The other day at the gym, I'd dropped Gabe off in the daycare and gone off to do my speedy 30 minutes on the elliptical. I was 4 minutes in when all the fire alarms throughout the building went off in a screaming mess. It took me a few seconds to register what was happening, and to realize that while I was downstairs in the cardio room, Gabe was upstairs and across the building and I had no idea what the fire plan was in the daycare. Do they usher all the kids out? Are we supposed to come get them? What if I made it outside and discovered he was still inside?
I started pushing past the people working out to get to the stairs to go to the daycare. Meanwhile, a swim meet had been taking place in the pool area, so hundreds (it felt like) of kids in soaking wet bathing suits with towels around them and parents who'd been standing on the sidelines cheering came pouring out of the locker rooms and pool deck. I could barely move due to the crowd, much less move in the opposite direction of everyone else. I finally made it to the stairs, and found that getting up the stairs looked like an impossibility because all of the after school programs that take place upstairs were streaming down the stairs.
In that moment, even though logic told me this was likely a fire drill and not the real thing, my heart clenched and I thought for one terrifying moment that I might throw up from the very real fear overtaking me. The only thought flooding my brain was that my baby was upstairs and he was surely scared, and I didn't know how I would reach him. How would the daycare people be able to get multiple children out at once? How would they carry Gabe when he can't walk down stairs alone yet?
Those questions were enough to push me into action and I shoved my way up the stairs, fighting the crowd the whole way, who were all obviously anxious because it had been several minutes since the alarms started and we could hear the fire truck sirens arriving outside. I made it to the second floor and started jogging down the hall, and all the way at the opposite end, I saw one of the teenage daycare helpers following the crowd down the other stairway struggling to carry Gabe and another toddler while also helping preschoolers down the stairs. She glanced up and saw me running down the hall toward her and hesitated so that I could catch up. As I ran by the daycare room, I ducked my head inside and grabbed Gabe's coat, shoes and socks because she was carrying him without them.
I reached her and lifted him out of her arms and as he wrapped his arms tight around my neck and looked at me with the most serious look on his face, I felt the choke hold of fear begin to loosen itself. We made it outside into the freezing cold and rain, and I tugged his shoes and socks and jacket on while we waited to hear the verdict. All those poor children in wet swimsuits and towels were also outside, barefoot, with lifeguards passing out additional towels to wrap themselves up as best they could.
It was just a fire alarm, as we all knew it would be, but I have to tell you... In those moments, when I couldn't see how I would possibly reach Gabe through the crowd, and I didn't know whether he would be taken care of, I was more scared than I think I've ever been. It was panic, pure and simple. Unreasonable. Irrational. Panic.
I can't imagine how you feel when it is a true emergency and not just a drill. This must be what drives people to race into burning buildings and lift cars off of their children. This also teaches me a serious lesson. I'll never drop Gabe off anywhere without going through emergency procedures with them or at least asking basic safety questions. Just in case.