03 January 2011

7 Minutes in Hell (aka First Night)

I've always found New Year’s Eve to be a collection of common disasters and I tend to avoid crowds whenever possible.  But my kind neighbor gave me 10 First Night Buttons and some VIP passes and it was 50 degrees outside. So, in a moment of holiday cheer (or weakness), I indulged my delusions of family magic in the city. I pictured us drinking hot cocoa and watching fireworks. I thought the kids would just love walking in the Grand Procession alongside some of those crazy large-headed puppets shooting laser beams into the sky.  The plan was drama free:  Caroline, Paulie and I would meet KT and her three kids on the BPL steps at 3 p.m. see some ice sculptures, perhaps get some faces painted, watch the freak parade, and be home by 6 p.m.
Visions of face painting danced in their heads. But it was not to be.
Within moments of meeting, however,  KT and I realized we should've just gone to the W for drinks, instead of wandering into this Copley Square clusterfuck with five young kids.

It was madness. It appeared that all of New England had converged on Boylston Street to take advantage of the balmy weather.  It was nearly impossible to keep the kids herded into our own personal space.  Worse, my kiddos aren't city savvy yet.   Without hypervigilance, they would wander into intersections, or stop short on a crowded street, sending disgruntled revelers veering into filthy snowbanks to avoid tripping over them.  This year, the sidewalks were narrowed further, partially roped off with yellow "caution" tape because of the ever-present threat of getting impaled by one of the death icicles dangling perilously from the buildings' underhangs. Every now and then, one would smash to the ground and it was like a window had fallen out of the John Hancock tower.  Mad crowds, hypervigilance, death icicles.  Happy New Year!  What the hell were we thinking?

I think Paulie knows the day is going to suck.  
What the hell were we thinking, part 2:  We purchased vuvuzelas for the kids.  

The First Night vendors are the creepiest lot, likely part of some prison work release program. And probably pedophiles. Another charming thought: Pedophiles selling light-up butterfly wands and disco ball scepters to legions of young children in crowded, chaotic places.     

First Night was not a great place for young kids, and certainly not for my generalized anxiety disorder.  

We walked up to the Hynes Convention Center in search of face painting.  Instead, we were accosted by a salesman who asked us if our basements were waterproofed.  We then learned that the line for face painting snaked around the entire convention hall. We decided to get the hell out of there.  "Hey guys! Wanna go see if the ice sculptures melted?"  

It was a 30 minute, two-block pilgrimage back to Copley Square.  It was a challenge not to lose the kids in the throngs.  The whole way, we were barking at them for their lack of spatial awareness. "Use the buddy system!" "Don’t space out on the escalators!" "Look out for that mailbox!"  "Watch the light pole!"  "Don’t blow the vuvuzelas in Starbucks!" I was starting to believe that people who leash their kids aren’t insane.  Finally, I just held onto their hoods.
Hold on to your hoods! Let's get some street meat!

And we thought the afternoon was bad so far? It hadn't even begun to suck!
Everyone was starving, so we got some fried dough and street meat and gawked at the sweating ice sculptures for a bit.  A couple of police officers asked if the kids wanted to sit on their motorcycles.  Paulie stood beside me eating a basket of chicken fingers, while the girls climbed into the seats.  

This was the final photo of the day for reasons that will become clear.
I snapped a photo of the girls, then went to grab Paulie’s hood and he was gone.  GONE!  I looked left, looked right, I spun around.  He was nowhere to be found.  We all started spreading out, calling his name.  I told Caroline to stay with KT, and I ran up and down the sidewalk with my hair on fire, peeking in between the throngs of people.  All I could think was: This is how it happens.  In a split second.  Someone took him.  He couldn’t have gotten out of sight in two seconds by himself in this huge crowd. With every frantic second that passed, it became more real.  I was shaking and running amok, screaming his name in a voice I’ve never heard before.  He was not anywhere in the immediate area.  I started running back to the police officers but was mobbed by Samaritans wanting to help: What does your son look like? What was he wearing?  How old is he? By now, I was hyperventilating, trying to get the words out:  Patriots sweatshirt. Brown hair.  He’s 6.

 Thankfully 10 –year-old DT (smart ) said “He was eating chicken nuggets!”  

