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The Mother of All Panic Buttons

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I have now raised three sons past the age of three years old.  Boogs is 6 1/2.  Bubs is 4 1/2.  Boo is 3 1/2.  Sometimes it smacks me in the head like a swatter hitting a fly: “Who in the HELL thought I was adult enough, know enough, am responsible enough….to have three children COMPLETELY DEPENDENT ON ME?!?!”

Yeah, see?  Sometimes it still freaks me out.

A friend once asked me how I do it – three boys so close in age, so young.

My response was: “Some days, if they’re just…alive, and relatively healthy by the end of the day, that day was a success.”

It is HARD being a parent.  Good God Almighty.  It just is.  And to be a good parent…a great one?  Well, I’m not there, but I certainly give it everything I have.  I suppose the magnitude of my kids’ adult neuroses will be the gauge on that meter.

My wonderful boys are…hmmmm.  Energetic.  Very.  They are wonderfully and often, stupifyingly, exuberant.  They’re kids.  Beautiful, crazy, life-loving kids.  I am only recently feeling confident enough in myself to take all three of them together, out anywhere in the world…let’s say grocery shopping, and feeling like I can handle it without at least two of them ensconced in the cart.  When the two youngest would be put in the cart they were excited…they thought it was awesome and the most fun ever!  Me?  I saw a safe little cage on wheels.

All three of them are far too big for carts now.  Now they must be allowed to walk free.  Free-range children.  Oh boy.

Planning a simple grocery shopping trip with them takes years of pre-planning, statistical pie-charting and the mapping out of contingency scenarios.  It requires a thorough knowledge of the store to be patronized and the death-defying route from the parking space to the store entrance.  It requires stern but not menacing discussions about stranger-danger and what to do if they get separated from me.  It requires no sauntering or meandering once inside, but does require a precise list of the goods needed in the precise order in which I will find them in the store.

Listen, I understand that I might seem a little high strung about this…but it’s new to me so give me a break.  I also understand that many mothers just pack their three to six+ kids in the car, zip off to the store and wing it.  Yeah yeah yeah…bravo for them.  I don’t know who those women are, and I don’t want to.  Anyone that brave and put-together is not welcome in my inner-circle…what with their carefree attitudes and zero-stress levels and all.  Don’t let the very-slowly-closing automatic grocery store door gently bump you in the ass on the way out, I say.  I digress.

So six years ago I mapped out my recent grocery shopping trip with the boys, really the first with three completely free-range children.  The day was upon us.  I felt good.  I felt prepared.

Navigation of the parking lot went well…blood pressure was within normal ranges.  Walking through the automatic doors went well…no head injuries.  Explanation regarding why they can no longer sit in the “awesome” cart went fairly well…no sit-down-on-the-floor tantrums.  Directive to never leave my general view went well…”Okay, Mommy”s heard all around.

“Well, hell”, I thought, “All of my hard work has paid off.”  I squeezed my own shoulder with pride.

I was cocky.  Oh yes.

Produce was the first department.  Fruit went fine.  Twenty feet past fruit are vegetables.  Did my head count, all accounted for and within easy sight.  They didn’t need to be glued to me, simply within my vision.   They were laughing at potatoes.  I don’t know…don’t ask me.

I turned around to fill a bag with green beans.  I don’t know why they don’t have a bean-catcher at the bottom of the Giza pyramid- sized mountain of beans.  It’s like some sort of Candid Camera situation when you try to take a handful and 25,000 beans cascade to the ground.

“Son of a bitch…argggghhhh”…under my breath as I bent down to at least move them out of the middle of the floor.  Being an HR Director I’m pretty aware of the hassles of Workers’ Comp claims.

It probably only took about 20 seconds to bend over and push the beans underneath the shelf.  I stood up and realized I heard no potato taunting.  Like one of those prairie gophers I stood up on my toes and scanned the horizon.  I could see the two oldest boys whose heads bobbed above the displays, over by the deli.  I assumed Boo, the youngest, was with them.

“Come over here please!”  I whisper-yelled.

They did.  But there was no three-year old Boo.

“Where’s Boo?!”  I asked my oldest.

“I dunno.  He went over there.” He said passively and pointed toward the entrance.

My heart stopped.  I grabbed their hands and left my cart with my purse open, wallet sitting inside invitingly.

I dragged them behind me as I weaved in and around the multiple displays and shelves in circles making my way toward the entrance.  And now I was not whisper-yelling, I was yelling… “Boo!  Boo…where are you?!  Come here now please!”

Nothing.

And here is what went through my mind, in no particular order:

  • He was close enough to the door that someone walked out with him easily, lured with candy.
  • How charming and funny he is.
  • He was being harmed or killed in a van in the parking lot.
  • His funeral.
  • His beautiful laugh.
  • I bet it was that shifty-looking man in his mid-fifties who looked out-of-place when we walked in.
  • What was the shifty man wearing?
  • What was Boo wearing?
  • The State taking away my other two children due to my extreme negligence.
  • How would I keep the other two kids safe while I beat to death the person who was trying to shove my son in a van in the parking lot?
  • How my remaining children would forever grieve the loss of their mother because I would be sitting catatonic in an institution or prison for the rest of my life.
  • His big, gorgeous eyes.
  • Quelling the scream which welled up in my throat.
  • His pleading for me to save him.
  • How much I loved him.

By the time these thoughts had run through my head at the speed of light, I saw the colorful, tethered and slightly bouncing helium balloons in the floral area near the store entrance.  I don’t even really remember how I got there.  The two boys locked in my grip were whining.

