Have you ever lost one of your children? I've heard countless stories about people whose children have strayed in a mall or a grocery store and for a few minutes they felt complete terror as they searched for that child. I don't think I ever really related to those stories before. There have certainly been times when I couldn't have said exactly where my children were, but I hadn't ever felt that kind of helpless terror that people have talked about.
...until Friday night...
The Scout Master was on a Camporee with about 11 of the boys in his troop. The rest of us at home opted to skip the Friday night away football game, and I was looking forward to a relatively uneventful night at home. Flowering Buttercup picked out a movie for the night. And other than a short baseball practice, there was nothing on our agenda.
I took Mack to practice at 5:30. An hour or so later, when it looked like it was starting to get dark, I drove up to the park to pick him up. It was 6:50 when we got home. June and a friend had been asked to babysit a neighbor's kids, so they were at the kitchen counter quickly scarfing down some chips and salsa while I tried to pull together a very late, lazy dinner for the rest of us. Flowering Buttercup was being extremely stubborn about giving up her iPhone. And Spell Girl really wanted to start watching the movie we had rented. It wasn't exceptionally chaotic, but there were a few things dividing my attention. So when Mack asked if he could run across the street to see if a friend could come over, the auto-pilot kicked in and I said, "Sure!"
After June and her friend left, I noticed that Mack hadn't come back with his friend, so I peeked outside to see if they had just decided to play in someone's driveway. I couldn't see or hear any kids. And it was completely dark. I assumed he was inside his friend's house, so I continued to pry the phone from Flowering Buttercup's hands while I waited for pasta water to boil. Ten minutes later I thought I should probably just text my neighbor and make sure Mack was in fact at her house.
She texted back "No, and no one is home." (They were all at the football game.)
Even though there are about 40 kids on our street who gather outside and play together, there are only two of those whose homes Mack regularly hangs out at. So I texted the other neighbor...and got no response.
I asked Spell to stop the movie and run over to the second friend's house and just make sure Mack was there. There was no answer and there were no lights on at their house.
(starting to get a little nervous...)
Spell and I walked outside together and knocked on both doors one more time. Nothing...
By that time it had been 30 minutes since I had seen or heard from Mack and there were no signs of anyone playing outside. He is not the kind of kid to just hang out by himself in the dark, or to just wander off.
(complete panic starts creeping in...)
I had no idea what to do or where to look. My two neighbors were both unavailable. My husband was more than an hour away and didn't have cell service at his campsite. Almost everyone else I knew was at a football game in McKinney... And what would I have asked them to do anyway...start a search party with me?
I came inside, removed the pot of boiling water from the stove, and gathered the girls in my room. All I could think to do was say a prayer and ask for help, but I was too emotional to even do that. Spell Girl said it for me. It was beautiful and quietly confident, but it did absolutely nothing to settle my nerves or point me in the right direction.
Still not knowing what to do, I gave FB her phone back, told her to stay at home in case Mack came back, and I took Spell with me in the Jeep to start the search. I thought about knocking on all the neighbors' doors, but that didn't seem like the right thing to do. As we pulled out of the garage, I texted another neighbor, Robin (who happens to be my visiting teacher) at the FAR end of our street. She has a daughter about Mack's age and they occasionally play together, but only when she's in the larger group of kids gathered outside. I drove toward Robin's house. Robin had come outside and found Mack playing Ghosts in the Graveyard with her daughter and two other girls.
I have never felt such relief in my whole life.
All of that took about an hour from start to finish, and almost no one (including 1/3 of my family) even knew that it had happened. But it was the longest hour of my life. Every unreasonable, irrational thought crossed my mind. Every nightmare I've ever had and scary movie I've ever seen came back into my thoughts. I felt totally helpless and without a plan. I tried to muster up some instincts and walk toward them, but I just felt paralyzed. I have never felt anything like that and I hope to never feel that again.
The girls and I hugged Mack (who really didn't have any concept of what we had gone through without him) and then snuggled up together to watch the movie and eat the remains of dinner. Even though there weren't very many words spoken about it that night, I could feel the quiet reverence that had settled into our house. We snuggled a little closer together on the couch. We hugged and said "I love you" a few more times before bed. And our prayers that night were a little more heartfelt.
I am so grateful for two daughters who were rocks when I was falling apart. I'm grateful for neighbors who help me keep track of my little flock. And I am unbelievably grateful that at the end of a tumultuous weekend, that little flock is still safely in tact.