August 5, 2009

Disappearing

A long time ago, when William was a toddler, my mom was watching him in a bookstore play area and suddenly he was gone. She ran to the front of the store and asked a clerk to prevent any blond toddler boys from leaving, and then ran back to look for him---and found him almost immediately, since he had just stepped briefly behind a large storybook cutout.

It was so different than the way I suspected I'd have handled it myself. I thought she was very brave to immediately seal the exits. I wondered if I would do the same---if my worry would override my usual embarrassed, don't-make-a-fuss tendencies.

Today the kids and I were leaving swimming lessons, walking down the lonnnnnng path that goes through a playground. William saw one of his friends, so we paused to talk to her. We said goodbye and turned back to the path---and Edward wasn't with us.

Because I am the kind of anxious person who thinks of Cujo every time I get into a car and vampires every time I see a dark window, and because I'm a PARENT, I'm accustomed to flashes of thinking my child isn't with me when he or she is right behind me (or, um, when I've counted wrong). So I turned all the way around, and I recounted, but he still wasn't with us.

Well, he could have wandered a little farther away from me than I'd expect. It's a grassy park area. I turned around again, widening the search. No Edward.

Okay. Okay. It's a playground. It would be out of character for him to go play on it independently, but it could happen. I turned again, looking at each piece of equipment. No Edward.

Well. So already I had discovered I was not someone who first sealed the exits and then hunted. But next I found out what I do when the hunt is fruitless: I continued turning around and around, looking and looking, feeling stunned, not knowing what to do next. I tried to remember what shirt he was wearing, and I couldn't remember. I reassured myself that he MUST be there, he MUST, and therefore he WAS. I kept looking. He wasn't. I looked at each child in the playground, and each one I looked at was not Edward, even though I kept loosening my standards for "what could be Edward."

I should have been in a total panic. I should AT LEAST have been yelling "EDWARD! EDWARD! EDWARD!" But I felt dazed. I felt like one of those little toy robots that, if it bumps into a wall, will just keep bumping into the wall again and again until someone turns it around.

Here was my brain: "Should I ask another parent for help? But what could they do? They don't know what he looks like, and I can't even say what he's wearing. There's a camp leader over there---I could ask him. But what could he do? He's in charge of other kids and can't leave them, and I don't know what my kid is wearing. Could he seriously, really, actually been TAKEN? Should I go back to the pool and ask for help? What could they do? And then what if Edward IS here, and he looks for us and we're not here? Oh my god, I really don't see him. I really don't see him. I'm looking and looking and I don't see him. I guess I should...call the police? But... And I don't have my cell phone. I'd have to go back to the pool to use their phone, and then what if Edward IS here and we're not? And it's a long walk back to the pool. Think think think: what shirt did I put on him this morning? Was it red? blue? What if someone DID take him? Statistically unlikely overall, but for a single incidence it's either 0% or it's 100%. Should I...chase after? See if a car is leaving? What about the other kids? And then I'd be in the parking lot, and I should be here, looking for him. I think it's getting to be time to panic. At some point I need to do something. He's NOT HERE. He's NOT HERE. I need to do SOMETHING."

About halfway through that paragraph, I thought to send Rob to walk as far as our parked car, looking for Edward the whole way, and then come back when he didn't find him. I didn't think he'd find him, because Edward always Always ALWAYS waits at the gate next to the parking lot, even if he's been given permission to run ahead. He's never gone into the parking lot, never even tried.

I continued turning around, looking, thinking. A woman with a stroller approached, heading for the pool, and I realized I was directly in her way on the path, so I stepped back and kept looking. She said, "Is he wearing a striped green shirt?"---and my memory flooded back and YES, YES HE IS WEARING A STRIPED GREEN SHIRT, and she said, "I wondered who he belonged to, but I couldn't see anyone around. He's over by the fence." She pointed to the fence ALL THE WAY ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE BACK PARKING LOT.

