A Parent’s Worst Nightmare – Almost…

Fair Warning – If you have young children, expect a moment like this.  If you have older children, I imagine you can commiserate. If you’re a helicopter parent, you’ll probably think I’m the worst parent ever, but I think you aren’t all that and I pity your children.  Whatever the case, this was a scary time. But I’ll let you know it has a happy ending.

I’ve not had the best of days.  It started earlier today when I got yet another form letter telling me I wasn’t good enough for an interview, much less a job.  Then I got a call from family, and a family member was near death and we needed to go to the hospital.  Thankfully that had a happier ending and the family member is now stable.  I got home around 4pm, said hello to my 5 year old daughter who was happily watching The Disney Channel.  I needed a nap, or at least a rest, and went upstairs to take a few.  I heard my daughter talk to her Poppi a few times, and I heard the TV.  I got up at about 4:50pm to go get my son from after school care.  As I came downstairs, the TV was on, but the daughter wasn’t there.

I called out a few times, but got no answer.  Poppi came up, asking me why I was calling, and we quickly searched the house.  She wasn’t in it.  Poppi mentioned that she’s been checking on a pair of doves that have moved into the flower bed in front of the house.  So I went out front.  I didn’t see her.  I called, and she didn’t answer.  I looked around the yard, no daughter.

Now I’m scared, and the first thing I think of is the pool in the back yard.  I can’t help but think of last year’s well known case of a radio superstar’s child drowning in a winterized pool not far from here.  I rush to the pool, convinced that I’m going to find my daughter in it, and am thankful that I don’t.  I look around the back yard, calling.  Still no daughter.

I return to the front yard, screaming her name.  No answer.  She’s not in the house.  She’s not in the yard.  She’d just vanished.

Things are now serious.  It’s cold outside, and my daughter hates coats.  I’d already seen her jacket and her tennis shoes in the house, so at best she’s in a sweater and Crocs.  At worst, she’s in an undershirt and bare feet.  As I reached for my phone to call 911, I screamed her name one more time.  I got a response.  It took a minute for my mind to process it, but I heard, faintly, someone say “I’ve got her.”

I ran toward the voice, thinking it was the neighbor.  It wasn’t.  Down at the far end of the road there was a woman walking toward me.  I couldn’t see a child, but she waved so I continued.  Then I saw she was carrying a child.  Then I saw that it was my child.  I ran to her, and took into my arms.  And I got the story.

Seems Molly did go out to check on the doves.  And decided she wanted to see her mom.  So she started walking.  She did have on her sweater (inside out) but no socks or shoes.  She walked three blocks to a major 5 lane busy road in near freezing temps, and couldn’t figure out where to go from there. She basically gave up and stood on the side of that road crying.  Some stranger found her, coaxed where she lived out of her and brought her home.

Now my daughter was well aware of the rules.  She knew she wasn’t supposed to go into the back yard alone, or leave the front yard.  She even knew she had done something bad, but didn’t know how to fix it.  Needless to say she got a stern reminder of the rules, lost the privilege of being allowed to go into the front yard alone for quite a while.  And she’ll be getting plenty of reminders over the next few days.

Now what really upset me is where my mind went.  The very first thing I thought is that someone had taken her.  My little girl had been abducted.  I was scared out of my mind, a feeling of total helplessness and terror.  Why was I still looking instead of calling 911?  Some evil abductor had my little girl!  I know that stranger abduction is rare.  I know statistically it is unlikely to happen to anyone you know, much less your own child.  But that is exactly where my mind went.

I’d like to blame the media, and the over exposure child abductions get, but I can’t.  I think it’s preprogramed in a parent to assume the worst.  I can remember being upset at my own parents who, to my young eyes, over reacted to my being late.  I think I’ve been given a preview of the teenage years.  And a big dose of payback for what I put my parents through.

But will it take away my “free range” mentality?  You may remember that something similar happened with my six year old son at a shopping mall.  In that case, it increased my belief in free range parenting.  My son had a problem.  He was lost.  He couldn’t find me or his mother.  So he came up with a (wrong) plan and put it to work.  Again, strangers came to my aide and he was quickly found.  So why does this one feel different?

Maybe it is the willfulness in the way my daughter broke the rules.  She’s lost my trust, and rightfully so.  She thought she had a good idea, just like her brother.  But the bad ideas started when she went outside barefoot.  It’s not the first time she’s gone outside in less than ideal conditions barefoot.  I doubt it will be the last.  In fact, the picture on the left shows her footprints.  In snow.  Where she played.  For a good 10 minutes, with me asking her “aren’t your feet cold?”  So no, her running off down the street barefoot really doesn’t surprise me.

I don’t think this will turn me into a helicopter parent.  I do think the leash will be tightened on the girl.  She’s not going to enjoy the freedoms of yesterday for quite a while.  But at the same time, wasn’t the plan to instill in my daughter the confidence and independence to take on life without having to run interference for her?  Well, she certainly showed just how independent she can be.  She’s going to learn, at least for a while, just how much independence can be lost when we make bad choices.

As I write this, my daughter is snug in her bed.  The day ends with my WHOLE family safe.  Including the one in the hospital.  So ultimately, it ends on a positive note.  I think my heart has even slowed down.  A little.

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2 thoughts on “A Parent’s Worst Nightmare – Almost…

  1. WOW! Hard to believe that your mind did not go thermo-nuclear. Glad she’s home safe, you’re safe, and big brother is not rubbing it in. (And that you’ve got GREAT neighbors!) Yes, so scary. I’m afraid that will happen with my own DD someday, so I’m taking notes. My payback day will come, since she’s just like me. When I was six, I decided to run away from home, and told my parents. They said, OK, thinking I was going to camp out for the day at the corner of our block. I convinced a younger friend to go with me & my bag of treasures. I was pretty certain I knew the way from Brunswick, GA, up to Birmingham where my grandmother lived. We actually walked about a 1/4 mile down the side of a busy US highway near my house, before we got scared of all the big trucks (& lack of progress), and went home. I’m surprised my parents let me live to write this.

    You are a strong man, and when the little girl disappears on me, you might be the 1st non-family -member I’ll call.

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