So, Barnes & Noble. They've added a toys and games section, which is awesome, because they have some really great toys and games. My kids received Hannukah gelt from my aunt, who instructed them to each get a toy and a book with the money. B&N was an obvious place to go, and less intimidating than Toys R Us. I was following GI around the toddler toys aisle, and I stopped to look at a toy. When I looked up to keep following him, he had vanished.
The problem with toddlers is that they're short. And quicker than you think. And totally unaware of danger.
I told NJ and SB to STAY BY THE TRAIN TABLE and started asking other people in the toy section if they'd seen a baby. One mother offered to help look for him, which I gratefully accepted. Suddenly, a teenage boy came up to me and asked if I was looking for a baby. His mom had been tracking GI for me and had sent him to see if he could find a mom looking for a baby. WHEW. Sure enough, GI had made his way to the front of the store and was gleefully running through the business section while the teenager's mother followed. I thanked her profusely, and she explained that she hadn't wanted to pick him up in case someone thought she was trying to make off with him. I kept a much closer eye on him after that.
And then we had to stand in line to pay. I had somehow miscalculated how many hands I am currently in possession of. I was carrying a game of "Sorry!", 6 Magic Treehouse books, two picture books, a stuffed Dalek (yes, you read that right), a wooden train, an Etch-a-Sketch, and a Batman Lego set. And a 25-pound toddler. Something had to give. And the line was long. It became a choice of drop-the-toddler or drop-the-mound-of-toys-and-books, and I chose to put the toddler down before it got any worse.
I watched GI run away again, with clear instructions to NJ and SB to STAY WITH HIM. He went immediately to the front doors, because obviously the parking lot is a much more fun place than the cash register line. Fortunately, a collection of friendly adults, plus his big brothers, worked to keep him inside the store while I anxiously willed the cashier to finish my transaction. I indicated my distress by pointedly glancing toward the doors repeatedly, saying I was worried that my toddler was going to run away, and dancing from foot to foot in a manner quite similar to the Potty Dance. (I should add that I could see the doors from where I was standing. The kids were not out of my sight, just out of my reach for the moment.)
And then I was free, with two big bags of stuff.
I rushed to the doors, where SB and NJ were casually watching GI as GI casually watched the doors, waiting for his chance to escape. An old man said to me, "Is this your baby? He almost got his arm cut off! You weren't paying any attention to him!"
Taken aback but actually rather focused for a change, I responded, "I was paying attention to him. I sent these two to watch him while I finished checking out."
"These two were supposed to be watching him?" he sneered. "They weren't doing a very good job."
And here's where I'm very proud of myself. Instead of escalating, I simply said, "Thank you for keeping an eye on him. I appreciate the help." And we left.
I made NJ carry a bag so I could carry the wayward toddler.
In retrospect, I could have - and probably should have - asked the cashier to wait a moment while I rescued GI, then held him while we completed the transaction, but by the time we finally got to the almost-done stage, my arms ached with fatigue and I didn't think of it.
Next time, I'm taking the stroller. Or a leash. Or both. And maybe another adult or two.
Or maybe I won't go back there until GI is old enough to understand, "STAY BY THE TRAIN TABLE."
Or I grow another arm.
By the way, stuffed Dalek!