Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Mother's Nightmare

There is nothing in the world like the fear that comes over you when you think your child is missing.  It can last only minutes but feel like hours.  And then there's the overwhelming joy of finding them mixed with the anger that they would stray from you...

On day 3 of our camping trip we ventured out as a group to the beach to kill time.  It was late afternoon and we had 6 adults, 7 walking children and 2 babies between us.  The kids were jumping in the waves and building sandcastles with grandpa and Aubrey had already been knocked over by a couple of small incoming waves.  So my fear had already been set in place as I watched (carrying Violet in the front pack) my 5-year-old struggle to get up as the ocean pulled her back down.

I am not a paranoid person in general but when that mothering instinct kicks in, my panic level can rise in mere seconds.  I stood talking to my sister-in-law watching Joe stand ankle deep in the waves by himself, the kids playing in the sand making castles.  Then something made me scan our little crowd more intensely and my heart started racing as I tried to calmly ask "Um... Joe? Where is Aubrey?"

Looking back all I can think is "how did he stay so calm?!"

He did a quick scan as he said "she's..." and then paused at a loss for an answer.

The racing continued in my chest as all of the adults began glancing around yet coming up short.  And then the panic set in.  I lost my breath and felt pain in my chest.

"Maybe she went to the bathroom?" my dad asked.  But the bathroom was a far walk over the hill and through the parking lot and she never would have attempted that trek herself.

The panic worsened as the only thing I could see in my mind was my precious 5-year-old daughter being tossed around in the ocean, having been pulled out by a wave when no one was watching.  And I fell to my knees.  I looked to the sky and prayed to God that I was overreacting.  I screamed.  A guttural sound I had never made before (that my brother would later note he could hear from the bathroom a good 1/4 mile away.)

My sister-in-law asked what she was wearing.  And after a string of "I don't know, I don't remember, oh my god I'm a horrible mother, um, shorts and a pink shirt?" I dug deep to remember... "ORANGE AND BLACK! She's wearing her Beavers sweatshirt!"

My dad ran back to the house, my brother stood outside the women's bathroom yelling her name, my sister began asking the small groups near us if they had seen her.  It wasn't that crowded and we were in a spot where the beach stretched about a mile in each direction (having gotten up early for a morning run, I could make this accurate analysis.) We all yelled her name.  Then I spotted a small person near another group of people down the beach (by my earlier analysis they must have been at least a half a mile away) and I asked Joe "is that her?!" And he ran.  I've never seen him run so fast.  But at the same time that I watched the small child walk back towards the small crowd and assumed she had to be with them, I watched his pace slow as he assumed the same thing.  And I cried.

Then he picked up his pace and started running once more and the pain and panic I felt were replaced by relief.  It was her and he was bringing her back. The tears never stopped as Lindsay (also carrying her baby in a front pack) and my sister wrapped their arms around me in support.  I hugged her tightly and knew that her tears were more from our reactions than from her own fear.  She had wandered, distracted by the sand and seashells.  To her it was simple and she would never understand the gravity.  I asked "were you scared?" she said "no." I asked "did you know where we were?" she said "yes... I just hadn't found you yet..." And when my brother returned from his search to see that she had been found, I couldn't help bursting into hysterical tears. Someone called my dad to let him know to stop searching.  I shook with emotion as my little brother wrapped his arms around me, his own tears falling slowly, whispering gently "she's ok... she's ok... she's ok."

The beach fun was pretty much over for that day and the mood was somber for the rest of the evening.

And I will forever remember that moment as the day my life was turned upside down and back again in the matter of just a few minutes.    

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