The parking lot was packed. Of course it would be. It was a week until Christmas.
I held Monster tight as we walked through the automatic doors. He gladly accepted sitting in a cart and pointed out our surroundings as we walked to the back of the store.
“Big truck! Red! Oh, Christmas tree, Momma, Christmas tree!”
After what seemed an eternity waiting in line at customer service, I made my return and my toddler was eager to get out of the stroller. He darted for the toy aisle. The stroller couldn’t squeeze between customer service and the aisle he darted into, so I said, “Hang on, buddy” and raced around to the top of the aisle.
And just like that, Monster was gone.
For a few minutes, I walked up and down the toy aisles and around the adjacent section, calling his name playfully, expecting any minute to hear him giggle and say, “Coming, Momma!” as he usually does.
But this time, he didn’t.
My chest started to tighten as I realized I had no idea where my child was.
I began grabbing fellow shoppers.
“Have you seen a little boy? A little blonde boy?”
They all shook their heads.
Hot tears poured down my face. A full five minutes had passed since I last saw my child.
Five full minutes. Do you know what races through your mind after five minutes of not knowing where your child is?
“How will I explain this to my husband? How quickly can the police get here? Can I assemble a manhunt? Oh god, I cannot plan my child’s funeral. I just can’t.”
Completely panicked and nearly blinded by my own tears, I made another attempt to ask a shopper if she had seen my son.
“What’s his name?” she asked before sprinting to the front of the store.
Why or how she knew to run up there, I will never know. I was still in the spot where I had last seen him, convinced that he wouldn’t have gone far.
“Ma’am?” I heard someone call.
I turned to see the store manager looking at me and pointing down the aisle.
I took off running and found the friendly shopper holding my son’s hand. Monster looked terrified and confused.
“He was all the way at the front door,” the shopper told me.
I dropped to my knees and held my child and sobbed. I thanked the woman over and over again. Had she been just a few seconds late to the front door, what would have happened to my Monster?
On the way home, in addition to feeling completely embarrassed, I also got angry.
I must have asked a half-dozen other shoppers if they had seen my son. They replied “No” and continued shopping, despite the obvious panic I was in. How could no one help me? If I saw a parent crying because their child was missing, I would drop everything. How dare these other shoppers be so selfish?
Then the face of the angel who helped me flashed in my mind. It didn’t matter that no one else helped me, because she did.
Sometimes all it takes is one person, and that one person will make all the difference in the world.