Closed (Because of Us)

Andy left for Gen Con with friends Wednesday night. He’s due back in an hour or so. I’m ready for him to come back.

The kids woke up at 6:30 this morning. By 10am we needed to get out of the house. The weather’s beautiful today, so we went to the park. Not yet ready to go home, we had lunch at Skyline Chili. Still not ready to go home and remembering how all three children were squinting in the sunlight at the park, I suggested we go to Crestview Hills Town Center and buy sunglasses (their old ones had all broken, which, I suppose is to be expected when you spend $2.50 on a pair of sunglasses).

Anyhow, we were able to park right in front of The Children’s Place. So I decided to forgo the stroller. The kids did remarkably well in the store, sticking together and not touching (too many) things, while I discovered that the sunglasses display had been taken over by a winter hat display (in August). The only other store at Crestview that sells children’s clothes is a department store, Dillard’s. So off we went. Sans stroller.

After walking past the large glass perfume displays, I found a map. The children’s department was upstairs.

“Does this mean we get to ride the escalator?” Sophie said.

“Yes,” I said.

She was thrilled.

All of my children have ridden the escalator—but usually, more adults are present. Owen was nervous (he’s often nervous) so I picked him up. James was ready to go running up it by himself, so I slowed him down and grabbed his hand. Seeing that my hands were full Sophie was delighted with the fact that she was going to be able to get on it by herself.

I’m not sure what, exactly, happened next. I just know that Sophie started screaming and doing the splits and while I tried to help her James fell down, on his back, his head toward the first floor and his feet toward the second. I pulled James up and then realized we were going up while Sophie was still struggling at the bottom, falling, yelling for me to stop. At this point a crowd has formed and just as I was trying to work my way back down the escalator to help (now screaming) Sophie with two (now screaming) boys in my arms a Dillard’s employee ran over and pushed the emergency stop button.

I got everyone off. No one (thankfully, luckily, inexplicably) was hurt. I kneeled down next to the Clinique counter hugging my children while two women walked past me, looked me in the eye, disapprovingly shook their heads and started whispering to each other about what had happened. Part of me wanted to scream at those women, telling them they had no right to judge, that we had done the escalator before without issue. Part of me wanted to admit I had made a mistake. But the biggest part of me just wanted to cry.

I thanked the Dillard’s employee, who was very kind, but insisted I stick around to fill out an accident report. The accident report required a manager of some sorts and a very long length of time when you’re in a very public place with three very upset children. The man who pushed the emergency stop button found three peppermints and gave one to each child. This helped. Sort of.

At this point, I just wanted to go home. But I had promised the kids sunglasses and Sophie is very good at remembering promises given. So we found the elevator and we rode it upstairs and walked through a salon into the children’s department—where of course, they had no sunglasses.

We took the elevator back downstairs. The doors opened and I saw a huge blue sign blocking the bottom of the escalator that said “closed for maintenance.” Two bright yellow signs had been posted at the top. Every Dillard’s customer was now having to use the small elevator at the back of the store if they wanted to go upstairs.

We left.

It was a long walk back to the car. Sophie made a point to squint and continually comment about how bright the sun was shining. It was nap time. I unlocked the van. I opened the doors. I strapped everyone in. I was shaky, finally letting myself acknowledge how very lucky we all were, how the entire situation could have been much, much worse. As I was trying to stop my brain from thinking those awful thoughts no parent should think but every parent thinks, I ran into a curb—hard.

And my hub cap flew off.

I pulled into a restaurant parking lot and just parked for a minute, doing the silent cry behind sunglasses I imagine most mothers do at some point—the cry you can’t stop from happening at the moment but the cry you try to keep secret, so that your children remain oblivious.

I was tired. I was ready for Andy to be home. I had made a bad decision. I had almost brought harm to my children. I had caused a scene. A department store’s escalator had been shut down because of my family. And now people were having to swerve when exiting Crestview because of my now-terribly-scratched-up hub cap, which was in the middle of the street.

I took a deep breath. I let the cool air from the air conditioner blow on my face. I turned the van around and I retrieved the hub cap. I explained to Sophie that we’d have to go shopping for sunglasses another time, that it was past the boys’ nap time, that we needed to go home.

Normally, this would be cause for debate but she must have sensed something was up because she simply said, “OK.”

And now, we’re home.

I put the boys to bed. I called my parents, told them what happened, ended up crying some more. I popped popcorn for Sophie and added real butter for her, which she loves. Andy called from the road.

If I close my eyes I can still see the look of absolute panic on Sophie’s face, the odd angle James fell as he was looking at me, more surprised than anything, upside down. If I close my eyes too long I begin to picture things happening that didn’t happen and then I just want to cry some more.

But tomorrow I’ll feel better. And the next day, I’ll feel better some more. And on and on and on until something else goes wrong and there’s a moment of a panic, a hurt something, a scene, feelings of failure, another what if.

Most days, being a parent is amazing. But some days, it’s hard. Really, really hard.

“There is no such thing as a perfect parent so just be a real one.” —Sue Atkins