Baby Bear, now 6 1/2 seems to have developed a phobia of not being able to find me. He needs to know where I am at all times. I know exactly how this anxiety came about. We were vacationing in Costa Rica about 3 months ago and after an exhilarating day of zip-lining, we went into a town called Montezuma for lunch. There were fourteen of us on that outing, with five others back at the house where we were staying. Yes, a big group — four families with a combined headcount of 11 kids and 8 adults — but the communal parenting worked well so far, whether we were watching the kids in the ocean or pool, or keeping track of them in the airport.
Montezuma, a remote fishing village that has evolved into more of a hippie-like town on the coast of Costa Rica, captivated me. The center of town is filled with souvenir shops, small hotels, and restaurants and many colorful locals. I felt like I was on the set of a movie and I wanted to soak it all in. Lots to look at, lots of distractions — you get the picture. We checked out some shops, ate at a seaside restaurant and watched the kids splash around in the water. So, as our group slowly migrated through the streets, back to where our van was parked, some of us wandered here, some of us wandered there. By this time, I was just plain hot, and still recovering from being strapped to a tiny wire high above the tree tops, so I simply wanted back on that air-conditioned van. Baby Bear was right behind me, I know he was, and then suddenly he wasn’t. There was a small group of us up ahead on the street so I figured he darted ahead to be with some of his vacation buddies. I called up to them, “Hey guys, is Baby Bear up there with you?” Once they said “no”, panic-mode began. Actually, panic does not even come close. Suffocating terror. Hands-down the worst possible feeling, except for life-threatening injury or illness, a parent can ever have. We all hurried in different directions calling his name. I ran into stores, asking the shop owners if they saw a little boy. And then the terror became compounded by my reckless imagination. Baby Bear was not a boy who usually strayed. He was a stay close to Mom and Dad cuddler. No, no, no, it couldn’t be. How could someone snatch him in broad daylight? Those minutes, probably only about 4, were slow-motion torture. Finally, my friend called out to me that my husband had found him. Baby Bear was crying and by this time, so was I. Such a brave, little boy lost in a foreign country, he had walked up to non-English speaking natives telling them he couldn’t find us. Apparently, the second person he approached actually understood him and was about to help him look for us when my husband spotted him and swooped him up in his arms. We did not want to frighten him more so we told him we were so proud of him to ask for help and that we were so, so sorry that we did not see him walking in the wrong direction. Baby Bear appeared to be over the episode by the time we got back to the house. But clearly, a version of post-traumatic stress disorder seems to have engulfed him lately.
No matter where I seem to be in our house, be it the bathroom or the laundry room, within minutes I invariably hear, “Mom, where are you!?” Sometimes when I am in mid-pee, I curse under my breath and think, “gee, what’s his deal?” When we are somewhere outside of the house, such as a park where he might play, it’s the same scenario: Baby Bear will say to me, sometimes several times in a row: “Now don’t leave this spot. Stay right here, okay?”
Baby Bear and I even discussed his fear of losing sight of me and he claims it wasn’t the Costa Rica mishap that scarred him, but that there was yet another time when I was in the backyard and he thought I drove away and left him inside the house alone. Hmm…not being able to find me in our backyard versus being lost in a foreign land….clearly the latter was the emotional traumatizer but he seems to want to block that one out. Can’t say I blame him. No amount of reassuring seems to help right now. Of course, I do want to help him overcome this but I do also think it’s a healthy reaction to what was a very long and scary 240 seconds — for both of us. And, okay, I will admit, I don’t always mind his neediness. Middle Bear and Tallest Bear at 10 and 13 respectively, are ready to break free, or so they think. “Drop us at the pizza place and come back for us later” or “No, I don’t want to come with you to the store, leave me here alone” are frequent requests from them. But, Baby Bear still wants me close, for emotional security, for food preparation, for helping him wipe his butt, and for lots of hugs. If the Costa Rica incident has given me some extra mileage for having Baby Bear essentially velcroed to me , I’m all for it. Besides, peeing in private is overrated.