The NATURAL next step would be: sprinting to him. MY next step was: standing there saying to the woman that I'd been panicked! because I couldn't find him! and we'd just stopped to talk to a friend for a minute! and he was gone! and he NEVER went into the PARKING LOT! and my older son was headed there right now, so he'd probably find him! and I just couldn't believe he'd gone into the parking lot! and I'd been looking and couldn't see him! and I hadn't known what to do! and I'd been thinking I would have to call the police!

She stood there looking at me, probably wondering why I wasn't sprinting. Over her shoulder I could see ROB sprinting, and then I saw the green-striped-shirted Edward tiny in the distance standing next to the car next to ours, and I saw Rob grab him, and then my legs started working and I still didn't sprint but I walked fast, telling the other children "Hurry! Hurry!"

It's true that it would be almost impossibly out of character for Edward to go ahead of us to the car. What I hadn't taken into account was whether it would be in character for him to FOLLOW us to the car: HE thought we'd gotten ahead of him, so he'd been trying to catch up. Through two parking lots, crossing one of them to get to the other one. With cars backing out all over the place as everyone else left the swimming lesson. He's four years old and three feet tall. When I'm backing my minivan out, I can't see children if they're behind my car.

I could hardly believe how far he'd gotten. I could hardly believe he'd remembered where our car was, considering we park in a different place each day and usually park in the front lot and had only parked in the back lot because the front lot was full. I could hardly believe any of it had happened, and that it had taken so long.

I loaded the car up as usual, except that no one was talking or being silly or tattling and I wasn't saying "Come ON, let's get in the CAR, stop ARGUING, it doesn't MATTER who gets in first." Because I get frantic and snappish and flingy if I can't find my book or my lip balm, I'd have thought I'd be angry and upset and/or weepy, but I was dazed and sleepy and it was hard to put sentences together.

After a silence William said, "I think who would have been saddest would have been Elizabeth, because when she grew up she would have known she DID had a twin, but didn't anymore." That's not an easy comment to respond to. I said, "...Yeah."

On the way home we talked about it a little. I reminded the whole group that when they're lost they're supposed to STAY PUT. I asked Edward in a dazed voice if he'd been scared or worried, and he said no. I asked if anyone had asked him where his mommy was, and he said no. I asked about the parking lot: had any cars...moved? He said yes, one was behind him but then he moved over and it went past. He said we had NOT stopped to talk to a friend, he hadn't seen ANY friend. He was a little crabby with me for disappearing.

70 comments:

Celeste said...

OMG what a nightmare. Glad it turned out okay.

Sometimes I wish for mothers there could be an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind so we never have to remember these episodes.

Firegirl said...

Whew! My stomach hurts.

What a thoughtful comment from William...he seemed to get the gravity of the situation & it seems like something you would think of.

Sounds like even though he wasn't where he was supposed to be, Edward was trying to keep himself safe. I would focus on that.

I prescribe chocolate, immediately.

Sending you calm blue oceans...

Eleanor Q. said...

Its moments like these that have me terrified in crowds or stores, especially with a kid who thinks its totally fine to run off on his own.

I'm glad things turned out okay, it sounds like everyone had a lot to think about on the drive home.

d e v a n said...

ACK! I panic in a crisis and would have been all, "what is he wearing?!" while running around like a chicken with my head cut off. AND my mind would have first gone to KIDNAPPED and I would have been freaking. out. I'm so glad you found him. Scary.

Julie said...

Scary. Next time please start the post with "He's fine now, but here's what happened..."

Jess said...

OMG. So scary. I can't believe he got that far! I'm so glad everything turned out OK. I like that HE was crabby with YOU for disappearing.

Amanda said...

Oh hugs for you and for Edward.

I am familiar with that dazed feeling shocked feeling.

I am also known for keeping an eye on straggling children at parks who look like they're looking for their Mommies.

Christina said...

I'm with Firegirl! My stomach is a ball of nerves right now! I'm so glad the little guy is safe and I had to stop and gush over his little tiny feet in those little tiny sandals!

