the feeling. Any parent who has ever experienced that moment when you can’t locate your kid knows the feeling. And any parent who has ever felt that will tell you that they never want to experience it again.
I gave my description of Clay to a cast member who called security. She told me to wait there so security could contact me. I told the woman I needed to grab up my other kids and I’d be right back. If any of you have been to Downtown Disney, you know this World of Disney store is enormous! I mean, it’s HUGE! It’s like 10 stores all connected together. It took me a while to navigate through the crowds of people and find my way back out. When I reached the doors, my kids all shouted, “We found him! He and Austin went in the store to find you!”
Ugh, knowing the size of that store, it could be days before I saw them again. I headed back into the store to look for Austin and Clay, and to tell employees they could call off the manhunt. After wandering around, and not seeing the boys anywhere, I wound my way through the wall-to-wall people, back toward the door where I saw all six of my kids plus Ally. Whew!
I grabbed Clay and hugged him. I choked back my tears until I saw his red eyes. The thought of him lost, scared, and crying made me lose it.
“Where did you find him?” I asked.
“By the car! He was just standing there by our car!”
“How did you think to look by our car? How on earth did he find our car? Oh my gosh! I can’t believe he walked out to the car!” Then, to Clay, “How did you find our car? Why did you go to the car? Did you think we were going to leave without you?” I asked, incredulously. I mean, look at this map? Do you see all the parking lots?!
Jackson piped up and said that he was the one who thought maybe Clay had headed to the car. I have to admit, I don’t think that would’ve crossed my mind. I wouldn’t have thought that Clay would think to head to the parking lot and even if he’d had that plan, I didn’t think he’d be able to retrace our steps and find the parking lot.
After a brief “If you ever get lost, just stop right where you are and we’ll find you” speech, we decided to get the heck out of there as it was still raining cats and dogs. As we walked toward the parking lot, we realize we were the only ones out in the rain. People stood in the doorways and under the awnings of the shops and watched us as if we were some sort of parade of idiots. We just laughed. We were so relieved to have found Clay that now we just laughed and laughed. We splashed through the puddles a la Gene Kelly, we danced around, we looked at each other’s hair plastered to our faces and our dripping clothes, and we just laughed. Savannah had mascara dripping down her nose. My sunglasses were perched crazily on my head, half sliding down my wet hair. People must have thought we were insane. But we didn’t care. We were all together.