You may have seen my tweets about this on Saturday.
We were in a teeny tiny town on Saturday for my hubby's grandmother's funeral. I mean, TEENY. The cemetery was right across the street from the church that my hubby's uncle attends (youngest of the grandmother's 3 children). After the brief graveside service, we all walked across the street (read: dirt road) to the 1800 square foot church. Inside, the ladies of the church (with approximately 40 members) had prepared a simple lunch for everyone.
As usual, the smokers in the family (my in-laws and my mother) were outside smoking after eating. I was inside, chatting with my brother-in-law and his wife, when my girl asked if she could go outside and play. She had be-friended a 6 or 7 year old girl that was there. I knew her grandparents were outside, so I said 'Sure.' For a slight second, I heard that little voice in my head tell me that it might not be a good idea. I ignored it. (PARENT FAIL #1)
Not 5 minutes later, my sister comes inside to tell me that they can't find my girl. I don't believe her. I sorta roll my eyes, sigh, and say "You're lying. But fine, I'm coming". (PARENT FAIL #2) I go outside and my mom has this awful look on her face, like she's seen a ghost. Her first words to me: "I'm not kidding. She's gone."
Apparently the girls were running the length of the church, but rounded the corner and didn't come back.
I go around that corner, and start calling her name. I go back inside to see if she's in the bathroom. I don't even think to go find my husband. I walk back outside, and start walking towards the cemetery, thinking maybe she went back to her great grandmommy's grave. (Side note: she asked to see her body one last time, and I allowed it. She seemed completely fine when I explained everything to her, but the look on her face when they opened that casket....omg, PARENT FAIL#3. She didn't cry, it's just, the look on her face.....what the fuck was I thinking?) The gate to the cemetery is closed, but I walk over to the grave. Nothing.
By this time, I turn around to face the church and see my husband walking out in the field behind the house. My father in law is walking to the main road. My mother is looking under all the cars in the tiny parking lot. There is someone walking towards large bales of hay in a field by the church. We are all calling her name. My sister is right behind me, saying something over and over; I can't think of what it is now.
I go back to the church, and walk in the door of the sanctuary, separate from where we were all eating. It's dark and cold. I call her name, I walk up the main aisle. I don't look in each pew. (PARENT FAIL #4) I listen for any sounds. There are two doors immediately inside when I walk in; I don't open either one. (PARENT FAIL #5 & #6) I go back outside, and by now, I'm thinking of the people I had seen leave as I was walking into the parking lot looking for her . A gray Dodge truck. Who the hell is in that truck? I start thinking about how I'm in the middle of fucking nowhere, and DO THEY DO AMBER ALERTS IN TEENY TINY TOWNS?
At the same time, I am continuing to call her name. I hear her name over and over and over, all these voices converged as one, looking for my girl. The fear is palpable, and I flinch when my sister touches me on the arm. I hone in on my feelings (seriously?), and realize I am not yet that upset, although I'm fast-approaching hysteria. That little voice in my head: 'No need to worry; she's not gone.'
I am down the dirt road going towards a truck idling in the ditch (I had seen it right after I saw the truck that pulled away), when someone yells 'We found her!'. I turn around and start running down the dirt road. I stop in the middle of the road, in front of the church. My sister is already there, in front of my girl. All I hear are voices, loud, and a rushing in my ears. I actually get tunnel vision.
My girl runs out to me, and I kneel in front of her, and I immediately think "I can't scare her". I grab her arms, and start to rub them, telling her that she scared us, we didn't know where she was, didn't she hear us calling her name?, please always answer when adults call your name, especially in strange places. She is smiling when she tells me that she and the little girl were playing hide'n'seek, that they heard all of us come in calling her name, and they had such a good hiding spot. They were hiding under a pew. My girl, who plays hide'n'seek in the house with us all the time, and can't stay hidden for more than a minute at a time. I hug her, take in the smell of her hair & the sweat on her body. I look at my mother, standing by the door of the church, with the same look on her face.
I think it was maybe 5 minutes? 5 minutes from the time my sister came inside to get me and when we found her. 5 minutes that I do not want to re-live ever again, 5 minutes that I ache to think could have turned into 15 minutes, an hour, 16 years. Time that I cannot believe anyone has had to endure.
Logically, I know I didn't fail as a parent. I know that I was right for thinking she would be safe with her grandparents watching her. But I keep forgetting that kids can disappear in the blink of an eye, and it's no one's fault. I keep forgetting that just because I am a social worker, just because I am so very aware of the issues that we face as parents, just because I love her, just because I want to keep her safe...these things aren't enough to stop it from happening.
Later that night, she fell asleep on the drive home. At home, I carried her dead-weight body, sleeping, into her bedroom, and put her to bed. As I put the blankets on her, she stirred, and smiled, eyes still closed. I kissed her forehead, and whispered that I was scared I had lost her today. She opened one eye, still smiling, and said 'You can't lose me, mommy'.
If only she knew.