Although I am a bit miffed that the stroller lady just LEFT a child she saw alone, unattended, by a parking lot fence!! I would have asked him where his mommy was and stayed there with him until somebody came to claim him, or walked him back to the camp to have an announcement made or something!!

Lawyerish said...

Wow. I need a minute to un-clench after reading this. You captured the whole scene so vividly. I'm so glad everyone is okay.

Lora said...

We went through something like this last August and I'm still not over it.

Ours involved a family member taking my child somewhere without asking me first. Genius.

melissa said...

I have a pit in my stomach from this. My son wandered off in the bookstore once too as I was trying to deal with the police (because my wallet had been stolen). Talk about a double whammy--I was so upset about my wallet but when I thought HE was gone, it kind of put things in perspective.

Glad Edward is OK. William is an insightful little thing, huh?

Kristi said...

Oh, Sweetheart (and I never say Sweetheart). Both of you! It's the WORST FEELING (aside, from, of course NOT FINDING HIM). I need cookie dough on your behalf (that's my story).

Now I suddenly feel like crying with even the thought. Perhaps more cookie dough...

Tess said...

Oh man. This gave me the Upset Tummy too. Seems like one of those things you'll remember in detail when you're old and gray.

Jen said...

kristi - me too!
i'm all teary, dangit.

so glad everyone's okay (OBV) but gah, how sickening and scary and stomach-twisting. big big hugs to everyone.

Cookie said...

Oh how awful. I can't even imagine how I would react. I would probably just starting freaking out or hyperventilating. My oldest is the same age... and yeah... Are you doing okay now?

Barb @ getupandplay said...

Scary. Very very scary. I haven't lost my child yet (because he spends most of the day attached to my boob), but I know the day will come and it makes me feel like I've swallowed rocks. I am so glad that he was alright.

Brenna said...

Oh jeez...I SO understand..the terror. Just a few weeks ago I lost sight of the little one for about five seconds at the pool. I was distracted by a bee landing on me, of all the stupid things. I look up and SHE'S NOT THERE. So I'm spinning around, looking all over in the pool, trying to see if any of the kids down there are her, all the while shrieking with ever-rising panic in my voice "Where's the baby?!" And that lasts about 3 or 4 seconds, until I hear my older daughter saying "I have her, Mom". She was on the deck the whole time, not a dozen feet away from me, but I couldn't look anywhere but the pool. She was missing from my sight for less than ten seconds and it felt like ten years.

So, crap, I didn't mean to write a book here, but I just wanted to say I understand.

Bitts said...

Holy SHIT, Swistle. I'm about to VOMIT after that story! I hope everyone has an ok evening. I wonder if you might lose it just a little when you sit down to tell your hub about it? Sometimes I can keep it together when super-scary things happen, but then I fall apart once I have to tell someone what's going on. Have a glass of wine (or 6) tonight, and I'll join you in thankful prayers for watchful drivers and observant (but inactive) stroller ladies.

Swistle said...

Cookie- I still feel really weird. I had TWO cups of coffee when we got home, because I felt so tired and unfocused.

Mimi said...

My heart stopped just reading this. It's every mother's fear, isn't it? It's a wonder any of us survive our childhoods.

Alice said...

gah, *i* was all panicky reading this, and i don't even have a kid. i'm SO happy everything worked out fine, but so sorry you had to go through it. eek.

Erin said...

Wow. SO relieved it turned out okay. It makes me feel weak in the knees to read the story.

When I was a kid, my older sister & brother were 7 & 8 years old, and my parents lost them at the World's Fair in New Orleans for TWO HOURS. The police were looking, staff were looking, and we found them holding hands in a corner by the bathrooms.

Elizabeth said...

OH MY GOD.
I felt like throwing up the entire time I was reading this.
Definitely time for some brownies. Or some stiff drinks.
Glad to hear everyone has been located. Thank goodness

the new girl said...

