When my boys were ages 3 and 18 months, my husband had a business trip at the beach. He was staying at a friend’s newly-bought condo and we decided we’d be spontaneous! And flexible! And go with the flow! So we went with him. We didn’t realize the condo was being renovated, and didn’t have some key things that we needed when traveling with toddlers: a fridge, washer & dryer, cutlery, bed linens. In the spirit of Flexibility! we bought a cooler and stocked it up with snacks. I sent the husband to his business meetings two hours away and settled in to have a day at the beach with my little boys.
Then Came Small Unfortunate Event #1
My oldest son’s obsession with locking doors culminated when he locked the bedroom door that he & the baby were staying in. All their clothes were in there. Luckily, the baby was not. It took me all day long to figure out how to open it, and that was after three calls to the condo owner, a frantic key search, and much cursing and sweating on my part. I had the number in my hand for a locksmith when I came across a paperclip in my purse. That did the trick, but my poor plastic Chattanooga aquarium membership card took one for the team.
I had an hour of respite after the discovery of the locked door when…
Not-So-Small Unfortunate Event #2 Occured
As lots of parents know, juggling two small children is no easy feat. Now grease the kids up with sunscreen, throw in a heavy beach bag, and try to wrangle them in a place riddled with New And Exciting buttons to push and fragile glass objects to shatter, and tall balcony ledges to scale. This is what I was up against, and I had no husband there to help me herd the cats.
So, we’re heading down to the beach and I’m struggling to put the condo key into a little lockbox and I can’t get the thing open. Here’s where I went wrong: I put Eli, the baby, and the heavy beach bag down to get a better handle on the lockbox.
In the literal span of 2.5 seconds, Eli pushes the button to the elevator, the doors open, and I turn to see the doors closing in front of him.
I am at the top of a 16-story building with my not-even two year old heading to God-knows-what floor all by himself.
What would you do? I went BALLISTIC.
I frantically pushed the elevator button (like that’s going to help) over and over, speechless. Scooping up 3 year-old Finn and the 3-ton beach bag, I barreled down the stairs in my cheap flip-flops and swimsuit. Note: It’s hard to run down concrete stairs in flip-flops.
Then my mouth was screaming Eli’s name and my mind was racing through all the possible scenarios:
– How will I know what floor he gets off on??
– If the elevator opened on the 1st floor, could Eli leave the building and run out onto the busy highway? No – he can’t open the exit doors.
– Who else is staying here? What will they do if they see an adorable baby boy by himself in the elevator??
… 14th Floor Stairwell
– If he pushes that toddler-tempting big red ‘alarm’ button in the elevator would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
… 11th Floor Stairwell. Oh my God, Finn is heavy. I hope we don’t fall!
– How will I know what floor he gets off on?? What if he pushes other buttons?
– Is he scared? Is he crying?
– What if he gets off on a floor that has a place in the railing where he could fall off?
… 8th Floor Stairwell. I’m sobbing now, and Finn is pretty freaked out.
– Could Eli wander out by the pool and fall in?
– How am I going to know what floor he gets off on?
… 4th Floor Stairwell. I’m out of breath from screaming and running.
– I need to find someone to help me.
… 2nd Floor Stairwell
– If I just keep screaming, maybe whoever finds him can hear me in the open-air hallways.
I tear out the stairwell onto the ground floor and…. no Eli. My brain switches to logical mode. I look at the floor the elevator is stopped on.
Three. Then it goes up again to Five. Huh.
My brain switches back to frantic mode and I start screaming again. I blubber out the scenario to the cleaning lady and she calls security to help. The infuriating thing is since the elevator is tied up it won’t come back down to the ground floor. And I just know there’s someone up there with Eli, trying to find who he belongs to, so I start bellowing again.
Somewhere in there I tell the security guy and the small crowd of vacationers that’s formed what he’s wearing and how old he is. We all tear up to the third floor.
STILL NO ELI.
I look to my right down the hall. Nothing. I look to my left down the hall, where a door opens to a gaggle of women. “Are you looking for a little boy?” I think my panicked face answers their question.
Directly in front of me another condo door opens, and two older ladies in swimsuits bustle out… with Eli walking behind them. A literal flood of relief washes over me and I’m crying and shaking and thanking the ladies over and over. The stairwell race has caught up with me and I feel like I’m going to fall over.
Eli saunters to me and gives me a tight hug, with his arms squeezing my neck.
Those gorgeous ladies said they were headed to the beach too when the elevator opened and this little guy walked out. He was super-cute in his swimsuit and cap and Thomas the Tank sunglasses. He had his pacifier in his mouth and was carrying a bucket full of beach toys. When they asked him his name he just looked up at them and tried to open the door to their condo. Their place was positioned exactly where ours was from the elevator, and Eli thought he was going in to find me. The sweet, beautiful ladies said he wouldn’t talk but nodded yes and no to their questions.
They walked down the hall to see if he belonged to someone else on that floor but nobody knew. They had gone inside to call security when they heard me. I think the whole thing took maybe 9 minutes.
The angelic ladies asked me if I was okay and told me how this happened to them too when their kids were young, and did I need anything? Before I could even think I blurted out, “Yeah, a big drink.” I NEVER would have said something like that to someone I didn’t know but my brain was not processing anything other than Eli at the moment. They said they had that and could make me one, but I regained my wits finally and told them no thanks. If this is what happens to my kids when I’m sober, there’s no way I’m going to add a drink to the mix.
The day after I was sore from the adrenaline rush of frantic stair running with 80+ pounds.
In between the door locking and the elevator chasing and the condo renovations, it was a gorgeous day to be on the beach. The sand was like sugar, there was no crowd, it wasn’t too hot or too cold. And the boys had a great time.
And I am much, MUCH wiser.
Stephenie has worked with and around books and authors for over 12 years, both at retail booksellers and public libraries. She is a rare Huntsville native, mother of two high-energy boys, wife of one, and eerily addicted to community volunteering. When she's not being the Managing Editor for RCM she likes to stalk her favorite authors online, cook with way too much butter, and also manages to conduct freelance marketing and PR work.