How Our "First" Escalator Ride Opened My Adoptive Heart

William had been in our family for 14 days when we decided to take the train to Boston. He was 9 years old. 

Will was put into the foster care system at age 8.  A year later, he joined our family permanently. I'll never know his first words, first smile, or first step. I can't go back to be there for his first day of school, or first time he wrote his name, or hear the moment when he first learned how to count to 10.  But this train trip was a first I knew I could have with him. 

As a family, we took the train from the Exeter, New Hampshire station.

"First time on the train buddy, this is a big deal." I smiled knowingly.

"Oh, I've been on this train before," he mumbled with his scratchy voice as he held my hand.

"This train, this one to Boston?" My heart grabbed in a gasp of disappointment.

"Yes," he looked down the aisle recognizing something. 

"So you've been to Boston before?" I wondered out loud.

"No, Mom, not Boston." 

He called me "mom" from the very first days he arrived. He'd never had anyone to call Mom. He was taken from his other mother before he learned to talk.

"But you've been on the train before?"

"I have."

"To Boston?" I was certain now this was another "first for us" lost. Oh well. 

"We went to the toy store in Dover." he explained.


"Dover," he repeated. 

"Ok, well today we're going to Boston."

"We know that Mom!" chimed in my other son, Will's adoptive brother, who was also 9 years old but was well-accustomed to this type of small family adventure. We've been taking train rides to Boston since he was a baby. 

Once the train arrived at North Station, we walked directly to the Museum of Science; out the back door exit, under the highway, along the water, over the bridge and across the street. 

Our walk from North Station to the Museum of Science

Our walk from North Station to the Museum of Science

"There's the electric show! Real lightening bolts happen inside! You're gonna love it," I called from the sidewalk as my boys balance on a granite wall together. "I personally like the rock and geology room, but you'll both want to go straight to the dinosaur," I continued feeling a rare expertise in motherhood as we walked together. 

Through the doors, their little hands got stamped at the turnstile. We all decided to go directly to the second floor where there's an activity room with a running track to measure their speed like a Red Sox fast ball. The boys had been talking about this exhibit for most of the trip. 

I jumped on the escalator, "Hold onto the railing!" I gently exclaimed in shared excitement. "We're almost there."

Looking straight up I took an extra step hoping to see that the exhibits weren't too crowded. 

"Slow down...Mom, slow down," my first son caught up to me.

"I can't,"  I joked as I prepared to take the tiny dismount from this rolling mechanical staircase. 

"He's not coming."

Suddenly I looked back and Will was still at the bottom of the escalator, blocking another family, but then stepping back to let them pass. His hands were pulling up with the moving railing but his feet were stuck to the carpet. I was urgently concerned that he was going to fall on his face.

"What are you doing? Hop on bud," I called back to Will.

No answer. He just looked downward like he was studying something.

"Let's go!" I said firmly.

He looked up at me but didn't budge.

By this time I was soaring down the other escalator to get him.

"What's going on Will? We've got to go up. You can't play here."

"I can't," was all he said.

"Can't what?" I studied him.

No reply. But he just looked at the escalator. 

"Have you been on one of these before?"

"In an airport -- but it didn't go up or down."

"When were you at an airport?" I thought about the hallway conveyors to move travelers from Terminal A to Terminal C.

"Judi took me to Georgia."

Judi was his foster mom before we got him. 

"Ok, well this escalator goes up." I stepped on but he didn't step with me. I race backwards and jumped off. We scooted our toes to the the edge where the yellow paint always marks the beginning. It was just a small step, but Will wouldn't take it. 

We decided to take the stairs. 

After two hours exploring and playing in the exhibits it was time for lunch.

"Hey Will, let's go down the escalator, it's easier." I wasn't sure that was true but it was the direction we needed to go anyway. 

He tried but he still couldn't take that first scary step. I wanted to gracefully swoop him onto my hip as if he was a toddler. That's exactly what he needed. But, of course, he is no longer small enough for that.

We walked down the side stairs and ate at the cafeteria. 

After lunch, we all wanted to go to the electricity show on the second floor. The escalator was becoming larger than the whole museum. It was time to try again. 

"Let's go Billy!" yelled his brother who calls him Billy while everyone else calls him Will. 

No answer. No movement. 

"Billy! Hurry up," he said again from the top. 

"Let's go bud, we need to do this." I said, still at the bottom with him.

He looked at me only from the side of his eyes as if hypnotized by the escalator rolling along.

"William, we need to go." I rested one hand on his shoulder. 

Suddenly, to our left, descending from the second floor, arrived an unexpected angel. She was in a yellow Boston Bruins shirt with her brown curly hair held back with sunglasses.  She seemed to be the mom of the two teenage boys who were hanging out behind her several escalator steps back. 

Without knowing me, but with a knowing nod, she shouted down to my little frozen boy. 

"Hop on. You'll love it. You can do this."

No response from Will, but she kept floating towards him and gently cheered him on. 

"It's ok, it's fun, just let go, you'll love it."

And just like that, Will went for it and stepped on the escalator in a perfect fashion. He actually turned and smiled back at me as I hollered "now face forward!"

And there he was, this little boy who calls me mom, gliding up. 

That afternoon I let my boys play on the escalator, up and down and up and down, breaking all the rules. This one time, it didn't matter.  It was the best exhibit of the day. 

"We scooted our toes to the the edge where the yellow paint always marks the beginning. It was just a small step, but Will wouldn't take it. "

"We scooted our toes to the the edge where the yellow paint always marks the beginning. It was just a small step, but Will wouldn't take it. "

Hilary Crowley