Oh, I HATE the Brain-Jam-Lock-Up. It happened to me twice that were bad enough to remember, once when a patient became violent and combative with a staff member and another time when a man ripped the purse off of my body in broad daylight.

I am so sorry that happened and I am so impressed that it doesn't happen more often with so many kids to keep track of.

William's comment made my eyes sting and I couldn't help but have a little chuckle at Edward being crabby with you for disappearing.
xo

Joceline said...

Oh, I am so glad he was found (relatively) quickly and okay. I too have Upset Stomach reading this. And this morning, I heard a story about a minivan getting hit by a train with a baby in it (baby was totally unharmed), but I have cried about four times this morning because of it!

Beth Fish said...

Oh god, oh god. I lost Mia for seven entire seconds at the beach and in that seven seconds I had plenty of time to conclude that the only appropriate response was to lie down and die.

Glad it was all ok.

Betty M said...

Woah - scary story. So glad everything turned out just fine.

Mom et al said...

How horrifying. I lost my daughter once in a department store and did do the panic running around calling out her name thing.

And she was hiding on me, so that didn't work out so well. I did eventually find her, but as my husband puts it, I "suffer from Oh My God Syndrome". I just run around in circles reapeating "OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD" in total panic. I feel for you and I'm so glad he's OK!!!

Blythe said...

I just want to show up at your house and hug everyone. And I'm not much of a hugger, usually, but holy cow.

Yes, chocolate all around is in order I think.

Leeann said...

Oh bless your heart, I could just FEEL your paralyzing fear and indecision. We've all been there at some time or another and it feels simply awful.

Hugs to you,

Leeann

Lippy said...

Oh my gosh how terrifying. So glad everyone is ok. And William's comment just killed me. What an insightful boy. Now I am going to go cry.

donna said...

Oh how scary. I'm so glad that it turned out ok. But wow, isn't it amazing how intuitive kids are that they knew what you were thinking?

Omaha Mama said...

Thank goodness everyone is okay. This was TERRIFYING to read! My niece was separated from her family at the baseball park in their city, it's a huge place and my sister was absolutely frantic. When she finally found her, she was happy as could be, having been given a new baseball and signed hat and an ice cream cone. She wasn't lost, she knew where she was the whole time. My sister. My sister metled into a puddle that night, not sure what to think about any of it!

Susan said...

My children are in their 30s, but I still vividly remember each and every time there was a "short disappearance" incident. Since every mother experiences it -- even if it's just for seconds -- it's a kind of bonding experience among mothers. We may react differently outwardly, but each incident takes a year off each of our lives and adds a hundred gray hairs.

I can't tell you how glad I am that sweet Edward is home safe and sound.

Shelly Overlook said...

God, just reading this nearly sends me into a panic. Argh. I have "lost" my kid temporarily, for just a few seconds, and I'm sure my heart actually stopped. I discovered I am more of a scramble around yelling my kid's name at the top of my lungs kind of girl. Not classy or methodical at all.

Miss Grace said...

Oh my heart. Terrifying and sad and terrifying. I'm glad you are okay.

Sam said...

SO SCARY. Scary times a million. I am particularly upset by the thought of children wandering through parking lots.

Sam said...

Oops! I didn't mean to publish my comment in an unfinished state. Seriously though, I am PARANOID about children in parking lots. It drives me crazy to drive up to a restaurant and see children milling about the parking lot with no one holding their hand. I am SO VERY GLAD that sweet Edward is okay. And yes, that stroller lady should have stuck by him and made sure he was okay!

nevermelts said...

I'm glad he's ok. I react the same way... if I keep looking he'll appear! This can't be! no! And then the tired daze afterward. I am always having near misses... where I'm happy and content and OH HEY I'm supposed to be watching this kid oh yeah there he is WHEW. And you're not the only one.. at the fair the other day there was a big sign at the ticket counter that said "please make a note of what your children are wearing in case you get separated" :)

Leah said...

