One of the Little Dude’s favorite things to do is visit the LA Zoo. We first took him when he was just six months old and have been members and regular visitors ever since. His favorite thing to see there is the giraffes, probably because he can spot them from a quarter-mile away. Mine is the weird Europeans who wear socks with their sandals. I can also spot them from a quarter-mile.
The zoo is great for a lot of reasons, but one of the best has to be that they don’t charge for parking. That is highly unusual in LA, where even drugstores offer valet for a fee. Of course the generosity is revoked once you actually step into the zoo, where everything being sold makes airport pricing seem like the 99-cent store.
My wife made plans for us to meet some friends at the zoo recently for a family excursion. When we arrived we chatted with the husband for a few minutes while the wife was changing their son’s diaper. After a couple minutes, our Little Dude’s pal Aaron emerged from the bathroom and sprinted over to where we stood. He is just a few days younger than BC but always seems to be twice as speedy.
We stood as a group to talk and plan our visit. We are all zoo regulars, so there was nothing urgent to see. We decided to start at the Sea Lion exhibit which was about 150 feet from where we stood. Aaron excitedly got a jump start toward the Sea Lions and we all gathered our stuff and headed in that direction after him.
When we got to the glass-walled viewing area for the Sea Lions there was no sign of Aaron. He had been just 10 feet in front of us a few seconds ago, but now he wasn’t. Maybe he had tucked himself up in front of the glass? He’s only 2, so we probably just couldn’t see him over the other people standing there. But when we got up close there was still no Aaron.
When you are young you hear stories about abducted kids and don’t think twice. The moment you become a parent, it scares the Bejesus out of you. The poor parents who’ve lost kids always say that they looked away for a second and then…boom…gone. We hadn’t looked away, all four of us adults saw Aaron head in that direction toward the Sea Lions and it had only been 10 seconds ago. Where was he?
Even though Aaron isn’t my child, he and his family are good friends and I started to feel panic setting in internally. As I held BC close, I turned and looked all around for this suddenly missing little boy. I looked to see if there were any zoo employees or security people standing around and only saw the ones who annoyingly take your picture when you walk in, so you can get ripped off on your way out.
As his parents and my wife and I fanned out, the darkest fear started seeping into my brain. Aaron should have been easy to spot: he has red hair and was sporting a bright orange vest, sort of like a mini-version of Marty McFly’s. We kept looking in every direction and I could see the concern on all of our faces. Knowing how I felt, when it wasn’t even my child, I could only imagine what Aaron’s parents were feeling at that moment.
He couldn’t have gone far, could he? He had run into a corner area, so the options were limited. But we searched frantically for this lost little boy. All of a sudden, Aaron’s mother spotted him. Somehow he was standing 100 feet in the opposite direction from where we started. He was just leisurely checking out some trees and plants. His parents rushed to his side and made sure he was OK. Thankfully he was.
This whole situation seemed like it was about 15 minutes, but I know it was actually probably less than 1. The range of emotions we all experienced was very powerful and I give a lot of credit to Aaron’s parents for handling the situation as calmly as they did. I don’t know what I would have done if it were my kid, but I guess that’s where the paternal instincts kick in. Sort of like when a father passes off a freshly soiled baby to his mother. When the situation arises you don’t think about it, you just do it.
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