One of the Samaritans yelled out: “I just saw a little boy in a Patriots sweatshirt with chicken nuggets.  I think he was up by the bus stop, just past Clarendon Street!”   This was a block and a half away.  We all took off – KT, the kids, the Samaritans. I was still convinced somebody had him.  I was in a full-on panic – an epic fail in the cool head department.  

Then beautiful words from DT :  “I see him! I see him!”  Then we all saw him at once. He was standing with a man, a woman and their two young sons, still holding his basket of chicken fingers. I screamed his name and he spotted me and ran to me crying.  The Samaritans and the young family that was watching him all broke into cheers.  I broke into convulsing sobs and just hugged Paulie for about five minutes.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.  

I’ve always told the kids if they get separated from us to find a policeman or a woman with children. But this woman found him first. She spotted him walking down Boylston Street, looking scared and totally lost.  She had the presence of mind to just stand with him there and not move,  "We are going to stay with you right here until your mom finds you.  She is definitely looking for you."  She also shared a simple but brilliant tip.  She writes her cellphone number on her kids’ arms so they can have someone call if they get lost. Paulie knows my cell phone but couldn’t recall it in the panic.  

How it happened:  Apparently, he spaced out and started following a woman who had a similar coat to mine.  I just can’t believe how far away he got in so little time.  This whole ordeal went down in about 7 minutes, but took about 7 years off my life.  
The single worst moment I’ve ever experienced. I don't even know what we would've done if KT and the sunshine band weren't with us.  Thank you, my friends.

Caroline, who was also shaken, piped up: “Quick! Let’s get out of here before someone else gets lost.”  Best idea we'd heard all day.  

When we got home, James tried to talk me down, saying it probably happened to about 100 people that day.  And that at least it happened in 2010.  True.  Best NYE ever: At home, everyone safe, watching Taio Cruz sing “Dynamite” in Times Square with Caroline and Paul in a bear hug on my lap.  And a gigantic goblet of red wine on the coffee table.  


kaybee said...

Got goosebumps, the shakes and hives while reading this! I call that a "Without A Trace" moment; a moment that resonates for a long time...
So happy he ended up with some "beautiful strangers"!

KJ said...

Hey Kaybee! It was the most horrifying experience I've ever had. Have to learn how to listen more intently to intuition. The second we arrived in town, I knew something was going to happen. Eeerieee.

Onward. Happy 2011! LOVED your retrospective! xo KJ

Life in Fourth Grade said...

I am totally crying reading about Paulie and your panic...scary story- with a happy ending. Still, I can't believe I'm crying.

Thank God that someone with some motherly sense was there. Someone was watching out for him:).

As always, thanks for sharing-this time a laugh and a cry. you should write a book.

Jim said...

Wow. Very glad and thankful it turned out the way it did. Gigantic goblet indeed. XO!!!

Roving Lemon said...

OK, this is my worst nightmare come true. So, so, SO glad for the positive outcome. What a way to say goodbye to 2010. Roll on the new year! Nx

PS Word verification is "minivin", as in the opposite of what one needs after this ordeal. No, no, "maxivin" all the way!

Brownguy said...

Very scary indeed. I can't imagine how hard it must be to keep track of the kids in a big scene like that.

There are still plenty of great people left in this world!

Anonymous said...

oh KJ, I am SO sorry for the horror. We were at First Night - two adults on one 7-year-old and it was ok, but we did not venture to the BPL area madness.

Had our own version of disappearing child in a giant corn maze 2 summers ago. Absolute terror. He too was swept up by earthly angels and returned to us post-haste, but not before I had a full-on screaming-mimi heart-failure panic attack.

Ain't motherhood grand?

Drink up, girl, and happy new year.


Michelle said...

I am bawling, Kate. so glad for the happy outcome.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am glad that your family unit is once again intact. I was frightened myself, and then I remembered everytime I went into a Target, Marshalls, or such, within 6 minutes, I would hear "Mrs. O'Malley come to the front desk,we have your son." Matt did this constantly.It started at4 until 7, under the quise of "can I go to the toy section." I think I threatened to never come and get him, or knowing me, I probably beat his a**. Now you can start a hopefully calm and quiet 2k11. With joy and peace, My Love, Marianne

Anonymous said...

