On Monday I experienced the most terrifying moment I have had as an adult and as a parent. I have contemplated how to process through it, gone back and forth about whether I should write about it here. I thought about writing an anonymous post to Ask Moxie to see what she and other people had to say about this. But you know what? It's ok. It's going to be ok. I want to put a face on this for you. Because if it hasn't happened to you already, it probably will. And when it does I want you to remember me and remember that it's going to (most likely) be all right.
So here it goes. On Monday my children hid from me and wouldn't come out. I couldn't find them. I'd sent them ahead of me into the house … we ate lunch in the back yard and Sydney suddenly had to go potty. The back door was open and I sent her inside to go to the bathroom while I gathered up the dirty plates and cups to bring inside. Of course her brother followed her (he follows her everywhere!). I took maybe 3 minutes picking up everything, then brought it inside and dumped it in the kitchen sink. I stood in the kitchen for a moment and pulled on my husband's sweatshirt that was hung over a chair. I stood there listening. It was too quiet. It was the kind of quiet that happens when little people are Up To No Good. So I called to them. I set off into the house (which is not a big one!) to find out what they were up to. I walked past the spare room and flipped on the light. Empty. I walked past their bedroom, the light was already on, and stepped inside the doorway to peek around and see if they were in the closet. Nope. And on to the bathroom … no one there. And into my bedroom. Quiet. I walked through to the master bath and pushed open the door, that room was empty too. Huh. "This is weird." I thought to myself. I scanned over my messy room and unmade bed. I think I even set my laptop down on the bed at that point.
Sydney lately has a bad habit of hiding from me when she hears me coming and she's being sneaky. We've been having a lot of problems with her sneaking food and candy in the kitchen (we had to throw out all the Easter candy after she somehow climbed up and reached candy in a ceiling-height cabinet – and that was after she'd climbed over an "extra-high" baby gate to get into the kitchen). She knows that I have a stash in my bedside table (pregnant!) and has been caught sneaking Hershey Kisses enough times that I finally moved that stash to a higher drawer in John's dresser. And we keep our bedroom gated most of the time because she sneaks into my bathroom and gets into trouble and leads her brother there. And he? He still likes to play in the toilet. Basically they both know that my bedroom is off limits and so it's their favorite place to try to get into. Sigh.
After I'd scanned my bedroom and bathroom I walked back out and then noticed that they'd pushed the baby gate down to get in. My thought was that they'd found something interesting and scampered off to hide somewhere else in the house to eat it and/or not get caught with it. Another favorite thing to swipe is Daddy's iPod, which is usually on his bedside table. I walked back out through the hallway, listening hard for giggles, scanning for a little eyeball watching me from some dark place. Usually Elijah is the one to give them away. While his sister hides me innocently runs a toy car back and forth along the carpet, or laughs when he hears me come near. That was what was weird … I couldn't find my son anywhere either. I went back to the kitchen. I looked in their favorite hiding spots out front, under the table in the corner between the couches and in the coat closet. I went back outside thinking they'd snuck back out when I was inside looking. Our house has a fenced in back yard, but the fence goes along each side of the house and makes two alleyways, and the kids sometimes hide there under their beach towels or a chair. Not there.
At this point I was starting to get a bit scared. I came back inside and headed toward the front door, thinking they'd snuck out front – also a big no-no (they have, admittedly, done this once or twice before). All morning there'd been men working at the next door neighbors' house – tearing up the driveway with jackhammers and sledgehammers and making a ton of noise. It was garbage day and trucks had been tearing up and down the street all day. When I came out and called the kids it was deathly quiet, the street abandoned. It was odd. Not enough time had passed for the kids to get very far, Elijah is not that fast, and no one was outside and there was not a sign of them anywhere. I came back inside the house and cycled through all the rooms again, calling to Sydney and pleading with her to please come out. Nothing. I went back outside and peeked into both next door neighbors' yards, thinking maybe they'd gone to visit neighbor dogs. Nope.
And this? Is when I completely lost my mind. I ran back out into the street screaming for the kids. A neighbor pulled into his driveway across the street and I screamed to him that I couldn't find my kids. I ran back into the house and dialed John, who was getting a haircut, and unintelligbly started screaming and crying into the phone that I couldn't find our kids. "WHERE ARE THEY?! I CAN'T FIND THEM! I THINK SOMEONE TOOK THEM!" I ran screaming back into the house. All through the rooms. All through the backyard again. "SYDNEY PLEASE!" I ran back outside and dialed 911. At this point 15 minutes had elapsed and I was positive that they'd wandered out the front door, someone had passed in a car, loaded them up and taken them away. It was the only explanation that made any sense. I banged on a neighbor's door. I flagged another two neighbors down in their cars and they drove around the block looking. Another neighbor set out on foot. John tore home from his haircut and ran through the house and found nothing. He came back outside bewildered after searching the house and yard and I yelled at him to get into the car. I saw another neighbor drive into her driveway – a neighbor that I didn't even know by name – and tried to navigate the options for 911 while screaming at her that someone had taken my kids. "They're 4 and 2!" I told her. She grabbed my arm. She looked at me and said "They're 4 and 2! They HAVE TO BE IN YOUR HOUSE!" And she left me on the curb and burst into my house with every intention of turning it upside down until she found them.
