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The Sheer Terror Every Mom Experiences At Least Once

Photograph by Twenty20

I know I said parenting doesn’t get any easier as your kids grow, but there are times I long for the baby stage of my daughter’s life. Sure, it was hard. The sleepless nights. The round the clock feedings. All those diapers.

But once your kids are no longer strapped in to a baby carrier or sling, once they’re up on their own legs and making decisions with their own child brains, things can happen. WILL happen. And they will make your blood run cold.

The other day I had a scare. My child was briefly missing. I could not find her anywhere, and my mind went to scary, dark places.

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I was out of my mind with panic. Because I know stories of children who really did go missing, never to be seen alive again. Of parents who have lived their worst nightmare, from which there is no waking up. And in that moment, all reason went out the window.

As it turned out, my daughter was OK. She had gone to a neighbor’s home without my knowledge or permission. But for the brief period when I could not find her, I was more afraid than I have ever been in my life.

I had been walking the dog. She didn’t want to come along because she was busy playing with her Barbies. So I powered up the walkie talkies, told her to use hers if she needed me and instructed her not to leave the house or open the door to anyone. I told her where I was going and that I would be back in five minutes.

I was out of sight of our home for less than two minutes, around a curve in the street. In that time, my child decided she did want to come and ran out of the house to try to catch up to me. She forgot about the walkie talkies. She forgot where I said I would be. She just ran—in the opposite direction.

I never saw her. And she didn’t see me. She did eventually see her friend who lives up the street. And decided she wanted to play. So she went into her house.

I could have made different choices, too. It was a learning opportunity for both of us.

I went to all the surrounding neighbors’ homes. No one had seen her. I searched every nook and cranny of our home, while neighbors searched our yard and theirs. I was about to call 911 when, as a last resort, I drove down the street and knocked on her friend’s door.

There she was.

When I drove her home, and she saw all the people frantically running around the neighborhood searching for her, she gasped and said, “Oh, no. This is bad.” Once inside, she huddled in a corner of the laundry room, her head in her hands. “This is the worst thing I have ever done,” she cried.

I sat down beside her and told her about the time I did something very similar as a child. Yes, it was a different era. I frequently roamed the neighborhood unsupervised, my mom having no idea where I was. But I was always home by dinner. That particular night I wasn’t. I was at a neighbor’s home and lost track of time. And my mom was the panicked one.

We talked about the choices my daughter made. How at each turn she’d had the opportunity to do something different. She could have used the walkie talkies. Remembered where I had told her I would be. Come straight home when she couldn’t find me. Told her friend’s mother immediately she didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know she was there.

I could have made different choices, too. It was a learning opportunity for both of us.

It took a long time for my heart to stop racing and my body to cease shaking all over. I held my daughter, told her I was glad she was safe. That I had been very worried. I told her when her father got home we would have a discussion together about the experience.

I will never forget a time a few years ago when our neighbors came knocking on our door asking us to please check and make sure their grandson had not slipped into our pool.

Then I had her sit down and write apology notes to all the neighbors who had been out searching for her, which she personally delivered.

I felt we had just been through a universal parent-child experience. When I took to Facebook to vent about it, I found out I was right. So many other moms opened up about their own false alarms. These were just a few of the comments:

“My kids both did a version of this last week. So scary.”

“One of mine did this to me a few years back and I start getting a panic attack thinking of it.”

“I call them inside the house and if they don’t respond by the 3rd time, I'm freaking out ‘because we have a pool and yard with a lake'”

“I know that feeling; pure sheer terror. It is hell on earth. My daughter went with her father once and left the mall when she had been at my side. I did not realize he took her and I had turned around for a second to tend to her sister. When I turned back she was gone.”

“My daughter did the same thing many years ago. I had that ice cold feeling running through my body. It’s terrorizing!”

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“When my daughter was very young she once decided it would be fun to hide inside a clothing rack ‘rounder’ while we were shopping in a department store. I was paying for something at the counter. One minute she was right beside me and the next minute she was GONE! Sheer terror.”

“I will never forget a time a few years ago when our neighbors came knocking on our door asking us to please check and make sure their grandson had not slipped into our pool. I was terrified to look! He wasn't there. They found the little boy (4 years old) asleep in their bed under a body pillow, completely unaware anyone had been screaming his name for 45 minutes.”

“We've all had an experience with similar panic before. Hopefully not ever more than once!”

I guess this is just one of those things every parent will deal with at some point. Still: ugh!

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