Kate, very scary...it happened to me once in a CVS with Ben when he was just shy of 2 years old. I was at the counter paying and he disappeared. One second he was looking at the candy and the next he was gone. My angel was a young man in his 20's who found him in the toy aisle. As he was carrying him back towards me (I wouldn't leave the front door area because I was afraid the second I took my eyes off the door someone would run out the door with him) all I could see was the pom-pom of his winter hat bobbing up and down like a buoy. This all took about 2 minutes but seemed like a lifetime. Here comes
the kicker...the old hag behind the counter who didn't have the common sense to lock the door looked at me and said
"you should really have that kid in a stroller"...glad it all is okay xo---Mama G :)

Ps...my word verification was rotomar...as in... I almost jumped over the counter and beat that hag with a rotomar

lisa said...

i remember like yesterday coming out of the circus with my family (i was about 6) and reaching up to grab my dads hand when i realized it was not my dad....i got left with the street vendors (no lie) the man hawking balloons and the other peanuts until my parents found me.

thanks for the great advice about telling your kids to find either a police man or another mommy!

schroeder said...

Whoa. That ALMOST made me cry.

And I can't remember the last time I did that.

(That's a lie; anytime "Danny Boy" by John McDermott or "Same Auld Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg pops up on my iPod, it's OVER).

So glad we're all exposed to your trials and tribulations on the PU again, Kate. Even if it exposes us to some very real, very scary stuff.

Love ya,

BJBurke said...

kate - The same thing happened to us in Disney World when we lost Hannah Boylan. We were a small mob and were walking near Cinderella Castle. The kids were good about the buddy system, but Hannah stepped out of her flip flop and went to retrieve it. When she looked up we were all gone! She was only about 9, but she was smart enough to find someone with a nametag to help her. We went into the closest store and had them shut down the park! We found her in about 10 minutes, but Pookie nearly lost it (we all did a little bit).
Thankfully there are plenty of good people out there with and without nametags who are ready to help that little lost kid!
PS - we often joked about tatooing our phone number on our kids or installing Kiddie LoJack!!

Paula said...

KJ... I just re-lived my worst day ever with you... I know how fast it can happen... Hannah actually only 5 (i think) when we lost her at Disney... Still to this day, I am always hypervigilant in crowds, and she is now 14... It didn't matter that we had 4 adult to 10 kids... it still can happen... Although on a good note, the people at Disney are fabulous!!! within about 2 minutes there were at least 4 security people with me assuring me that if Hannah was not found within 10 minutes, that the park would be closed down, and that no one would leave!!!!

I am soooo glad it turned out well for you guys... I may have a glass of wine in your honor!

Love and hugs!

Nicola said...

Oh Kate - what an absolute nightmare! Do you recall when I lost Conor at the Childrens Museum - you guys were on your way in to meet us? It just happens...and thankfully most cases turn out just fine! But that panic stays with you for a while...or perhaps forever! We are so glad that Paulie is home safe and sound and that you didn't have a heart attack! love you!

KJ said...

Thank you so much for sharing your stories! I know you can all relate to the horror. I literally wrote this out as an exorcism. I am still shaking three days later. Nic, that's the first thing I remembered was your face after the Children's Museum incident. Love the tip of writing the cell phone on the kids arms.

KJ said...

BTW--Losing Hannah at Disney. *Shudder* Even with that beautiful flaming red hair! I'm sure you've never recovered. xoxo

KT said...

Kate! Tears in my eyes just thinking about it! I couldn't stop shaking and yelling safety instructions at my kids for hours afterward. Hours. Kept going over in my mind what i should have done differently. So frickin' scary. Love the props to little DT. No one can cover a crowded city block faster than a 10 year old. SO glad all turned out ok and you had a safe and peaceful New Years Eve! Next time, we leave the kiddos home with the menfolk and meet at the W for wine! Thx for unloading it on the PU.

(I did love the pre-panic pictures!)

Anonymous said...

Pure horror.

Thank Christ everything turned out OK, KJ. Judging by the amount of people who have a similar story, it sounds like Jamie's probably right. But that doesn't make it any less scary.

OK...I need a drink.