And there? In the hallway? Were my children.
It had been 20 minutes.
I was on my neighbor's heels, because for some reason when she said they had to be in the house I believed her. When I found them there in the doorway I crumpled onto them both. Screaming and crying all over them. My daughter said, "Mommy. You're squeezing me too hard. Mama! Calm down!" I sat there on the floor of our entryway and sobbed all over those kids. My daughter confessed that they'd been hiding under my bed. That they'd been sneaking candy in our room. Two of our neighbors were there and they went outside and told my husband and the five other neighbors – one of whom was also in hysterical tears – who were looking for them that we'd found them. My phone rang, the 911 operator who had finally picked up the call had heard me screaming and crying was checking back to find out what was going on. I somehow composed myself enough to take the kids back into the yard. I called John to find out where he was and cried my head off all over again. He was suddenly there with his arms around me. I was sitting at our patio table again with no idea how I'd gotten there, the children tooling around in the sandbox like nothing had happened.
When I finally calmed down, my pride started to get the better of me. I hadn't even thought to look under my bed because there's so much stuff in there there'd be no way two kids could fit under there (I later realized they'd been flattened under my comforter. And I figured it out that night because my bed was full of sand from their sand box). I'd panicked, which is the opposite of what you'd hope you'd do if something like this ever happened. I'd called my husband and until he'd arrived at home he had no idea what happened, he just knew it was something terrible. The neighbors must all think I'm a terrible mother. I must have looked crazy, running out in the street pregnant with my sweatpants on, unshowered in the middle of the day, screaming that I'd lost my children who had been in the house the whole time.
Thank God I have great friends who said: "WHEN this happened to ME" and commiserated with us that their children had done something similar at some point and the police had been called and the neighbors had seen them completely lose their shit in the street. Three families have told us that their kids have done this. I remember doing this to my mother when I was about Sydney's age (SORRY MOM I WAS THE WORST). It is a rite of passage of parenthood, I suppose, that moment when you have to go all Scared Straight on your kids.
(and oh dear lord the discipline that has gone on in this house the last few days. It has shaved even more years off the end of my life.)
That night as I read stories with my children and prayed and sang our goodnight songs, it occurred to me that some part of my innocence about having children had died. Just the night before I'd sung "You Are My Sunshine" without a twinge of it ever being possible for me to wake up one morning and not have my children in my arms. It – quite pathetically – had never really truly registered in my brain that there was any possibility that anything horrific could even happen to my children. That they could be stolen. That they could be hurt. That they could be killed. And this was on MONDAY, you guys. The day bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and killed an 8-year-old boy and seriously wounded his mother and one of his siblings. If that doesn't hit close to home for me WHAT DOES? I am the wife of a man who attends the finish lines of MANY major marathons a year. He works at them. He runs in them. I take my children with me to race courses ALL THE TIME. This is not to say I am not one of those overprotective mothers. I AM. I write my phone number on my childrens' arms when we go on class field trips (even when I am THERE). I never leave them unsupervised. My daughter is smart and sneaky and I hardly EVER let my guard down, as tired and pregnant as I am these days. I only let her go on play dates at parents' houses who I know are totally freaked out about things happening to their own children (LIKE ME). I don't leave her alone to go and shower or do really anything in another room because she always figures out a way to get into trouble. I don't want her to get hurt. She is attracted to things she knows she's not supposed to do.
And yet? I woke up. On Monday I woke up.
Parenting is hard for me. I feel like maybe it comes easy to some people but for me? Every day it is challenging. And that is really hard for a person like me because I feel like most things I've tried in my life I've succeeded at pretty naturally. School was never hard for me. I was good at my professional life. I think I'm decent at being married. And yet when it comes to raising children? There are some days when I feel like maybe I did ok, but they don't happen every day. I mostly feel like I'm always playing catchup, never accurately anticipating what is to come. I want to find the best words for my kids. I want them to feel loved, to know they are treasured. I want them to be disciplined. I want them to be spoiled. I love them so much it makes my heart ache. I want them to feel safe, but I want them to survive. I don't want them to be shocked when they find out what the world is really like but I want to protect them from it as long as I can. And maybe in the end that is what makes a person a good parent? That feeling that there is always more to do? There are always ways to improve? The knowledge that I am a fool and I will never be able to do this on my own?
What's crazy to me is that I get one shot at this. They get one childhood and it is happening now. Sydney is going to remember this one day when she is 32 and her 4-year-old hides from her. She is going to remember the words I said and the look on my face even if I don't.
And so I guess as much as it sucks, and as hard as it was, I'm glad I woke up a little more. It is my turn to be awake and their turn to sleep.
Ephesians 5: 14-17
"This is why it is said,'Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.' So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do."