Monday, June 05, 2006

In The Blink Of An Eye

In the blink of an eye, a child can disappear. Just like that - gone. That's what happened to me with Lauren the other day and it scared the crap out of me.

There is a wonderful Children's Museum in Portland. It's really, really great and the kids have a fantastic time whenever we go. My little local library has free passes you can check out, so that's what we do. I took the kids on Friday, not realizing that there would be a ton of other kids there, too, because of end-of-school-year field trips and such. Oh well - what's a few more kids running around, right? We spent nearly 4 hours there that day, playing and exploring and creating. We did lunch, made keepsake treasures with clay, built tall skyscrapers with blocks, and engineered dams for water.

It was time to go - Lauren had just filled her diaper (nasty!) and the kids were getting tired. We were playing in the grocery store area (Nicholas loves to be both the checker and stockboy) and I was helping him put his apron on. Therefore, my eyes were off Lauren. It happens there more than I'd like - you lose track of one kid while your eyes are on the other, but you do a quick visual scan and relocate them. I don't know about you, but I can pick out my child in the middle of a crowd in a heartbeat. It must be some sort of mother's homing beacon: your heart is connected to theirs by an invisible thread and you can zero in on them as if there is no one else around.

The Children's Museum is one big playground and it's very, VERY easy for a child to go around a corner and you can't see them. They get enticed by something new to play with and there are no barriers preventing the flow between one play exhibit and the next. But in much the same way you can sight them among many, they can hear your particular voice above the din. So a quick "Lauren? Where are you?" results almost immediately in a, "here I am, Mama!", reassuring you of your child's safety and giving you their exact location. Suddenly, my call went unanswered.

I must not be the only mom this has happened to, because the staff there are great and approach you if you look slightly frantic and like you're searching for an errant child. They all have walkie-talkie gizmos attached to their collars for just this purpose, and I've seen them talk into them more than once. "We're looking for a 3 year old boy wearing tan shorts and a red shirt by the name of Steven". But the fact that it happens to others doesn't make me feel any better that it happened to me, too. I must have had that calm-but-accelerating-to-panic look on my face, because a helpful staffer approached ME with the "can I help you find someone?" question. And I actually wavered - certainly I don't need to call out the troops to find her? I mean, she was just RIGHT HERE and can't have gone far, right? But I told the lady that yes, I was looking for my 2 1/2 year old daughter. I answered (quickly, quickly) the standard description questions, all the while scanning the crowds for her. WHERE WAS SHE??!!

"She has light brown hair - just like his (pointing at Nicholas) with a pink barrette in it. She's wearing a pink shirt with flowers on one side, and blue shorts. She has a big blue flower painted on one cheek. Yes, she's wearing sandals. They're brown. Her name is Lauren." (OMG, WHERE IS SHE??!)

They called in the description as I start moving faster and faster through the place, calling out her name. I'm no longer calm. I'm much closer to frantic than I'd like. I keep expecting her to pop out and announce herself, "here I am, Mama!" but it doesn't happen. WHERE IS SHE?? She's not in the grocery store. She's not in the water play area. She's not in the construction building zone. She's not back in the clay room. LAUREN WHERE ARE YOU!!??

It felt like an eternity, but in reality it was more like 5 minutes. 5 panic-stricken, heart-stopping minutes of not knowing where my daughter was. I never, EVER want to feel that again. EVER. Terrifying flashes of all the awful things you imagine might happen to your baby. Did someone take her? Is she OK? WHERE IS SHE??!

Then the helpful employee told me that they think she's in the front. The front?? I already checked there, but ok. And sure enough, she was there. A nice lady was holding her. Lauren wasn't crying and didn't seem to be upset, unlike me. They told me they found her - wait for it - OUTSIDE, WALKING DOWN THE SIDEWALK AND ABOUT TO CROSS THE STREET. The nice lady stopped her and brought her back to the Children's Museum. Thank God for good samaritans (THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU - I'm eternally grateful to you). I have no idea how in the hell she was able to get outside. How she left the building without anyone stopping her. How I failed to prevent this from happening.

My best guess? She heard me say that it was time to go. That we needed to go back to the car so we could go home, and that's just what she was trying to do: go back to the car.

I don't think my heart has recovered yet. I give my kids a lot of hugs and kisses throughout the day, but I've been hugging Lauren (and Nicholas, too), a little tighter all weekend. Watching her a little more closely. Not wanting her to get too far away from me. Those 5 minutes of her absence - of The Great Unknown - has scarred me permanently. I don't think I could live without either one of my kids. If something terrible happened to one of them, I'd surely die. It took just a split second for her to disappear from my sight, and 4 minutes and 55 seconds to find her again, but those were the scariest, most frightening few minutes of my life. Period.

My eyes are teary just reading this. How truly terrifying. I can't imagine not knowing where my children are. Ever. So my heart aches for parents whoes children are never found....
Oh, the tears spilling down my cheeks. I can only imagine the terror you felt. I'm so glad this story had a happy ending.

:::Going to hug my girls:::
I am sitting here bawling after reading this. I have three kids and could not even imagine one of them disappearing. I am so thankful that it all turned out okay.
Unfortunately, I know very well how this feels. And I am so sorry you had to experience it. No, you'll never forget. Ever. But, it happens. To so many people. I'm very happy that everything turned out just fine.
:::::hugs::::: Oh MP, how terrifying. I am so happy you had that good samaritian (angel) there that day. When I read outside, I just couldn't believe it.

I recently had an experience like this only it was more like 5 seconds, than 5 whole mins, I just can't imagine hon.

That 5 secs will be with me forever and ever.
glad lauren is fine.. and you will never forget. B pulled one on me-- walked out of our apartment.. aparently she even told me she was leaving.. took me prolly five minutes to find her. she showed up at a neighbor house getting ready to go swimming in the pool (shes 3 and can't swim. aminute later and she would have drowned.. sobering.

I remember once my neighbor son who was about three walked out of his aprtment and his parents assumed he came to my door and didn't search for him... for maybe 45 minutes, they then knocked on my door to pick him up-- who? when ? they didn't believe me and after running thru my aprtment.. panic ensued. By the time the police came the boy had been missing for an hour! Long story short, he was found wandering in a nearby field close to the interstate.
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