Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lost and Found and Hunting for Butterflies

Let me start by saying this story has a good ending. Everyone is safe and sound; all's well.

We lost Happy the other day at the pool. He was doing the rounds of jumping off the diving board, swimming to the side, getting out, and jumping off the diving board again. He said that was all he was going to do the whole day. Forty minutes in, he was true to his word.

Every 90 seconds I was saying "awesome jump!" and "cool cannonball!" and "yep, you sure did get me wet, you monster!"

I was sitting six feet away from the stairs on a lawn chair, tucked up against the hedges for some shade. The first time all year I haven't set myself in the direct path of UVA and UVB and radiation and all that crap.

McGee hollered over; something about someone coming home to play after school this week, and I walked halfway in her direction and yelled back across the pool something about talking about it later and for the love of Pete quit yelling across the whole pool.

And looked over and Happy was gone.

Not on the stairs, not on the diving board. I quickly walked over, and peered into the water, that pit of nausea creeping up from inside. Our lifeguard saw my verging-on-panic look and stood up in his tower chair.

"Happy?" he asked.

I nodded. I heard my name, spun around, to the point that you know when the world kinda goes out of focus for a minute you moved that fast? Lefty was calling to me, wanting to know if he could go kick the soccer ball down on the field. I said yes, but where's Happy?

He shrugged his shoulders. I think I must have looked sick, because, being the helpful sort, he said "mom, want me to go look in the bathroom? Cuz when I jump off the diving board too many times, I have to poo. I think the water goes -- you know? Up." He says this as he's using his thumb to illustrate, like he's trying to hitch a ride from some 1960's Flower Power VW bus that's currently parked behind him.

[When McGee was two, she walked out the front door when I was in the shower. I raced through the house looking for her and froze when I saw the front door open, the dogs gone and all of McGee's clothes on the front steps. Gone is every rational, critical thinking, problem solving thought that you would normally use to strategize the best way to locate your child. In its place is gut wrenching terror, panic, blame and making deals with any and all dieties that will peacefully resolve this for you. I ran around outside in my robe for 15 minutes, shrieking her name, the dogs' names, until I found her on the fairway about 40 feet behind my neighbor's house. Running naked though the sprinklers. With the dogs. She probably still doesn't understand the logic that drove me to hug her tighter than I ever had, and then spank her. But, she never did it again, so it must have worked.]

It's like a ripple effect when a kid goes missing. It's not like there's some PA system announcement. One mom will stand up, either too slowly or really fast and scan around for the child they can't find. And, just like that, every other mom starts scanning, looking for that face that says "lost kid" in the crowd. One friend called out to me and said, "Kate, which one?"

"Happy." And, just like that, the pit creeped up and grabbed a hold of my throat. And the strangest thing happens. Your feet refuse to move, but your brain won't stop. Where is he? Where did he go? Is he alone? Did he get into a car? Which car? How many cars have left since the last time I saw him? Oh, God, he wouldn't have gotten into a car, would he?

"MOM!" It's Lefty. He just shakes his head. But, it tells me it was a good thing he went in there to check, because, as it turned out, *he* had to poo. "Did we find Happy yet?"

By now the moms have fanned out...through the pool, the clubhouse and showers, the tennis courts. Two have grabbed their keys to go drive slowly through the neighborhood. I basically haven't moved from where I was when he vanished. It's totally illogical, but this is where I was, so he'll look for me here. Right?

"He's know Happy, he can blend in anywhere if he sits quietly enough," one of my girlfriends reminded me. She's right. He sort of hides in plain sight. The problem, of course, is that he sees no reason to answer when you call for him, mostly because, sheesh, he's right HERE if you'd just turn around and look at him.

Think! He's got orange arm floaties on. He takes them off the instant he gets out of the water. I called out to our lifeguard that we need to find his floaties. He pointed to my chair.

Behind it, tucked in the hedges, Happy. He had fallen asleep on his towel. I scooped him up, the tears flowing, and watched the word spread across the pool that the lost one had been found.

He smiled at me. "Look! I caught a butterfly" and opened his cupped hands. A pair of wings flapped slowly in his tiny hands. "Do you think he misses his mommy?"

I said yes. But even more, I bet his mommy misses him.