SO glad he's ok. I tend to err on the side of laid-back-ness in those situations and so far it's been okay, but I always have that rush of adrenaline afterwards and the WHAT IF IT WASN'T OK panic.

samantha said...

I want to vomit. I can't even IMAGINE. And now that Theo can toddle this is one of my worst nightmares.

SO GLAD everybody is okay. But yes, next time can you preface the story with "We're fine."? Something short and stragitforward? Because GAH!!

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

I completely know the panicky feeling that you'd have in that moment.

I'm just going to give you one of these:

{{{{{HUGS}}}}}

Nowheymama said...

Since I can't come hug you all I will now go hug my babies.

Kelsey said...

Oh, the walking through parking lot part of that was especially scary for me. People drive like idiots in parking lots.

I'm so glad you're all okay, I imagine I'd still be shaking.

Emily said...

Oh my goodness I'm so thankful all is well. I'm not even a parent yet and my heart just stopped. I'm so relieved for you.

Jewels said...

YIKES. I have panic attacks when my cat runs outside, so now I am pre-worrying about my as yet unconcieved children going missing.

Also, I love your description of how you kept loosening your standards of "what could be Edward."

Swati said...

Thank God.

js said...

Seems like you're making your readers sick to their stomachs with this one! Myself included. I am so, so glad everything turned out the way it did. I've still got chills from it.

Kristin H said...

Oh my gosh. I'm so, so glad it turned out okay. Just the other night I lost my daughter in the library while I was occupied with checking out our books. Of course i started thinking about the derelicts and (probably) pedophiles who hang out at the library and they had her ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Of course, she was just hiding from me! It was one of those cases where you're just too relieved and shaken to yell. I can completely understand your daze. I am the exact same way. Thank god Edward is fine.

Lucy said...

Oh my dearest cousin...that is a gripping story...I'm SO glad Edward is ok! One time, we lost Chloe in Walmart and they locked everyone inside the Walmart until she was found. She actually had wandered over to the "arcade" room with the bright colors and flashy lights. One would think I would have looked there first..but oh no! I was frozen in time! Completely understand! Luvs

Bring A. Torch said...

I think I would have been screaming at my hypothetical kids the whole way home, and possibly into next week, so I'm admiring your ability to discuss it with them calmly and reiterate what they need to do. Very, very glad everything's all right and I hope you feel less strange soon.

Farrell said...

Oh My God, Swistle. What a harrowing experience.
You know what, though? Nobody knows how they would REALLY react in such a situation. Until they get in said situation. I think you were in a state of shock-like and so maybe you didn't react how you think you would have but that is OK.
Thank God he is okay. I hope you treated yourself to a nice bottle of wine last night.

Whimsy said...

Oh Swistle, like all the others I just feel SICK reading this. But I'm so very very glad that everyone is whole and okay.

I think Farrell is totally right - no one knows how they're going to react in a situation like that. Recently some good friends of ours in Florida had a terrible experience where their little 10-month-old girl was IN THE ARMS OF A STRANGER and the stranger was WALKING OUT OF THE PARK when Ginger stopped her with a loud HEY THAT'S MY BABY. It wasn't until much later when Ginger was processing it all that she realized how close they had come. She has five little ones too.

So close. It gave us a lot to talk about and I **think** I know what I would do if it happened to me, but again: you just don't know.

Hugs.

Soleil said...

Aw, I hope you're feeling a little better now that some time has passed. I don't have kids so I can't imagine the feeling, but thank God Edward is fine.

When I was his age I used to hide in those clothing racks from my mom and get real quiet until she completely freaked out. I thought it was so funny at the time. She had the last laugh though; she put me on a velcro leash after that. :-p

Just Jiff said...

Thank God Edward is okay! And you know, everyone reacts to situations differently. I had my 7 year old stepson disappear a month ago and I was trying to keep from freaking out. But I did like you... I stood there and looked around and around. I did check the front door first. Finally I said something to a clerk who paged him and then the manager watched my cart so I could go look for him with the help of another clerk. I wasnt as frantic as I thought I'd be, though.

