We weave our way through the crowds of people drawn out by the late-t0-arrive Northwest summer and the prospect of fresh local goods. My eyes jump from stall to Magnolia, stall to Magnolia, trying to see what is available this week at the farmer’s market while not losing sight of my independent toddler.
“All-by-myself” is her theme lately. I have the double stroller just in case, but as I expected she wants to walk.
A woman steps between us, oblivious of our invisible bond. “Mama, where are you?” I lean around. Her head moves side to side, scanning for me. Our eyes reconnect. Safe.
Magnolia doesn't wander. In new settings, she is practically glued to my side. Slowly, she warms up and her shyness wears off, but she always checks in. Brian and I laugh at the idea of using the monkey backpack/kid leash we were given when she was born. It is still in her closet unopened.
A couple more times the gap between us widens as musicians, colorful flags, and other kids enjoying treats distract Magnolia. Each time I pause, call her name, and she rejoins me by the stroller.
We wander through the market this way until the girls get hungry. Pizza with pineapple is Maggie's choice and I feed Kaleia a jar of babyfood from home. We watch two young girls, armed with cello and ukelele, attempt to entertain the feeding throng. It is obvious this is their first time playing together and I find their conversation more entertaining than their music. "Want to try this one?" "It's okay if you sing in a different key than I play." "You know how to beat box! Let's do it!" "Want to make up a song about strawberries?"
Now, it is my turn to eat, but Kaleia’s awake time is nearly up. So to make my decision easier with less zigzagging down the busiest aisle of the market, I choose to go to the cheapest vendor with the shortest line. Hempler's Hot Dogs it is -- no line up and $2.75. I order my polish dog and hand over my money.
Kaleia starts crying so I reach down to give her a cup of milk, and look around for Mags. I don’t see her. "No worries," I think, "She can't be far." Casually, I call her as the hot dog man gives me my change.
No cute blond head appears.
I call again. Now the hot dog man is trying to hand me my unimportant hot dog as my head bobbles around searching the sea of people for my daughter. I take the dog and try to position the stroller in such a way so I can see the crowd better, bumping into the man behind me. He smiles at Kaleia and makes some comment about me having my hands full. I apologize and explain that I am looking for my two-year old. I continue calling, calling.
My cries turn to panic as my little girl that doesn't wander off is lost. This is the scene in the movie where the audience knows what happened to the little girl, but the mom does not. I wish someone would just tell me which way to look.
A nice family offers to watch my stroller while I go look for my two year old. I take off into the crowd heading back the way we've just come, imagining that she's wandering scared, looking for me. Our eyes don't meet. No, she's been taken! What will I tell Brian? I'm going to be one of those moms with their kid on a milk carton. Now, I've left Kaleia with complete strangers. What if I lose them both?
Magnolia! Magnolia! Maggie!
I'm not shy anymore, nor am I polite as I shove my way through looking for my little girl.
I round the corner, heading for customer service. I'm almost to the opposite side of the market now! An older woman says "Here she is." And I think, "How would you know?" But she's right! There she is! How did she get so far, so fast?!
As I scoop her up, I hear "Do you want to see another magic trick?" from the teenage busker entertaining my little wanderer. She was his only audience -- besides the older woman who was probably his mom -- but I don't care.
Making the way back to my stroller, my eyes well up. "You scared Mama." My mind flits to my approaching visit to California, the airport and that monkey leash.
We return to the hot dog stand where Kaleia is happily sipping her milk and I thank the family for watching her. I retrieve my cold hot dog from Magnolia's stroller seat and place her securely in her place. Then we make our way to Ralf's Bavarian Bakery. I need some chocolate. Sitting on the pavement sharing a treat with my special girl, I am thankful.