Yesterday, we were taking the dog for a walk. Happy was chasing a butterfly; it's his new favorite thing to do. Capture and release. Butterflies, fireflies, those creepy jumpy moth things that somehow have taken up residence in my laundry he was stalking one, he looked up at me and said, "remember when you were sad when I caught the butterfly and took a nap?" I nodded. His story is way better than mine.

You weren't lost, little one, you were just off on a butterfly expedition.

Much better. Let's go home.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2010


  1. What a beautiful story. The way you write it is incredibly evocative! I lost my 2-yr-old once at a playground for about 60 seconds ... felt like an eternity. So glad everyone's fine!

  2. I just cried. I'm so happy he's safe. I'm still crying.

  3. Oh that is so scary. I know the feeling of panic, complete panic when you suddenly don't see them - especially at the pool. My oldest son (now almost 8) escaped from our house (2 different houses) when he was 2 and I was in the shower. Nothing like running around outside barefoot, in your robe, with a towel on your head looking frantic. Luckily both times good people found him and he was safe. So glad that Happy was safe and sound!

  4. A little over a year ago, I walked over to a neighbor's to drop off some calligraphy work and my (then 4 year old) son decided I was taking too long, put on his crocs and went to look for me.

    Now, it's important to note that there were 5 grown men sitting at my dining room table when my son just waled out of the house - my husband was in BIG trouble.

    The good news was we lived in a pretty enclosed complex. The bad news was that the complex guard had seen my son and didn't stop him, call in a little kid on the hoof (I believe he lost his job and the contract for his company) and my son walked within the complex probably close to 2 miles.

    Ultimately, one of the neighborhood kids brought him back to me as I wandered the streets. And EVERY parent we'd come in contact with during the search shared a story of when their child(ren) had taken off, hidden in a store, etc. which made me feel less like a crappy mom.

    Oh, and we took my son's crocs away so he couldn't reach them without permission. He doesn't leave without asking AND receiving permission now.

  5. Aww man, that made me cry. We lost our 17 month old when an idiotic woman watching the day care at a conference let her walk out into the huge hotel. When I came back she was chatting with some women and told me "your daughter walked out half an hour ago." I was so shocked that imyst have yelled at her "she's 17 MONTHS old you bitch not 17! How can you be so calm telling me my toddler walked out alone?"
    I called all my friends at the conference told them to start looking. We went around calling her name (scared knowing that she doesn't yet understand she has to respond to her name like that). Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw some older kids dart off when they heard me yelling out. Two minutes later they walk back into the lobby bringing my Monster out from the opposite wing of the hotel.
    We were lucky in that the whole hotel was booked for our conference, and Almost 40% people knew Monster and me, and an additional few hundred had been introduced to us in the previous few days.
    Despite it being a veer controlled experience for us, we were so scared that we left the next day because we didn't want to leave her in the stupid woman's care again.

  6. Schizzle! I get up near the butt crack of dawn to check on baby-screams-a-lot, come back to bed, decide to shoot a quick email to someone because I am all about sleep-emailing (almost as good as drunk FB'ing)and get to see this. Tears. Real freakin tears are rollin down my wrinkle cream smathered face! Thanks a lot!
    I think God lets us get to "the fear" so we can stop and realize the rest of our mess is just nonsense. So happy for you and Happy. Beautiful.

  7. I lost my little one at a laundry mat for like 10 seconds and had a heart attack. My mom and I were doing her laundry and my daughter had been "helping" my mom load the washer and I went to go get some soap from the vending machine. When I came back my mom said "where's the baby? She followed you over." I ran over to the soap machine and she wasn't there, we ran around looking for her and she had found a little child sized chair and was happily sitting in it. I can't believe how freaked out I was. I can't imagine it happening at a pool! I seriously was crying here.

  8. My eldest at the tender age of 1st grade, decided to outwit every adult in his life and walk home..he got about 5 miles I'd say before he got tired? Meanwhile, I'd had SWAT, the bloodhounds and every police officer in TWO cities out looking for him. He was missing for 5 hours. He's lucky to have survived to graduation...and so am I.

