Thursday, December 24, 2009

Open the DOORS!

I took the kids dress shopping in San Francisco on Tuesday.  I know that sounds crazy -- three kids in a department store -- but I needed a fancy dress for Paul's cousin's wedding in NJ next week.  The boys are ring bearers and will be wearing tuxes. Ruby and the other flower girls will be wearing matching black and white polka dot velveteen dresses with a red bow around the waist.  After much debate Paul thankfully decided to rent a tux as well, but I was going to need something fancy too.  I tried to squeeze into the black taffeta skirt I bought back in, uh, college.  1989?  I shouldn't be depressed about the 6 inch gap in the zipper when I tried to get that thing on.  I tossed out my velvet dresses from my professional days in the early 1990s long ago, but I bet I wouldn't have been able to coax their slim silhouettes above my knees either.

So, off into the city we went, with the promise of BART train rides and ice skating in Union Square after dress shopping.  I did find a that Abe picked off the rack actually.  (The kids scoured all the racks in the dress department gathering all the black dresses in my size. We collected two armloads and settled into the dressing room for a long fashion show.)   It was pretty painless, if you don't count Oscar practically falling asleep on the dressing room floor and Ruby crawling underneath the doors taunting Abe and Oscar.  But that's all to be expected.

With my sleeveless dress with an embroidered taffeta skirt nestled in the shopping bag we took off for Union Square for a gander at the red and gold ball decorated Christmas tree and the outdoor ice skating rink. On the walk there Abe asked me repeatedly if the ice was real -- a reasonable question because it wasn't exactly cold outside and because four years ago we went skating on plastic "ice" at a different shopping center here in northern California. It was horrible. 

The ice in Union Square was real and the rink large enough but the lines wrapped around the temporary building.  One line was for ticket holders -- those organized people who pre-purchased earlier that morning or online. The other sad line was for people like us -- anxious kids and exhausted parents who realized the journey through this line to buy tickets and then back through the other was a two hour ordeal. Ruby scampered up on top of the adjacent wall in her black and ivory Christmas dress while Oscar stuck to my side asking repeatedly "So are we going skating? How long is this line? When are we going to get in there?"  It was the kind of anxious rapid-fire questioning that doesn't allow time for me to answer, and my answers, if not carefully crafted, can lead to higher anxiety levels.  I can't think when Oscar is asking questions like that so I usually ask him to calm his body while I come up with a "plan".

The "plan" was to blow off the skating. Maybe come back over the weekend, with Daddy, with pre-purchased tickets in hand. Oscar and Ruby were on board with that plan but Abe's enthusiasm turned to a sulk and my guilt over dragging the kids all the way into the city just for dress shopping overwhelmed me.  I tried to salvage the morning by suggesting we head across the street where there was rumored to be a giant gingerbread house displayed in the Westin St. Francis Hotel.  The rotating "sugar castle" turned out to be so huge and so professional looking and not at all ginger-bready that none of us believed it was actually made of gingerbread until I read the sign. Twelve hundred pounds of gingerbread, 60 pounds of flour, 300 pounds of sugar, 400 hours of was certainly real.  When I spotted a few missing gum drops along the surrounding train tracks the kids finally believed me (and wanted a gum drop, of course.)

We spent maybe three minutes looking at that marvelous sugar castle and then started on a quest for a lunch spot. The streets were crowded with shoppers and holiday cheer seekers and it was hard to keep track of the kids. Ruby kept falling behind and I was so glad I topped her dress with her cherry red fuzzy jacket, the one with the hood and large pom pom buttons. Aside from being adorable on her it was easy to spot her little body among all the dark pants and tall boots on the sidewalks.  Abe was voluntarily keeping an eye on Oscar which sometimes meant grabbing his arm and pulling him out of the way of oncoming walkers. Oscar was getting mad at Abe and Abe was frustrated with Oscar.  I beckoned Abe to the side and gently told him that I could keep track of Oscar. Oscar was fine. He was keeping up ok and yes sometimes he didn't notice people walking directly into him, but he was fine.

