Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 6, 2008

Graham Goes Off the Reservation

The Early Years! (aka Graham Nielsen)

Category: Travel and Places

Graham and I had a little adventure this past Sunday. And if Officer Nuccio had gone just on visual evidence, he would have thought I was the worst parent ever, and I’d be on probation right now.

I was poking around in the church building after church, picking up some video equipment I had left there after a Saturday event, and I left Graham out in the main sanctuary unattended for a couple of minutes. There were other adults in the building, and he was playing so nicely with that carpet remnant that I figured it wouldn’t be necessary to tell him I was going in the back room. He’s been in the sanctuary dozens of times before while I was working on something, and he was temporarily unable to see me on those occasions, but did not panic. So I figured there would be no reason to drag him back into the other room with me. Wrong.


After a minute, or however long it took him to figure out I had moved, he must have started looking around or calling out for me. Then he thought I’d gone out to the car. (Why would he think this? I don’t know! He never did before, and I’ve never left him to go outside before without telling him, either. He’s five. Kindergarteners are brilliant, but not so bright — like people from another planet: Jeff Bridges in Starman, or Jeff Goldblum in that goofy flick where he hooked up with the odd, old, but very smart and very hot Geena Davis).


So Graham went out the front door of the church, crossed the street to check by our usual parking spot on the street, where I had not parked (and even if I had, I was trading cars for the day with a friend anyway… how’s that for confusing a five-year-old brain?!) Then while he was wandering around a half block away, a concerned neighborhood lady shooed him toward the fire department (across the street from our church), where a firefighter took him in and asked him what the story was.


Graham, to his credit, knew some basic information that would have saved him if he had been in more actual danger. Officer Friendly at school taught him what to do in these situations. When asked by the firemen for his phone number, he rattled it off, no problem. So the fire chief called our house and left a message for my wife, who was working in the garden. He probably said something like: “This is the Evanston Fire department. We have your son. He got separated from his father. We think you should divorce this man immediately and take sole custody of the boy, for his own safety.”


Meanwhile back inside, I had been panicking myself, searching the entire building for him: storage closets, bathrooms, nursery, kitchen, Sunday school classrooms. Just when I was about to check the attic, Phil called out from the front of the building: “Mark, I think I see him. Come up here.” What I saw out the front window made me laugh, then I almost swore under my breath at the same time (What?! In church?). Graham, on the bench in front of the firehouse, talking to the firefighter like he hadn’t a care in the world. Then Phil and I walked over to the fireman and Graham to make our explanations (and so Phil could vouch that this was not an Amber Alert situation).


Twenty minutes of explanations later, including waiting for the police so I could make the explanation again, and we were finally on our way. But not before Graham made me look bad one MORE time, by inexplicably running into the middle of the street to pick up a piece of trash that was blowing by. (Further proof that we should never, under any circumstances, teach our children by example to be good citizens. It’s too dangerous to be a good citizen in America nowadays. Selfishness is so much easier.)


So I still have custody of our little runaway, for now. But I suppose I’ve been put on some watch list with the Evanston police. Great. I wonder if this will ruin my chances of running for political office someday?

Plus I keep wondering if Graham did this all on purpose: “Will you adopt me and let me live here at the firehouse? Or can you find me a normal family? Preferably one with a backyard pool. Anyone will do, really. Just please don’t send me back to that crazy Nielsen family.”



  1. Oh, you’ve really done it now. THe story is out in the ether, and it will dog you all your days. But I think your Santa chronicles are far more likely to disqualify you from running for president. Ha.

    I’m sure Graham was thrilled beyond belief to have you turn up again.

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