  9. I cried.
    At work.
    Then a coworker walked in.

    I love your kids, Kate.
    But remind McGee... Not as much as I love you. :)

  10. My three year old ran off twice in the same week. First at the mall. He just ran off through the food court and it took almost TEN MINUTES to find him. We actually didn't find him, he came running back to me, with this evil grin. I was with my very pregnant sister in law, who totally freaked (because she's a worrier, just like my MIL) and I was more afraid she was going to go into labor. Then two days later I went to refill drinks at a fast food place, turned back around and he was outside, standing in the drive through lane. The next stop was Target, for an adorable puppy "backpack" with and extra long "tail"

  11. Love this. And once again, you are living in my head. My fifteen month old ran away (we found her) a couple weeks ago and it was the single most terrifying moment of my parenting life. I had to write about it too:

    I'm still not over it - and haven't forgiven myself for it. These kids!!!

  12. As someone who is pregnant for the first time, I have nightmares about all the things that could go wrong. I am happy to know that often, kids do things that cause panic but it all turns out okay. Note to self: ensure all dead bolts are on the doors when the kid is big enough to wander around. You write fantastically.

  13. Ugh...THE.WORST.FEELING.EVER and I have only experienced it with my close friend and her little boy. We were all up on the square in town at a lunch time concert and there were 3 of us Moms with 6 kids running between a train and a fountain(and my youngest in a stroller) when the oldest disappeared. I can still feel my heart beating the way it did that day when we all looked at each other and realized none of us saw him. It took us about 10 minutes to locate him...he was hiding behind some bushes. Such a nauseas feeling when you look around and realize any of those cars could have taken off with him.

  14. I was left behind by my daycare during a field trip to a teacher's house to see her new puppies. I was 4 and a half years old. I had fallen asleep upstairs, and they just... left. I woke up to an empty house. I went outside, sat on the front steps, and cried. Luckily, some neighbors were walking by, and they saw the emergency ID bracelet my mom had us all wear as kids. It had my name, my birth date, my home phone number, and the number of the emergency contact (my grandmother). Rather than call those, however, they called the police, and brought me to the nearest elementary school, where the nice cop let me sit on his front seat and drive me to my grandmother's house.

    It happened to be the day my sister was born, so my parents were in the hospital and on the phone with my grandmother about the progress. Suddenly the operator cut in and informed Grandmom that the police have found me and are bringing me to her house. They didn't even know I was gone.

    Needless to say, I never went back to that school. I remember bits and pieces of that day, but neither my parents nor my Grandmom have ever really discussed it with me. The bracelets were taken off as we grew, to be replaced by "safe words" and the like. Now that I am going to be a new mom myself in a few weeks, however, I wish that our world was safe enough for kids to still wear those bracelets.

    1. the world is much safer than it appears. check out, as well as the book Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy.

  15. I lost my 2 year old at one of those mall playgrounds. We went to go in my sweet angel daughter (5)and the little devl (2). I let go of his hand as we walked in the entrance, turned to look at him and gone just like that. There was a security guard standing right next to me, in complete panic mode, I was all I lost my son he's two. about a minute and a half later we find him in one of the quarter rides just outside the playground. Thought.I.Could.Kill.Him. but so happy he was safe at the same time.

  16. I didn't actually tear up until the end when you shared his point of view, oh the innocence of a child! I am glad it turned out to be a happy ending :)

  17. Two summers ago, we were at the mall for storytime and the presenter said to go to a specific because there was a big sale (this is a weekly activity and my kids know the presenter). I was with my twin 4.5 yr olds and my almost 2 yr old. After the comment was made, the almost 2 yr old was gone. For what seemed liked an eternity, I looked everywhere, as did all the other parents nearby. She was found watching the tv in the store with the sale because "that's where Ms. J told us to go!" I think I have too many grey hairs from that summer!

  18. Lost my 9 y/o when she was 2 1/2 while at a crowded beach...we were on a family vacation, and everyone else had gone off for awhile and left me (who had a broken bone in my foot) alone with her and my 7 y/o, who was 6 months old at the time. I called for her for what seemed like forever but couldn't have been more than 2-3 minutes. Then out of nowhere a boy of about 7 or 8 came up to me and pointing, said, "Is that her?" And it was. She was shoveling sand into a bucket, not at the water's edge, but closer than I would have liked. I thanked him and retrieved my daughter, and still wonder if the boy's help was a hidden divine intervention.
    This summer my 7 y/o decided she wanted to go back to our spot on the beach while my DH & I were grilling lunch, so she just took off. She wasn't gone more than a minute before we called for her and then DH went searching for her. I stayed by the grill in case she came back. 20 minutes later DH, his cousin, and the 7 y/o come strolling back. She HAD gotten lost, couldn't find our spot, but DH found her (although not right away). She was shaken up about it, so we didn't come down hard on her, but made it clear that she MUST tell us when she wants to go somewhere! I was scanning the parking lot most of the time, praying that some perv didn't just entice her away.
    So happy it turned out OK, but while it's happening...horrible.

