I couldn't find my daughter today.
She was playing outside with friends, supposedly in the areas in which she usually plays-the field directly across from our apartment, or a little off to the side where a cluster of girls her age lives. When she's playing outside I can almost always see or hear her from my bedroom window.
A few minutes had passed and I hadn't seen her. At this point I wasn't worried. The school year had officially ended only hours ago and the neighborhood was filled with kids playing and running around, I just knew she was one of them. I leashed up the dog and headed outside.
We crossed the street into the field where we ran into half a dozen of Lucy's playmates. When I asked them if they had seen her lately, they all pointed in different directions. We walked a bit, the dog did her business, and I headed back home to see if Lucy had returned while I was gone.
She hadn't. I dropped the dog off and went back out to search.
I walked through the neighborhood screaming her name at the top of my lungs. I asked everyone I saw if they had seen my little girl. She's wearing dark blue jeans and a pink tee shirt. If you see her, please tell her to go home and stay home until I get there.
About ten minutes had passed and I was quickly approaching the fine line that separates being mildly irritated at my kid who wandered off and scared for my child's life.
I ran to the pool and to the park. She's not allowed to go to either of these places by herself and I didn't expect to find her there, which filled me with fear. She wasn't at the places I expected to find her.
I called Jay. I don't know why. He was at work and could do nothing to help and my call only worried him.
I called Monty. He was at the store with friends. (I later found out that he had just purchased an energy drink and when he received my frantic call, he set it down on the curb, yelled, "I gotta go" and sprinted home.)
I was circling back around to my building, holding back tears and screaming Lucy's name when I hear, "I'm here Mom. I'm coming." She came running around from the back of the building where she had been playing with friends the whole time. (It hadn't even occurred to me to look there because it's not a normal place for her to play. I have no idea why she hadn't heard me yelling. She just said she was "busy playing.")
I grabbed her up and ran inside. As soon as the front door was shut, I lost it. I was bawling, my body was shaking, and I could feel my heart beating so hard I thought that it would burst through my chest. I collapsed to the floor, clutching my (now very confused) seven year old close to me.
It's taken me all afternoon to get over this and I'm still quite shaken. The space of time that my daughter was "missing" was only about fifteen minutes, but each minute that I couldn't find her felt like an eternity.
Just about every parent has one of these moments at one time or another. A child wanders off or they momentarily lose sight of them at a busy park or shopping mall. I had never, personally, had one of these moments. I had never experienced the gut wrenching pain and aching body that goes hand in hand with the knowledge that you have no idea where your kid is or if they are okay.
I achieved a new level of empathy today.