I walked around the back-end of the floral counter, and there he was.

I stopped and just stared at him.

“Balloons Mommy!”  he exclaimed.

I let go of the other two kids’ arms which now owned my hand prints emblazoned in red.  They ran to the balloons too.

I leaned my arm against the counter and just kind of…shook.  Tears welled up in my eyes but did not fall.  I felt light-headed.  I felt stupid for losing sight of him and guilty for everything that just went through my head.  I felt incompetent and as if I had no control.  I felt the head-rush of immeasurable relief and thankfulness.

I picked him up and he was annoyed.  He squirmed to get down.  I obliged, knelt down to his eye-level and turned his head toward me and said “Never, ever, EVER walk away so that Mommy can’t see you.  Do you UNDERSTAND?”

“Yeah!” he yelled and went back to the balloons.

I pulled myself together and now I was pissed.  At myself of course.  But to them I was just angry-for-no-reason-Mommy.

I picked up both of the youngest boys and squeezed them into the basket of the cart.  At first they were thrilled, and then complained there wasn’t enough room as they kicked each other.  “Too bad!”  I snapped.  My oldest ran alongside of me as I grabbed what little I could fit into the tiny front of the cart and we got in line, checked out, got in the car and went home.

Six years of pre-planning and pie-charting…for nothing.

I couldn’t see or hear my son for what was approximately one minute.  One. Damn. Minute.  In that time my life and his flashed before my eyes.  It was one minute of sheer, unadulterated panic.

Overblown?  Perhaps.  Over-thinking?  Perhaps.  Overreacting?  Never.

What must it take for a woman, a mother, to live through 31 days of not knowing where her child is?  What must it take for a mother to not only live, but to live it up, during those 31 days?  What must it take for a mother to ignore the screaming panic in her head and heart if she believes her child to be missing, somewhere in the world with God only knows who?  What must it take for a mother to ignore the screaming grief in her heart if she knew her child was already dead, by a tragic accident or not?

Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murder.  Not guilty of manslaughter. Only guilty of misleading law enforcement officers with her countless lies about what happened and when during those 31 days.  I did not watch the entire trial, only the synopsis here and there on the news every night.

I’ve been on a jury.  Not a murder trial, but a simple personal injury trial with only some banged up cars and a slight injury settlement at stake, and I can tell you that all twelve of us jurors took that job very, very seriously.  I have no doubt that the twelve ordinary people chosen as jurors in the Casey Anthony trial took their jobs seriously to the Nth degree.  They had reasonable doubt that Casey actually murdered her own daughter.  I believe they did what they had to do despite what seemed like a very circumstantially damning case for her.  I believe the State couldn’t prove she murdered her daughter Caylee.  And the jury couldn’t convict.  I accept that, regardless of what my personal opinion is.

But….oh, the “but”….she was found “not guilty” on the count of “Aggravated Child Abuse”.  How is that possible??  Casey Anthony never reported her own daughter missing, she allowed her mother to do that.  How can you not report your child missing for over one month…one month…and not be considered a child abuser?  Yes, I know…someone will tell me it’s the wording of the law, the charge should have been more suited to the circumstances. Blahblahblah. Bullshit.  I don’t want to hear any of that.

Casey Anthony is the worst kind of child abuser; the kind who truly doesn’t think she is, that her inaction was justified in some warped and twisted way.  The kind who is devoid enough of even the basest of human emotions…grief and guilt…that it allowed her to completely erase her own daughter from existence.  Whether she knew Caylee was dead through murder or tragic accident or believed she was alive but missing during those 31 days is irrelevant.  In any of those scenarios, Casey Anthony is a pathetic excuse for a human being and an aggravated abuser of her nearly three-year old daughter…at the very, very fucking least.

She abused her daughter’s chances for survival if she was indeed missing and alive.  She abused her daughter’s right to be found dead, murdered or not, in a timely manner so that enough evidence could be gathered and justice and/or closure could prevail. And she abused her daughter’s very existence…extinguished it…if she knew her to be dead through a tragic accident and disposed of her tiny body in a garbage bag.

I don’t know a single mother, not one, who hasn’t had their own version of my grocery store incident with one of their children;  experiencing soul-screeching panic at not knowing where their child is for thirty seconds, one minute, five minutes…let alone for 31 days.

There is no excuse for Casey Anthony:  Not fear of the law.  Not fear of punishment.  Not fear of acceptance of her daughter’s fate.  Not trauma for alleged abuses by her own father twenty years ago.  Not insanity.  Nothing.

She abused everything human about her daughter; abused her dignity, her life and her death for over one month by not reporting her “missing”.

The jury was wrong.  They should have convicted her of aggravated child abuse…even if the letter of the law didn’t strictly apply in that they couldn’t prove some sort of physical or mental abuse.  They should have convicted her of that at least because it’s the truth.  And Casey Anthony’s complete callousness and flagrant living as if life was wonderful and unchanged…proved it beyond a reasonable doubt.

I convicted myself within one minute at that grocery store.  I’m willing to bet a lot that I’m no different or better a human being than any of those twelve jurors.  So I want to know how they came to the conclusion that she didn’t abuse her beautiful, little girl.  The whole world wants to know.

Maybe those jurors and the entire defense team ought to be made to take a small child they love and care for to the grocery store, and lose them for a minute…or two, and multiply the panic they feel at that perceived loss by a billion. Or 31 days.

Then I want them to tell me that Casey Anthony didn’t abuse her daughter.

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