Shelly said...

Like everyone else, I felt panicky while reading this. Then, I remembered that when I was about 3 and my cousin was 2, our families took a joint trip to Disney World and he wandered away from his mom. We looked for him for 2 hours, I think, then they announced over the loudspeaker for the family of "John Smith" to go to the Lost and Found, where we found him, happily eating a lollypop. That's about all I remember from that trip, but it was so traumatic that I remember it vividly all these years later.

Saly said...

The day that I turned my back for one minute to drop off a few socks, only to turn around and find my Liv jumping on the couch, then falling head over heels in to a somersault on to the ground, I reacted much the same. I was panicky at first, when it was happening, but then became very lethargic and sleepy after the fact. I think I was in shock.

willikat said...

When I was just walking and talking--but barely--my mom took my brother and I shopping at a local mall. (My brother is 9 years older than me). I wasnt' a child that would wander off, either.
But, suddenly, I was gone.
I can only imagine the fear and pounding heart my mom must have had when she started looking for me....

Eventually, they found me, walking out of a Woolworth's on the other end of the mall ... blue plastic phone in hand (lifted from the store), talking away.

I think she didn't know if she wanted to slap me or pick me up and hug me. I was completely unfazed, apparently.

I'm glad everything turned out OK with your son. That must have been terrifying, and you shouldn't beat yourself up for your reaction. You are a GREAT mom.

Secret Mom Thoughts said...

Glad Edward is ok. I understand your fear. I lost my daughter once for a minute and I was turning around in circles looking for her. Panic for sure.

Lora said...

Wow, what a scary experience! It has happened to me on a smaller scale, and I'm always appalled at my own crazed reaction. I get too panicked to think. I think any mama can understand your reaction. I'm glad he was found ok!

Susanica said...

Wow. Not only did this terrify me it totally brought me back to that summer day so many years ago when then 3 year old Neil, the youngest of the seven of us, disappeared at a lake. A lake! It was so scary. He too had found his way back to the car and apparently curled up on the ground to sleep. I'll never forget that feeling of terror. I'm so glad your boy is safe and sound Swistle. -Monica

Missives From Suburbia said...

I had to take a big, big breath after I finished reading this. Goodness. I'm glad he's okay.

Jody said...

Oh my. My stomach clenched just reading this.

I hope you've all fully recovered. Let us know when you've successfully navigated that park again.

I'd probably avoid the place for months, just out of fear of flashbacks.

Astarte said...

Oh, sweet Jeebus. and at the POOL! and near the river (is the fence near the Sou at least whole?)! He must be getting into the 'I can make my own decisions' phase. GREAT.

That comment about the E missing him most because he's her twin almost made me pass out.

shriek house said...

Oh oh oh. Do you have a set of those shock paddle things? Because my heart stopped, reading that. Then I think the twin comment broke it.

So SO glad for the safe & sound ending.

Miz S said...

Okay, I haven't read all these comments so forgive me if this is a repeat, but didn't it surprise you that no one stopped to ask him where his mommy was or if his mommy knew he was in the parking lot by himself? That surprises me.

becky said...

Oh man. I dread that.

My mom tells me that I hid from her in a store. In the center of a circular clothing rack. My mother's heart panics when I think of that. I so hope my son doesn't do the same to me someday.

The Amazing Trips said...

OMG. Everytime I read something about kids disappearing - even if the story has a happy ending - my stomach jumps to my throat and I feel like puking.

I'm the same way. I don't freak out and scream and run in circles. Quite the opposite. I'm in a total daze because surely, SURELY they must be ... right ... there.

Glad Elizabeth got her twin back. I would think no less of Swistle if you duct taped them together and kept them on a leash tethered to you.

Stimey said...

Wow. We lost our kids on the same day. Terrifying, huh? It's sort of interesting how your mind reacts to it. Like, I don't want to make a scene, but OMG, what if I should make a scene? I'm really glad it worked out well for both of us.

Anonymous said...

It's terrifying.