Mother’s Day 2014. (Apologies for the update, but my grammar was even more atrocious that usual.)
After a long day at the Botanical Garden full of toddler energy draining activities, you fell into a deep sleep in your stroller during the long subway ride back. Taking advantage of your nap, your mom and I decided to get some groceries and dinner. We split up, with mom heading to the grocery store and you and I to the deli and your favorite restaurant.
As we were waiting in line at the deli and paying at the counter, I noticed a woman staring at your stroller. Your stroller usually draws many looks when we walk down the street (fully reclined and with the screen fully down, your stroller makes a very unique geometric shape), so I paid her no attention. My mistake.
Done with the deli, I crossed the street to one of your favorite restaurants to place an order for take out. As the restaurant inexplicably decided to test out their new base system (techno in the afternoon on Mother’s Day Sunday? really?), I waited outside on the sidewalk.
I’ll admit I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. You were asleep, and I was playing with my phone. It was broad daylight on a busy street in the middle of Manhattan with hundreds of people walking by. We have walked down this street hundreds of times. Familiar, comfortable, complacent.
Engrossed with my phone, I didn’t notice anything wrong until someone tried to snatch the stroller away. Fortunately, my OCD saved us. Fearing that the stroller would roll away at inopportune times (when you were an infant, I had nightmares of the thing rolling down hills, interweaving heavy traffic, with me chasing madly after it), I always wore the wrist strap, tightened and secure. Still in shock, I recognized the woman from the deli.
I placed myself between the woman and your stroller.
“BACK AWAY FROM THE STROLLER!”
After backing up a couple of steps, the woman all but ignored me. Instead, she stooped as if to look through the stroller screen, and shouted, “ELISA!*”
“BACK AWAY FROM MY BABY!”
We continued to shout past each other a couple times while a crowd gathered.
“Why isn’t Elisa answering? What have you done to her?”
“Who is Elisa? That’s my daughter. She’s sleeping. Why are you shouting at her?”
“ELISA!” When she tried to push past me again, I headed into the restaurant. Done with grocery shopping, your mother joined me.
“Back off, I’m calling the police.”
The maître d’, having watched the scene unfold outside, barred the door and did not let the strange woman pass. Your mother took your stroller deeper into the restaurant while the maître d’ and I guarded the doors.
Ten police officers showed up, including a counterterrorism unit in full SWAT gear (I guess it was a slow day for them, and I’m thankful it was). Five of them hustled the woman off to one side while another five surrounded us.
“The woman over there claims the baby is hers. Do you have anything that can show she’s yours? Pictures? Documents?”
I don’t carry your birth certificate or passport on me, but I am a dad. “Sure officer, there’s literally thousands of pictures on my phone, from her first day to this afternoon.” I handed my phone over.
“Yep, that’s her,” he confirmed when the sergeant from the other group walked over. “No need to question the couple any further. The kid isn’t hers,” he said, pointing at the
crazy woman of questionable psychological stability.
A woman of questionable psychological stability it was. My mind at this point finally slowed down enough for me to notice the details. On a warm Sunday afternoon, she was dressed in a massive gold down jacket, reaching her knees. She carried two gigantic recyclable bags, filled with unknown items. When asked for documentation to show that the you were supposedly hers, from one of the bags she had pulled out a vanilla envelope. “The first document was a court order declaring her an unfit parent and removing her child from her custody,” the sergeant explained. “The picture doesn’t even look like the kid.”
At this point, you finally woke up. Groggy, “Mommy?” you asked and hugged Mommy. The woman stared at you, shaking her head. I could hear her mumbling from down the street, “I don’t understand. How could that not be her?”
“This isn’t how you get your kid back,” the officers surround her explained. “You can’t go around taking other people’s kids.”
“So what do you want us to do?” asked the sergeant. “Do you want to press charges or do you want to go home?”
Your mom and I shared a look. “Go home.”
“How are you getting home?” he asked.
“By subway, down the street,” I pointed.
“Ok,” nodded the sergeant. “Joe here will escort you to the subway. The rest of us will keep her here until you’re safely away.”
Later that night, your mom and I wondered if we did the right thing. That poor woman, probably distraught and missing her daughter over Mother’s Day, would never had gotten another chance with her baby if she had an attempted kidnapping arrest to her name. Besides, you, Cookie, were never in any real danger –she wasn’t getting the stroller away from me, and even if she did, there was no way she was getting away (that isn’t to say I didn’t have nightmares of you disappearing for months afterwards). On the other hand, what if she tried to take someone else’s child? What if she tried with a child being watched over by an older nanny or grandparent or a child who was temporarily out of parental sight?
Did we do the right thing in not pressing charges?
*not the actual name she shouted.