Smart versus dumb, right versus wrong

Kids are notorious for doing dumb stuff, but it’s only “dumb” in the way dogs can look dumb when you pretend to throw a ball and they chase after nothing. As kids grow up, though, they mostly ¬†get better at ¬†knowing when they look and fixing the situation. Still, it is pretty dumb stuff. I was no exception.

When I was three, I fit underneath the end table next to the sofa. With my legs tucked under, I was able to hide there unseen, essentially in the middle of the room. I liked the illusion of privacy it provided. And I thought it was funny when my mother couldn’t find me. But all that changed in mere seconds.

We lived in a small house. There was a basement and an attic, and in between (on the main floor) were four small rooms, a closet, and a bathroom. As my mother searched for me, she was never more than twenty feet away. She called in a sing-song voice and used her Slovak diminutive of my name, “Mikush”.Panic struck her when I didn’t respond, and her voice took on a terrified tone. It was dark out, and I had never stayed out late before (I was just three!). There was no reason for me to be out, and no one knew who I had been playing with or where. My older brothers thought I had been inside.

My mother had such extreme concern in her voice that I became frightened. What would she do to me when she realized I had been hiding in the front room the entire time? I didn’t want to find out, so I stayed hidden even as she yelled at my brothers to go and look for me.

They organized a search party. The other kids in the neighborhood were recruited and sent in all directions. Doors were knocked on, the playground was searched, and the donut shop was visited. Twice. My father ran to the creek at the far end of the park and walked the banks.

Being just a child, I had a distorted sense of time, but it seemed as if I had trapped myself beneath the end table for hours on end. Perhaps it was forty minutes. When my father returned from the creek, all the search parties had reported back. It was quite obvious to everyone that I had been kidnapped.

My father picked up the phone and began dialing the police. Back then, we had a rotary phone attached to the wall in the center hallway of the house. There was no 9-1-1. Instead, the phone number for the police was written in pencil on the wall, and my father dialed it out, the rotor winding back to its place after each digit.I couldn’t take it any longer, and cried out and began to sob. My legs were stiff and sore, I was hungry, and I was petrified that the police would come and take me away.

I was hugged and welcomed back to the family. My father also wanted to teach me a lesson, and reached for me so as to paddle my behind. My mother, however, protected me.”You can paddle him later,” she said.