We’re driving on I-70 through central Utah, on our way back from a family wedding in Grand Junction, Colorado. Along this route are several scenic view stops, none of which have safety rails or fences. There’s no “nanny state” in Utah – I guess they figure that if you don’t have enough sense to stay away from the edge of a cliff, you deserve to fall off.
Our boys are ages 9, 5, and 2. At half of the stops I stay in the car with the 2-year-old because I’d rather miss the view than try to keep our Little Explorer from running away to his death. One of the safer-looking stops has an expanse of sandstone before the drop-off to the road, so we all get out and look around. The boys watch an anthill for a while and my husband takes pictures of the view. No one goes near the edge of anything.
Then it’s time to get back in the car. The two-year-old needs a diaper change. We’ve been changing him on the front passenger seat of our Toyota Sequoia. My husband says he’ll get the front seat ready if I get the diaper bag out of the back. Fair enough. Once I’m around the back, however, I realize that the enormous SUV now blocks our view of the boys, who were walking back to the car with us. The older boys are fine, but I know that baby can’t be trusted to come along quietly. Why did I let my guard down?
I have to take two steps before I can see around the side of the car. What I see is my 2-year-old’s backside as he runs as fast as he can away from us, towards freedom. Towards the edge of the sandstone ledge. I scream his name, throw the diaper bag back into the car and take off running. From the front of the car, my husband realizes what is happening and follows suit. We are both running as fast as we can from the edges towards a center point: our Little Explorer, joyously free of parental restraint. I yell, “Stop! Stop!” but the disobedient little cuss doesn’t even slow down. Soon I realize that I will reach him before he reaches the edge of the cliff and my panic shifts to anger.
We do not normally spank our children, but as I run, staring at him, I know that I will wale on this kid once he is safely in my arms. He knows not to run away from us! All vacation we have been telling him to stay close to us, to hold our hands, not to run away – and here he is nearly getting himself killed. All my adrenaline channels into fiery indignation: I am tired of being ignored. I am parental justice, hear me roar!
I reach the baby before my husband does. I grab his arms firmly and look up to find my husband. He is stopped a couple of yards away, with the most ridiculous expression of comic shock on his heavily-bearded face. His mouth forms a tiny “o” of surprise. He is pulling up his shorts. They fell down while he was running.
We both start laughing; loudly, a touch crazily. If other tourists weren’t watching our scene before, they are now. I stop laughing and attempt to scold the baby, but it’s no good. My rage has evaporated. The best I can manage is “No! Don’t run away! When Mommy says stop, stop!” I pick him up and we are laughing again on our way back to the car.
There are very few moments in my life I wish had been videotaped, but this is one of them. Panicked parents, a toddler in peril, and a grown man’s pants falling down? Comedy gold.