Tuesday, September 9, 2008


It was Rosh Hashanah and my son was about seven when he lost himself on the Brandeis campus and I had to have the University police find him. I didn't know it was Rosh Hashanah. Working at Brandeis on a flexible non-schedule, I had keys to the building and could come and go at will and bring Justin with me as necessary. On that lovely fall day we had his bicycle as well. A college campus is a marvelous place for a kid with a bicycle. Knowing he'd be at least as safe there as in our neighborhood in Medford, I focused on my work until I was ready to go home and Justin was nowhere in sight.

I drove around looking for him; but the very thing that makes the campus good for bicycles -- all those paved non-automotive roads -- makes it hard to cover in a car. I tried it on foot, asking from time to time if anyone had seen a seven-year-old with a bicycle. There seemed to be an unusual number of dressed-up older people strolling around the campus in the sunshine. One woman mentioned that she was there for the holiday. Holiday? She gave me that what-planet-are-you-on look that I'm so familiar with, and explained. She, like the others I inquired of, was sorry I had misplaced my child but couldn't tell me anything about him.

At a loss for what to do, I enlisted the campus police. The officer who subsequently appeared with Justin in the car and the bicycle in the trunk was not pleased at being troubled with a kid whose mother didn't know better than to turn him loose on his own recognizance. He had found him at the chapels, bicycle dropped nearby, playing in the pool in a wet and dirty and disreputable and thoroughly happy condition. I thanked the officer, trying not to picture the contrast between this goyische ragamuffin desecrating the chapel pool, and the nicely-dressed middle-aged parent-types celebrating the New Year.

Before our next trip to Brandeis, I bought him a watch and instructed him to report to me every hour. Thereafter, he turned up reliably enough that I didn't have to bother the police again.