Friday, the day we went to the State Fair, set a record for attendance. We got there early enough that the midway was wide open, with no waits for any of the rides the kids wanted to go on, but every other place we went was pretty crowded. Especially at the concessions stands.
The seven of us -- Meelyn, Aisling, Nanny, Poppy, Kieren, Dayden and I -- were leaving the Home and Family Arts Building, where many 4-H projects were displayed, to go to the Hook's Museum and Soda Fountain, which is always a fun place to visit. We were debating whether to walk under the portico of the Home and Family Arts Building, where we would be in the shade, but where we'd also have to go down a flight of steps; I was using my cane, but my knee was getting pretty hurty by that time, plus the ankle I smashed was sending up some warning signals of its own.
As we walked along, deciding, we finally thought we'd just walk in the sun to the corner of Main Street and State Fair Boulevard and go along the flat route. Dayden had been up in front of us, wildly flinging about an inflatable sword he'd won by playing High Striker, that hammer-and-bell carnival game. We were all keeping our distance because we'd all been poked by it several times, but he was right there in plain view.
However, the time came when we needed to consult a map, and while we were doing that, Dayden somehow wandered off under the portico while the rest of us walked on toward the corner. It was a very short distance to the corner, so we hadn't gone far at all when my mother sharply asked, "Where's Dayden?"
We all looked about us, but none of us saw a small blond boy in plaid board shorts and a red t-shirt that read "I Didn't Do It" on the front, carrying an inflatable sword as long as he was. If you've ever been in this situation with a child, you know the immediate sense of disaster that seizes you by the throat and makes it so hard to swallow. Or breathe.
My mother immediately whirled around and went back the way we'd come, calling his name. The rest of us stood like statues, shocked. Finally, I said, "Come on. Nanny went straight. Let's head over that way, in front of the building."
Everyone followed, all of us scanning the crowds and calling his name. We fetched up beneath the portico, still calling and looking around. I was willing myself not to panic. Not. To. Panic. He'd been gone all of forty seconds -- although it seemed more like forty hours at that point -- and he couldn't have gone far.
"I SEE HIM!" Aisling screamed. "He's right down there! I see his shirt!"
"Where? Where?" I cried, swiveling my head around. "DAYDEN! DAYDEN!"
"He's down there, at the other end of the building! Do you want me to go get him?"
"Yes! Run!" I said, and Aisling took off like a shot. A few seconds later, she was leading Dayden back with her arm around his shoulders; I was absolutely stricken to the heart to see that he was sobbing, knuckling his fists into his eyes, his chest heaving.
"Dayden!" I called, and he looked up at me. I wish I could have run to meet him, I was so happy to see him. I held out my arms and he came to me; I wrapped my arms around him and held him as close as I could, kissing his sweaty little head and whispering, "It's okay. You're okay. You're not lost. We have you now. Jesus was watching over you and He helped us find you, honey. It's okay."
Long after his sobs stopped, he continued to shiver in spite of the heat and I said, "Do you want me to say a little prayer, that the Holy Spirit will bring you peace?"
"Yes," he said, his voice and chin trembling.
So I prayed. I don't even know what I prayed, but I was praying for myself as well as for him, I know that. It's amazing how easy it is to torture yourself with all the terrible what-ifs, even when a scary situation has been happily resolved.
Dayden's breathing began to slow down and I gave him one extra hug, just because he's at that age where he doesn't pass out hugs and kisses as generously as he did when he was about four. I let him go and stood up; everyone else was gathered close around us and everything was okay then.
We started off towards Hook's again and as we began walking, I asked Dayden, "Would you like to hold my hand?" His immediate response was a fervent "Yes!" and he clung to my fingers fiercely.
Aisling told us later that when she got down to where Dayden was, two elderly ladies were standing with him and they'd already summoned a state trooper, who was approaching when Aisling ran up shouting his name. I was so glad to know that concerned people had already noticed a small, scared boy wandering alone and that they'd quickly taken steps to reunite him with his family.
So as it turns out, those state troopers aren't just there to make sure you have butter on your corn, they're also there to find your nephew if you momentarily misplace him.
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