As one of those who considers a Home Alone viewing a required part of the run-up to Christmas, I’ll be watching with my usual mix of amusement and abject horror. You see, while I’d chuckle at Macaulay Culkin’s antics, I used to consider the plot-line to be the height of absurdity: the idea that parents could simply lose one of their kids. Then I had four of my own.
The first “oops” came one Sunday morning as we headed off to church. Strapping everyone into the van in the usual “we’re-going-to-be-late” flurry, one of us finally realized we were missing son #2. Maybe the lesser overall volume was the giveaway. Anyway, we found him back up in the apartment, sitting on the sofa, contentedly watching television and munching on dry cereal.
The second was more heart-stopping. Its only occupants, we were exiting the elevator on the second floor of our apartment building, carrying various bags and corralling children. Somehow the doors started to close behind us before our two-year-old daughter had stepped out. I frantically stretched out an arm to keep the doors open. Too late. And then she was gone.
Everything sped up and slowed down at the same time. Mom herded the other three through the security doors into our level’s hallway while I raced up the stairs to follow the elevator.
There’s never a good place to lose a child. But our home on the outskirts of Amsterdam was probably somewhere on the lower end of the appropriateness scale. As relative newcomers, our Dutch was still pretty basic and panic doesn’t improve your foreign-language skills. While many of the Dutch spoke good English, this area had a high immigrant population whose mother tongue was often something else.
And while it wasn’t exactly Dodge City, it was a bit dodgy at times. The zig-zagging high-rise gray blocks looked like a prison from a distance. Someone had been robbed at knife-point in our building’s elevator. The parking garage was a favorite haunt of drug dealers and delinquent teens. And our car got broken into so many times we gave up getting the locks repaired. That left us resorting to opening the vehicle from the trunk and climbing through to push the front doors open from the inside.
Given these circumstances, losing our daughter was especially alarming. When I finally caught up with the elevator several floors up, the doors opened to reveal only a middle-aged woman. Something in my face caused her to back up and close the doors before I could ask if she had seen a kid on the way up.
So off I charged, down the stairs, banging on the doors at each hallway and buzz-buzzing the intercom while shouting that a little girl was missing. It probably only lasted a few minutes, but it seemed to go on forever. Having come up empty, I burst out of the ground-floor doors, scanning in every direction and shouting like a banshee. No sign.
Just before total meltdown, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye: a flash of the red coat she had been wearing. Running to the playground in the central courtyard of our apartment block, I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw her by the swings. Spotting me, she toddled over with a smile, blissfully unaware that the universe had tilted during the past few minutes.
So while Home Alone gets me in the Christmas spirit, to this day it also reminds me that losing a kid is no laughing matter.