Almost 8 years ago, when Margaret started kindergarten, I was sitting in my office at work, about to give an employee a review when my cell phone rang. I looked down and saw it was Margaret’s school calling. Without delay, I answered. And that’s when I heard the words no parent ever wants to hear, “We can’t find your child.”
Margaret was supposed to go to the on-campus after-school day care program directly after school. She’d been doing that for a few months without issue. Until that particular day. The after-school program’s policy was that they wouldn’t call the parent until or unless they exhausted all efforts to find for the child. I knew this so panic set in. Within moments, I became pale, my heart started racing, and everything became blurry. I wanted to throw up. I grabbed my purse, flew out of my office and yelled “They can’t find Margaret!” I must have looked and sounded either completely insane or drunk – or both.
Somehow, I managed to call my husband on the way to my car. (And somehow, he managed to beat me to her school despite working further away.) By the time I arrived, they’d found her. She had forgotten to check in to the after school day care program prior to reporting to her after school chess club class. She’d just turned 5 and was just getting used to a big school that went from kindergarten to 8th grade – so it was an understandable mistake. The after-school day care program was a different story; they should have checked all the after-school classes prior to alerting us – but they didn’t and we were.
By the time I got back to the office, I was still shaking. As I explained to my boss what happened, she said, “Shana, you need to cancel that review. Go home, you’re a mess.” There was no denying that I was a complete mess, but I felt compelled to finish my direct report’s review and told her so. My boss shook her head and slid something across her desk like Tom Cruise’s character in Cocktail. (I never actually saw that movie but that scene was always in the trailer.) It was one of those mini bottles of vodka. She told me to drink it. I respectfully declined, explaining that I am a light weight and even embarrassingly small amounts of alcohol would wreck me for the rest of the day- particularly since I hadn’t eaten for several hours at that point. She insisted, and, too exhausted to fight her, I complied and drank it in one gulp. To my complete surprise, I did not feel the least bit buzzed. The effect was that it calmed me down. That’s how much the prospect of my child missing impacted me.
Fast forward to a few days ago when I was painfully reminded of this scare. To recap what some of you already know, Margaret is staying at her Nana’s house while attending a drama program this summer. She rides her bike there and back each day. They live nearby, but when she started, she’d promised she would text us when she departs and arrives so we wouldn’t worry. (She doesn’t have a smart phone so we can’t track her location.) She’s been consistent with the group texts to us, but the other day, she texted she was leaving for the program. Twenty-five minutes later I realized that she still hadn’t texted that she arrived safely. It takes her 10 minutes. So I texted her, “Are you there?” Crickets. Shortly after, I received a text from my husband and immediately called my mom, who had also realized she hadn’t texted and was on her way to find her. I called the program and thankfully, she had been spotted earlier by the person who answered. Thank God.
My reaction was not nearly as frantic as when she was in kindergarten. And it was possibly heightened because I think I read at least two stories about young teens getting abducted last week. (I know, the obvious solution is not to read those stories but once I read the headline, it’s too late – I’m already sucked in.)
Margaret made amends and put an alarm on her phone reminding her to text us each day. The remainder of the week it worked like a charm. No issues. Until this morning. I got into my car after taking Krav Maga and saw that 20 minutes earlier, she had texted she left for rehearsal. And yet, there was no follow-up text saying she’d arrived. So I called her. Ring ring ring ring ring ring and then “Hi, this is Mags…” I called back several times but got her voicemail each time. I hung up, called my mom who was already on her way to Margaret’s rehearsal to make sure she arrived safely. That’s when I got the text. “Mom, I texted a zillion times but it didn’t go through.” So I texted back: “No more bike riding.” This elicited an immediate phone call from her begging me to not take away her bike privilege because it was the text not coming through, not her forgetting. OK, I buy that – but why the heck she didn’t call one of us to say she was safe baffles me – and also leads me to believe she’s lying.
As I write this, I’m conflicted. On one hand, I want her to become more autonomous. She loves the freedom that comes with biking to places. But quite honestly, she seems to miss the forest for the trees. I don’t care how she communicates that she’s safely arrived at her destination, she just needs to let me know somehow – by phone, email, text, pigeon carrier. Because I never, ever want to hear “We can’t find your kid,” again.