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Our community is home to a very small zoo. Each year, as one of their main fundraisers, they host “Boo at the Zoo.” Kids can come in costume, play games, “trick or treat” at various stations, and take a haunted train ride. We have attended since our son was four.

He and I arrived ten minutes before the gates opened. Anticipation was in the air, with kids excitedly waiting for admission. Once through the line, our first stop was the mad scientist lab, where we able to help with “experiments” and learn how to make slime.

As we exited, there were several games nearby. I was juggling a wet painting, a bag of slime, and trying to wipe the “gak” off of my son’s hands, which was really just cornstarch and water. As it dried, it turned to powder and flaked off. Of course, this could not happen fast enough for my little first grader. He played one game then walked to the next one. As he finished the pumpkin bowling, I realized that I did not have his blue plastic pumpkin, now holding his slime and painting. I vaguely remember handing it to him to wipe off the stuff on my hands. “Where is your pumpkin?” I inquired, looking around. His look turned to panic. “I don’t know!” he said, frantically looking around. I thought it couldn’t have gone far; he just sat it down for a moment. The seconds started to tick by, with us looking next to the games, by the line of people that had formed behind us, and in between the two games.

Gone. His blue pumpkin was gone. In less than sixty seconds, it had somehow disappeared. He hadn’t forgotten it along the way. He sat it down to play a game, and now it was missing. My helplessness turned to anger quickly. Who steals a little boy’s pumpkin? Did another child accidently walk off with it? I was immediately comforted by this thought, as this did not make my child a victim of a crime. My guilt was through the roof. It’s my job to protect him. He’s seven. That includes his pumpkin. I explained to him that maybe no one stole it, but maybe a small child wandered off with it. I consoled him with a sword that lit up and made sounds. I had the bag that was given to us when we entered, that most children are using to capture their candy and prizes. After a few games, some face painting, and a promise of fast food on the way home, he was seemingly over the incident and had fun. I told him that I was very proud of him. While a devastating event occurred, he recovered after a few minutes of sadness and was able to put the past behind him . We made it to our car unscathed, enjoyed a very late treat on the drive home, and recounted the tales of the evening to his father.

As I prepared for bed that evening, the narcissistic part of my brain went into overdrive: what if this had nothing to do with the pumpkin or my son? What if this was directed at me? Was this a stalker? Mommy paranoia made an appearance. What if my son has a stalker? A few deep breaths later, I was able to reclaim my sanity. Common sense tells me that a child did this. Whether it was a three year-old mischief maker or a ten year old meanie, I’ll never know. All I can do is stay vigilant. The world is not always a kind place. It’s not fun to learn that while trick-or-treating. The important lesson, however, is to not let that one bad moment ruin the future. My little guy has a good grasp on this. I should take a lesson from him.

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