weekend, I was out with my little girl doing some shopping. We had a mile-long list of things we needed to get and errands we needed to run, so while I
usually try to be present and in the moment with my daughter — I was admittedly
a little caught up in my own headspace.
One of our
last stops was to my favorite used bookstore. My friend’s little boy is turning
4 this upcoming weekend, and I was looking for a specific Spider-Man book he has
been coveting. The problem with used bookstores is that their inventory tends
to be a little chaotically organized, so it was as I waded through several
stacks of books that I set my daughter at my feet with books I was sure would
keep her entertained.
That may sound
crazy to you, given that my little girl is only 19 months old, but she really
does love books and can usually be counted on to turn the pages and “read” to
herself for several minutes.
Plus, she was
right at my feet. What could possibly happen?
You see where
this is going, right? Somehow, some way, while I was completely enmeshed in the
process of looking for Spider-Man titles, my little girl stood up and wandered
off without my noticing.
It couldn’t have
been for very long, but when I looked down and realized she was no longer there, the panic washed over me in a sickening moment of dread.
Where was my
It took approximately 30 seconds before I found her, two rows over and in the opposite
direction of where I initially went in search of her. In that time, I alerted
several employees and fought back the tears as I imagined all of the possible worst-case
scenarios. When I finally saw her, those tears came rushing out of me.
Which was ... special.
Those 30 seconds when I didn’t know where my daughter was were arguably the scariest of my life.
I’m told that
these things happen and that most parents experience at least one such scare,
but I’m still pretty solid in the fact that I never want to experience that
feeling of impending dread ever again.
30 seconds when I didn’t know where my daughter was were arguably the scariest
of my life. And the thoughts that ran through my head in that brief period of
time only further punctuate what panic really looks like:
1. Wait … where is she?
2. No, seriously – where is she?
3. Oh no, I lost her!
4. OK, deep breath. You’ll find her. She can’t have
gone far. She just learned how to walk two months ago.
5. I can’t SEE her though!! How could she have
gotten out of my line of sight?
6. Don’t cry. Breathe. You need to stay calm. Keep
looking. She has to be in this store.
7. But what if she isn’t? Oh my ... What if someone took
her? What if some depraved human being has my baby RIGHT NOW?
8. I’m going to be sick.
9. Get help. Get help now.
is that woman just staring at me? I told her my daughter is missing. Why isn’t
she DOING anything?
can’t stand here waiting for you, lady. I have to find my little girl.
is what I get for always being so judgmental of child leashes.
am a horrible mother. Seriously, how did I allow this to happen?
is that woman still just standing
there? Shouldn’t she be trained in how to handle this situation? Get on the loudspeaker,
woman. I told you, my daughter is 19 months old and wearing a purple shirt. You
see me panicking. You see me running up and down the aisles. DO SOMETHING.
long was she gone? I can’t even think. How long was I looking through those
if some sicko has already got her in his car?
no, no! This is not OK. I am not OK.
it together, Leah. You have to stay calm. You have to find her.
cry. Just don’t cry.
louder. Just keep shouting her name.
is everyone just watching? Can’t they see what’s happening? Why isn’t anyone
helping? What is wrong with these horrible people?
think I’m the horrible one. That’s
what it is. They think I deserve this.
if they’re right? What if I do deserve this? What if she always would have been
better off with a different mommy? A better mommy?
could I let this happen?
long has it been? Why is that woman still just staring at me? When do we call
do I tell the police? That I was looking for Spider-Man books and lost my
will never forgive myself for this.
thank God! There she is. And she’s crying. Baby … Mommy’s here. It’s OK. Mommy’s
now I’m crying. And people are still staring. And judging. We have GOT to get
out of here. Now.
People were staring. And bizarrely
incapacitated by my panic. I kept waiting for someone to step in and help, but
everyone around seemed frozen in the moment. Maybe it was because it was only
30 seconds. Or maybe my perception of time was just completely stilted because
of how scared I was. I kept waiting for someone to do something. Instead,
they all watched — fear washing across their own faces, but no one actually
stepping forward to help me look for her.
until I had her safely in my arms that a woman did approach me. Putting her
hand on my shoulder, she said warmly, “I had a runner too. You’ll be OK. You’ve
got her now. And you’ll learn to watch more closely. Everything is OK.”
I looked in
her eyes and knew she wasn’t judging. And that she understood.
I also knew
she was right. I will forever watch more closely after this.
In fact, my
little girl will be damn lucky if she doesn’t wind up on one of those child leashes