A weekday at 11 a.m. is not usually crowded at Fred Meyer. But it is the week before Christmas, and the clerk assured me it was going to get worse. She has to work Christmas Eve, and she isn’t happy about it.

Zack and I went to do some last minute stocking-stuffer searching. Always the amiable companion, he pushed the cart boldly down each aisle, his size 10-and-a-halves slapping the floor in search of delectables. Candy. Pop. Chips. Every end-cap promoted his favorite snacks.

Halfway through our circuit, we came to the healthy bread section. As I chose one without too many seeds and nuts in it, hoping to make it more appealing to Zack, he firmly said, “No. No,” and pushed my hand back toward the shelf.

“Zack, we are getting this,” I responded in my no-nonsence Mom voice.

Into the cart the loaf went. And that was that. He didn’t protest further.

Back on track through what is an enormous store, and I popped down an aisle with deodorant or some such item as Zack continued on the main thoroughfare. I figured I could make a quick detour and catch up with him easily. But when I returned to the aisle, there was no dark-haired guy wearing a blue winter coat ahead.

It isn’t the first time I’ve “lost” Zack in a store. He has his favorite go-to spots and both Jay and I allow him some wandering for the sake of autonomy. Still, the mama heart can’t help but beat faster in these situations, especially when the store is as huge and as crowded as this one was.

I began my search—walking quickly in the direction I expected him to go, looking down every aisle as I passed it and listening for Zack’s voice. Not in the chip aisle, hmmm … that surprised me. Not in the pop aisle either. Where could he have gone?

I turned the other way and retraced my steps. Still no success. On the verge of turning around and going back to where I started, I went all the way to the healthy bread section, and there he was, putting the loaf back on the shelf!

There is no doubt about it: Zack knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He did not want that bread, period. I reached for a different kind and he said, “No. No.”

“Zack, this bread is for Dad. You don’t have to eat it. Do NOT put it back.”

Into the cart it went, and we were on our way again.

Finishing up on the other side of the store, we were headed toward the checkout lines when Zack made the sign for bathroom.

Come inside my head for a moment and take a tour of my thoughts: I have a full cart of items to buy. I don’t want to leave it someplace and have someone take it, move it, or begin to put the things away that I have just spent the last 45 minutes finding. But I also don’t want my son to use a public restroom without being in earshot of him.

Zack is 20 years old. He is full grown and could fight off anyone who tried to touch him. But that means nothing to me because Zack is my little boy. Yes, he yelled the one time a peer tried touching him inappropriately, but what if someone stronger, bigger, more aggressive, tries it?



Zack in reality


Zack in my mind









Back to Fred Meyer: Zack heads toward the restroom and I choose to head to the checkout line, positioning myself in the line opposite the hallway to the bathrooms so I can see when he comes out. I buy everything and head over to check on him.

If you do not have a non-verbal child who is much younger mentally than his chronological age, I do not expect you to understand this. But if you do, you know it is not as crazy as it sounds that when I reached the outside of the men’s bathroom and could not hear Zack’s vocalizations coming from inside, I wheeled my cart into the bathroom and looked for him.

I apologize to the 12-year-old boy who was sitting in the first stall, and I hope he wasn’t traumatized for life, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to find your lost child. I have no perverse desire to see men using the toilet, believe me, and I always shout out that I am coming in as a warning. I just want to know my son is safe.

Zack wasn’t in the bathroom. Now I had to stifle just a wee bit of panic. I rehearsed all the reasons he was sure to be safely “shopping” close by: he is large and no one could pick him up and carry him off; he would fight if someone tried to kidnap him; the store is crowded and someone would have seen a struggle. I stopped there, my brain throwing up arguments against these potential comforts: someone could have drugged him; maybe he was lured with candy or a puppy; noises can go unnoticed in a crowded place.

I stopped an employee on her way to the Break Room and explained my situation. She walked with me to Customer Service and said they would put out an “Adam Alert.” That’s when they describe a missing child over the intercom and everyone looks for him or her.

I start a mental debate: Do I go through the potential embarrassment of having an all-out-alert-search for my son who is no doubt standing in front of chips and yearning for them somewhere in the store OR do I just keep looking on my own? Now I have a grocery cart full of paid-for items—can I leave it someplace and walk more freely OR do I take it with me and hope nobody thinks I’m shoplifting? Is there anyone I know in the store, because I really don’t want this embarrassment in front of anyone who I ever have to see again? If I don’t have them give the alert, am I wasting precious time if this is the one-in-a-million case scenario where Zack really is in danger?

The nice employee tells me the Customer Service line is probably longer than I want to stand in, so she leaves in search of someone to help while I stand with my cart at the intersection of Jewelry, Women’s Clothing, Customer Service, and Checkout.

I pray, Lord, please just tell me where Zack is.

Electronics flashes through my brain.

I walk a few feet to the Electronics section, and sure enough—big grin on his face, Zack is passing time in his favorite place while he waits for Mom to come and say it’s time to go home.

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