That's all the time it took to "lose" my daughter last night. We were re-making the bed after the previous night's multiple rounds of having a pukey child sleep with us, and she was happily playing with her animals and having "tea" in her playroom right next to our room. I snapped the last pillowcase on and walked around the corner to get her for bed...and she wasn't there. I called her name, and no answer. I went to her room, not there in the chair or the bed (which is currently hiding under a "tent" of sheets strung from the ceiling). I walked out to the living room, dining room, kitchen. Calling her name. Looked under the table, in the lazy susan (where she sometimes retreats to sneak a snack or swipe sugar from the canister). Not there. I started to get a little concerned that I could not find her, and asked Matt to come help me look. The gate to downstairs was latched, but the front door was unlocked, having just let Lainey out one last time for the night. She still stood on the porch, looking out over the dark, rainy yard, probably sizing up what lovely thing she would like to roll in.
We did another, slightly more frantic, walk through upstairs, calling her name, looking again in all the same places. Bathrooms? No. Bedrooms? No. Kitchen, dining room, living room, front hall closet? No. Garage? Not that I could see. Suddenly, I had the sinking, awful panicky feeling that she had gone out the front door which I had left unlocked, into the dark night. I raced outside, and started calling her name, my voice loud and uncertain, my mind starting to conjure horrible images of the possible scenarios in which I suddenly felt I could very realistically find her.
I ran through the front yard, not seeing her, hoping if she'd gone to the road someone would have seen her before the unthinkable happened and come to knock on our door. Then, it hit me. The pond in the backyard. At dinner she was standing by the sliding glass door, looking out into the dusk and saying "Go see water". We said "No, not tonight. It's too chilly/wet/dark. It's bedtime". I thought for sure she must have wandered to the back to check it out. I raced down the wet grassy hill in bare feet, catching my shins on the prickly wild raspberry bushes growing along the treeline. Calling her name into the dull silent night, with nothing but raindrops answering back. I ran back up to the house, hoping Matt had found her. My mom was just getting home, pulling her car in the driveway, and Matt was at her car door, telling her we couldn't find Norah.
My heart started to sink with the feeling that it had been too long, too many minutes now, if she was in the water, or wandering into the dark, or in the road. Too many horror stories in my head, so many awful things imagined in those seconds. The instant guilt of failing as a parent, I didn't keep track of her, I was responsible for whatever I was going to find. I raced again to the pond's edge, and very nearly jumped in to start looking for her in the murky water, my throat seizing up with fear as I struggled to keep calling her name. Hearing my mom's frantic voice calling her name up and down our street out front.
And then, Matt's voice. "I've got her! She's OK". I nearly collapsed, and called out to my mom that he had her. And ran back up the hill to the shape of their two bodies silhouetted in the doorway, slipping on the railroad tie steps slick in the rain.
She'd gone downstairs, the gate must have been open after bringing up the clean bedding, and she closed it behind her. She hid under a blanket on the couch in the dark, not moving or answering the multiple times Matt ran down there to look for her. Then he glanced that way and thought to pull up the blanket, and there she was, happy as can be, no idea what we'd just gone through in the past 3 minutes.
I know that she is OK, and she was never really in any danger at all. I know that I'm not a bad parent, and kids wander and hide and play games all the time. But my heart did not stop pounding, and the tears did not stop falling, my hands shaking, for at least an hour. Knowing that this is exactly how accidents do happen. The unimaginable becomes real in a matter of seconds or minutes. The scenarios I saw flashing through my mind in those moments racing through the rain, they are so horrifying because they have been another parent's reality. I know I cannot blame myself or feel guilty for making the bed while my child played in the room next to me. But I do know that the experience makes me want to hold her closer, not let her out of my sight as often, safeguard our home even more...
I'm sure she won't mind if I just come to college with her, too.