Life is a balancing act, and I find that especially true with my roles as mother and writer. Last December, I was on deadline, finishing up some briefs for the Community section of Baton Rouge Parents Magazine. One of the briefs I’d just finished was about a Pennington Biomedical Research Center study on reasons why mothers don’t let their children play outside enough. Writing it inclined me to let my eight year old stretch her wings.
When she asked if she could ride her bike around the block, I hesitated just briefly before assenting. The procedure for “riding around the block” at our house is to make one loop around the block in front, come back to check in, repeat. Unfortunately, she did not stick to the around-the-block plan.
Little sister was playing outside, and I was bouncing back and forth from my computer to the yard to check in. Our bike rider hadn’t returned, so I was irritated and mad. I needed to finish writing, but that need quickly vanished as the minutes ticked on. I loaded up my three-year-old and started driving the neighborhood. I assumed I’d find her at the park, but she wasn’t there. I drove back to the house, around a few other streets and checked back inside. All the while my full-scale panic was ramping up.
It was nearing 5 p.m. and growing darker. Because it was just before Christmas, traffic was heavy with large delivery trucks speeding through the neighborhood. One whizzing by terrified me, thinking of the worst case scenario of my first born being snatched. I know the statistics, that life is safer for American kids than ever and such kidnappings are exceedingly rare. But when I didn’t know where my girl was, unchecked horrors entered my mind.
My husband was out of town, but I called him, interrupting a work dinner to strategize and ask if he had any ideas where she might go. I decided I had to call and ask for help looking. It was nearly 40 minutes since she’d left for the first around-the-block ride. For the first time as a mother, I called 9-1-1. The operator connected me to the police, and the phone rang and rang and rang. Finally someone picked up, and I explained everything as calmly as possible. She said someone would be on their way soon and to call back if I found my daughter.
I was in the driveway waffling whether to stay put or drive around more when my girl came around the corner pushing her damaged bike, with her leg and arm bleeding from road rash. The story was simple–she had ridden over into another neighborhood and lost her way. There are other streets with the same name as ours that do not connect, and she got turned around. Finally, she asked a walker for help, and this good samaritan helped her find the park, from which she could easily make it home. This neighbor showed her where she lived so my daughter could get more help if needed.
I called back the police; the interminable rings less stressful with my arms around my baby, and it was no problem to cancel the dispatch. I finally burst into tears of relief, called my husband, and set about getting little sister out of the car seat and shepherding big sister inside to tend to her wounds.
My immediate thought was “I am NEVER writing about this.” I felt so embarrassed, but with time, perspective and what happened next, I decided the story is worth telling.
A couple weeks later, just before Christmas, I sent my husband and girls out to deliver treat boxes to neighbors. I’d made an extra one for this helper neighbor because I wanted to say THANK YOU in big capital letters. After they found her house, the neighbor invited them inside, glad to learn the rest of our story. She had an eight-year-old granddaughter coming over, and my family stayed for a while so the kids could have an impromptu play date. We’ve since played together a couple other times, and I’ve never seen my girl play as easily with another kid. There’s even a bonus friend for me, as my girl’s new friend’s mom is also a stay-at-home mom and writer.
I am grateful for the silver lining of that black cloud of despair when frantically looking for my child, but I’d rather have not experienced it and hope I never will again. Since telling this, I’ve heard others’ stories about kids wandering away or otherwise being temporarily lost. Has it ever happened to your little adventurers?