Thursday, October 31, 2013
My worst nightmare
For ten minutes yesterday, my world stood still.
I was collecting my daughter from a post-kindergarten play date at her friend’s house. We were heading towards the door, preparing for the five minute walk home. She was holding my hand. She was resisting, as usual. She was having too much fun and did not want to go home.
I don’t remember what happened next – there was a lot going on, with the chatter of three adults, five children and one very excited dog – but the next moment, she was gone.
My daughter’s friend’s mum (let’s call her T) and I turned our heads at the same moment. We both caught the flick of the front door, the creaking open of the front gate. Within a moment, T was out in the tiny front garden, calling my daughter’s name.
I turned around. Where on earth could that little girl be? An instant ago, she was holding my hand. Would she really try and make for home without me? I called into the two bedrooms, just off the main living room (T’s house is cosy and compact). No answer.
I stepped onto the front veranda. By this stage, T was well down the tiny dead-end street, calling my little ‘un’s name. I peeked around each corners, to the nooks and crannies of the garden that wound around the house. Nothing. I went through the house to the back garden and checked again. Nothing but four exuberant children rolling boulders down the slide, oblivious to the drama unfolding elsewhere.
I went back into the street and started down past each house. My heart was pounding. My brain suspended in petrified disbelief. What was happening?
T’s friend gently asked, “Does your daughter usually take off out the door?”. I knew what he meant. Some kids just do that. But no: not my littlie.
My heart sank. We’d checked the entire house, T was at the end of the street and there was no sign of my daughter. She was not the kind of kid to run off on her own. That only left one option, as far as I could make out.
We live in a safe suburb, the kind where people leave their prams on the veranda and their front doors open. Things like child abductions do not tend happen in our suburb although, of course, they could happen anywhere. All I could think was: how could this happen?
I suddenly felt my entire life up to that point evaporate. I saw how, in an instant, everything could change. I wanted to call my husband, though I had no idea what he could do. I had no idea what I could do.
“I’m going to go back into the house,” T’s friend said quietly. I followed him.
We got to the back door and then I saw her. Standing in a doorway that I had not noticed before, which opened off the dining area into the laundry. Her hands were covered in soap and she was cross with me.
“Mummy! I can’t turn the tap on!”
I craned my neck around the corner and another door that I had not noticed, leading to the bathroom. It seems she’d taken herself off to the bathroom before we left for home and, with two doors closed, did not hear the three adults hollering her name as she wrestled with a tightly closed tap.
I sank to the floor, trying to process the emotions running through me. My daughter looked annoyed and a little bit frightened. But mostly anxious to wash the soap of her hands.
We said our goodbyes and our all’s-well-that-ends-wells and made for home. I cooked dinner, gave my little ‘un a bath then put her to bed. It was three hours later that the feelings finally came flooding through and I finally began to understand what had just happened.
As I sobbed on my husband’s shoulder, all I could see in my mind’s eye was the bland lucid view of the empty street and my searing incomprehension. This same view haunted me in the wee hours, as I tossed and turned.
I know I am prone to anxiety when it comes to parenting and that often takes the form of “planning for catastrophe”. Once the saga had ended, it was hard not to apologise for being a drama queen.
But the ridiculous mystery of it all: we’d searched every inch of that tiny house (we thought) and she had simply vanished. The idea that this might mean she had disappeared and that I might never know what happened to her fried my synapses.
I doubt I have ever felt so vulnerable.
And that felt real.