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Where Is My Toddler? 30 Thoughts in 30 Seconds of Panic

This past 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.

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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 toddler?

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.

In public. 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.

Like, ever.

Because those 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.

10. Why is that woman just staring at me? I told her my daughter is missing. Why isn’t she DOING anything?

11. I can’t stand here waiting for you, lady. I have to find my little girl.

12. This is what I get for always being so judgmental of child leashes.

13. I am a horrible mother. Seriously, how did I allow this to happen?

14. Where IS she?!?

15. Why 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.

16. How long was she gone? I can’t even think. How long was I looking through those books?

17. What if some sicko has already got her in his car?

18. No, no, no! This is not OK. I am not OK.

19. Pull it together, Leah. You have to stay calm. You have to find her.

20. Don’t cry. Just don’t cry.

21. Yell louder. Just keep shouting her name.

22. Why is everyone just watching? Can’t they see what’s happening? Why isn’t anyone helping? What is wrong with these horrible people?

23. They think I’m the horrible one. That’s what it is. They think I deserve this.

24. What 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?

25. How could I let this happen?

26. How long has it been? Why is that woman still just staring at me? When do we call the police?

27. What do I tell the police? That I was looking for Spider-Man books and lost my daughter?

28. I will never forgive myself for this.

29. Oh thank God! There she is. And she’s crying. Baby … Mommy’s here. It’s OK. Mommy’s right here.

30. And 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.

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It wasn’t 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 after all.

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