After much more grumbling and whining we found a decent lunch spot -- a yummy mexican place where they serve warm tortillas with salsa and make guacamole right at your table. Abe's mood improved with food in his belly and I felt like I had partially salvaged the morning. After lunch we headed down to the BART station.  As we went through the ticket gates we heard a train approaching and rushed down the escalator to catch it. It wasn't our train, but an eastbound train arrived on the adjacent track a few seconds later.  I wasn't sure if we wanted to take that one either because I didn't know where we would have to transfer. After a second's hesitation we got on anyway. I figured that we could get off at the next stop if needed.  As the doors started to close I realized that Abe had just barely jumped on the train in time, but that Oscar was still on the platform. We tried to stick our arms out to stop the doors but they closed anyway leaving me, Abe and Ruby on the train and Oscar on the platform, alone, in downtown San Francisco.

I started screaming:


Abe and I pounded frantically on the doors and I looked desperately around the BART car for an emergency lever but I'm not sure I would have left my post at the door even if I saw one. Ruby stood up on the seat and screamed in panic.  I remember being worried that if the train jolted forward she would go flying. Other passengers jumped up and started yelling and banging too. Oscar was frozen. His arms were at his sides (not flapping wildly like when he is upset) and his large brown eyes were wide with fear.  Someone must have found a switch, or a lever, or a call button, because after 10 seconds (you could convince me it was two hours) the doors parted and I pulled Oscar into my arms. 

The other passengers fell back into their seats with relief and I huddled at the knees of my kids who had scrunched into the two cushion seat reserved for people with disabilities.  Ruby kept screaming so I held her while I talked soothingly to all of them. Oscar was still somewhat frozen, but he did say "I was really scared Mom".   "Of course you were sweetie, of course you were!",  I replied, and I pulled him in for another hug.

Ruby was scared too, and it took her a long time to recover.  She begged me to carry her on and off the trains as we transferred in Oakland, and then off again at our station.  She also awoke that night with a nightmare about being left behind on the platform.  She didn't want me to leave her alone in her room.

I was scared too, but my heart didn't race, my legs didn't turn to jelly.  Despite my screaming and banging I was pretty calm inside. And I can't figure out why.  Was it because Oscar wasn't outwardly panicked? Was it because I just couldn't believe the train would pull away leaving him there? Did I not have time to process? Or is it because we have already been through so much that this seemed small in comparison? 

I do think I knew on some deep level that he would be ok, that he wouldn't try to hold onto the train as it pulled away, like Ruby might have.

I think I knew he wouldn't get on the next train that pulled into the station, like Abe might have, but that he would stay right there waiting for me.

I think I knew that we could just go one stop and then hop the next train back. We'd be back in just a few minutes, ten tops. He's nine. He would have been fine. I keep telling myself that is why I didn't panic. 

And maybe I was also in a state of disbelief that I let this this happen. I should know better. 

He is nine, but he has PWS and he just doesn't react quickly in these situations.  I should know better.

He gets overwhelmed in crowds and new places. I should know better. 

Next time I will know better.

We are all fine now, even Ruby.  And we've spent a lot of time talking about what to do if you get left behind on a BART platform. Not that it will ever ever happen again.


  1. Oh my god. This whole day that you've described was so full of tense emotion. I'm so sorry -- you are, indeed, an amazing mama. I'm glad that it all turned out all right, but I'm hoping that you drink and had a huge glass of something when you finally got home!

  2. Yes, "Oh my word!" How terrifying. I would be having nightmares, too. You are so calm and capable. You did a great job in this stressful situation, and so did your kids! I suppose after the fright recedes, it may become a story they enjoy the time my husband's family actually drove off without him on a family vacation (they realized the mistake and went back to get him after a few minutes). That gets re-told nowadays.
    Merry Christmas!

  3. I don't know what else I would have done but I would definitely be doing what you did! Oh my heart! I hope you were able to relax these past few days, Mary!

    Sending lots of Merry and Peaceful wishes your way!

  4. oh you poor poor thing - BUT at least you know you are good in a crisis! we all learn this way.. hope 2010 is less dramatic!

  5. Mary, my heart was in my throat as I read this post. (Fabulous narrative urgency here.) I'm so sorry that this happened, but I'm relieved that everyone is okay. You handled it like a pro!

  6. Thanks everyone -- I guess I am ok in a crisis, but it definitely disturbed me that I did not panic more. I did not feel so amazing. Bleck. But we are fine now and I really appreciate being able to write about it here!!

  7. Oh my! That is soooo scary! I was holding my breath just reading it. Yikes. I don't even know if I'd have the presence of mind to bang on the doors.