The Day From Hell That Could’ve Been Much, Much Worse: Stubborn children who don’t listen. Two year olds who only nap forty minutes. Back-up pants missing in the diaper bag. All of it chipping away until a moment of distraction almost ends in disaster.
Normally I can twist the bad moments of parenthood into humor.
Not this one.
I’m still shaking.
Thursday was a bad day.
My daughter melted down leaving the house for school.
She screamed again as I circled the school’s parking lot – fearing she wouldn’t get to stay – because the hall was being used for a gathering and those people had stolen almost all of the parking spaces.
I worked on the house during all of my “free” time.
I couldn’t find a parking place at pick-up time.
I learned my son went in “red” because he shirked on line leader duties and LEFT HIS TEACHER’S ROOM without her permission.
Thanks to parking delays and teacher talking, I had to pick my daughter up in the office.
She melted down in the car.
She cried going down for nap.
She only napped forty minutes.
She was very, very cranky.
My house was getting cleaned, but that meant trying to entertain the two kids without them destroying everything.
We went outside.
The Tackler’s buddy, CT, came over.
They frolicked. I wrapped two trees by the sidewalk in Christmas lights.
Finally, the day was turning around.
I did my routine kid check: the boys in the driveway, Lil Diva….
She’d just been in our neighbors yard, down the hill by the Christmas lights, tucked into the protective elbow where our houses rested.
“Divaaaaaa! Tackler, have you seen your sister?” I asked, my concern rising.
I wasn’t panicking yet. She loved to hide, another mimicry picked up from her brother. The idea she’d somehow traveled four houses and turned the block unnoticed by all three of us was absurd. We searched the surrounding bushes, waiting for the giggle to hit our ears.
I ran down to the corner, glancing behind air conditioners and other hiding places along the way as the Tackler and CT trailed me.
Frak doesn’t even begin to cover the sick sensation that slammed into me.
I had no idea where my two year old was.
The worst case scenario sparked inside: she was walking to the park – located across a very heavily trafficked road at 5 PM.
I called CT’s mom and had her watch the boys, still convinced Lil Diva hid around our houses and not wanting to leave the area empty.
In the precious minute I waited for my neighbor, the sparked idea fanned into a roaring inferno.
I borrowed the five year old’s scooter and sped off, every fiber in my being now convinced she’d turned left to the park and the busy road, not right to look at more Christmas lights.
I will never forgive myself…
As I turned the corner this time, I noticed cars and a crowd of people two houses away from the road.
I got closer and saw one of the woman holding a little girl in a long sleeved pink Backyardigans top and camo pants, askew pigtails on top of her head.
“Are you her mother?” The woman asked, even as Lil Diva reached for me and I wrapped her in my arms.
“Yes, I’m her mother. She snuck off. Where did you find her?”
“We were driving along the road and passed her. I said, ‘Stop, pull over, that’s a little girl.”
“She was BY THE ROAD? Oh god.” I hugged my daughter tighter, the adrenaline so strong my brain could barely process the information. “I turned my back for a second. I thought she was hiding again. She loves to hide.” I babbled on, the guilt of not watching her every millisecond coating me.
“I know. I have one that age too.” I noticed she wasn’t alone, she had others with, companions or those summoned when she began knocking on houses to see where my daughter had “escaped” from.
“How old is she? I’m on the phone with 911 and they want to know,” another lady asked me.
“She’s two.” I hugged Lil Diva again. “Thank you so much.”
“I’m glad we found her,” the first woman said.
Relief, fear, guilt.
I hesitated only a moment and used my free arm to hug this stranger who found my daughter and insisted upon stopping. “Really. Thank you. You have no idea.”
I wanted to stay. I wanted to say more.
I couldn’t. I had to return home.
I said “thank you” again, and turned to walk away – wondering even as I did so if I should’ve gotten the good samaritan’s name and done something, anything, to show my gratitude.
How do you thank someone for saving your daughter’s life?
I continued home, carrying the scooter and Lil Diva.
I worried they thought I was ungrateful. That I was a horrible mother. Irresponsible.
I turned the corner and saw the cleaning people exiting my house, my neighbor watching the boys.
That was why I had to be home.
I paid them. They left.
I put Lil Diva in a time-out in the driveway. Normally she fights it, but she didn’t. Not this time.
She sat there. Quietly.
Maybe she was scared. I forgot to ask if she cried.
Maybe she sensed the tension vibrating from my every nerve and knew not to fight me.
Maybe a part of her recognized she’d done something wrong.
Hours have passed..
Pants and a car seat were soaked and I discovered the change of pants missing from the diaper bag.
Luckily her brother’s spare pair fit. Sort of.
My husband worked late, when all I wanted was for him to come home and hug me and tell me he forgave me for letting our daughter escape.
Lil Diva decided a bowel movement in the just cleaned shower would be the perfect end of the day cherry on top.
Many things went wrong.
But one good Samaritan put it all in perspective.
Just keep my family safe.
Today could have had a very bad ending.
Thank God it did not.
Thank you, wonderful woman who’s name I didn’t think to ask while I was there.
Thank you so very much.
You saved my sweet angel kiss today.
Now I just have to forgive myself.
And invent an invisible fence safe for toddler use.
I don’t see either happening soon.
I might have to keep her locked up until she’s twenty, just to be safe.
Let this be reminder to never trust the independent toddler who is just waiting for you to pee/blink/look away to get into trouble.
And to hold them close, but don’t take your eyes off of them for a second….
* * *