Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Up the down

Recently I needed to run to the sporting-goods store in our local mall. I had my 4- year-old son and my neighbor's 2- year-old twins with me, and I planned our trip so we would arrive right when the store opened. That way, the store would be empty except for us.

While we were there, my son begged for a ride on the escalator to the second floor. I figured it was fine; after all, the twins were small for their size and lightweights to boot. We approached the "up" escalator and my son hopped onto the step in front of me. Then I simply lifted the twins by their hands as we stepped onto the escalator. We had a thrilling ride up through the kayaks and golf clubs.

Apparently the ride was exciting enough for my son to warrant a trip to the restroom. After taking care of business, we returned to the down escalator. The twins were ready for another thrill ride, but my son showed apprehension for going down first. Where did my little daredevil go? I instructed him to follow directly behind. Then I turned and executed the "lift and step" with the twins again. I didn't see my son hesitate behind me.

"Mom!" he cried out.

I looked up to see him rooted at the top of the escalator. His face was a mask of desperation. I glanced down at the twins and then up again, startled at how fast I was descending. And I couldn't do anything about it. I called out something reassuring to him. Then,

"MOM! Come back!" he screamed. A teenage boy got onto the escalator and watched the drama unfold. I could tell that he was torn between amusement and the desire to help.

"MOM! DON'T LEAVE ME!" his poor little voice cracked and, despite the silly nature of the situation, I felt the fight-or-flight instinct stirring.

I had about five seconds before I hit the bottom of the escalator. I had to decide. Do I circle back around to the up escalator? I would risk leaving his line of sight and frightening him more. Plus, that screaming would probably escalate (ha, ha!)

I scanned the base of the escalator and saw a brightly colored display of sports equipment nearby. That might keep the twins occupied long enough. When we arrived on solid ground I led them to the display.

"MOM! I DON'T WANT TO LOSE YOU!" He was downright pitiful by now and his voice was echoing through both levels of the store.

I whirled and faced the down escalator. For the love of all that's mine, I thought. Here I go. When I jumped the first step my toe caught the lip of the stair and I stumbled. But I steadied myself on the railing and got into a proper rhythm.

I figured my progress would be slow, but the screaming made it agonizing. I fixated on the stairs in front of me and ran as fast as I could. One, two, one, two... as I approached the top, I looked up to see that I had an audience. Of course! People must have heard the drama and come running. So much for an empty store! I was mortified. Most of their faces registered amusement or concern; a few, disbelief.

My son jumped into my arms when I was close enough. And I couldn't bring myself to look at the spectators. I simply turned around and ran down the stairs to the twins. I'm sure the incident took less than thirty seconds, but to me, it was interminable.

I took them all by the hand and rushed out of the store. I couldn't bear to make eye contact with any of the store clerks as I bolted through the doors. After all, those employees would likely be watching the security camera footage later. For a laugh. During lunch break.