  19. You're post just seriously made me cry, I know that feeling of terror so well.

    Last week (the first week of school in Fairfax Co) my new kindergartner got off the bus 2 stops early when he was coming home on Friday.
    Our stop is the last one, the bus pulled up and slowly all the kids (at least 12) filed off. N wasn't there. I walked over to the bus driver, she had no idea. The safety patrol kids walked over- who was I looking for? N- he's in kindergarten, he was wearing a greenish shirt. They were sure he had gotten on the bus, but didn't recall seeing him get off. The bus driver makes me spell his name and radios it to the other buses. They radio back- they don't have him. By this time I was totally freaking out. I pulled out my phone to call the school when I hear a shout from behind me- there he was, safe and sound. Running towards me looking so much like a happy puppy. Escorted by some neighborhood friends and their moms, one my neighborhood BFF. BFF was slightly out of breath, she had called to tell me he got off at the wrong stop, but I was already too panicked to hear my phone. I hugged him hard and cried, told him never to get off at any stop but his again. He asked to go the playground, completely oblivious to the terror he had caused me.

  20. Wow, what a scary moment! So glad it had a happy ending!

    Out of 3 children, this has happened to me several times, each experience equally horrible and panic-inducing.

    I've had the child lost at playground moment, child walks off in the department store moment, as well as the OMG where's my child scanning the bottom of the pool moment.

    Thank God my kids have always been fine, but I definately have more grey hairs as a result.

  21. While reading your story I felt the panic from when I lost my own child who decided it was funny to hide under the lid of the turtle sandbox and see how long it would take for me to find him.

    Panic and terror is what you feel and it never goes away. so someday when someone shares their scary story that feeling will come back ... and it will feel like it is happening to you in that moment ...

    Glad "Happy" is safe and totally unaware of the impact of his "nap" on you.

  22. Oh dear. Thanks for the story. I like his version!

    Yesterday I had a similar panic attack when Noah disappeared out of the backyard. It's amazing what goes through your mind when you think your kid is missing.

  23. When I was about 2, my mother was cooking dinner and I was playing in my room. She came to check on me and I wasn't anywhere in my room. She checked the rest of the house and I was nowhere to be seen. When she went to the front door, it was cracked open and the screen door wasn't latched.
    After unsuccessfully checking with all the neighbors, she was in a full blown panic. The police were called, and they, along with several city blocks worth of people, including an apartment complex, were frantically searching for me.
    She says they searched until after dark and could not find me anywhere. When the search was put on hold due to nightfall, she returned home in tears.
    She just happened to look up at the top shelf of the bookcase (floor to ceiling bookcases built into the walls), and there I was, fast asleep. Completely oblivious to the panic and commotion I had caused by playing hide-n-seek and falling asleep up there.

    It is now 30 years later, and I have a toddler of my own. One that likes to climb as I did. One that is also a special needs child that doesn't answer when called. She's thrown me into a panic many many times (at least till I've found her, usually sleeping on a shelf in her closet, or IN her toybox), but never as bad as I frightened my mother that day.

  24. Awwww...That was SO SWEET! I'm sitting in front of a class of ninth graders with tears in my eyes. That's like being naked and meaty in a hungry lion's cage.

  25. My sister once scanned the bottom of the pool, to see her 3yo 1stborn. She says she grscefull and calmly dove her 8mo preg body in and swam to bring up my sputtering and terrified, but OK nephew. SO glad I wasn't there.

    When I was 16, I came home from school and(trained to do so) immediately asked my Dad where my 6yo baby sis was(Mom was at store). He was like- "I Think she's on the driveway." You THINK?! Straight A's thru med school and you THINK your youngest child is on the driveway?! I ran outside to find her gone, as well as her hotwheels. So, I hopped back in the car to cover ground faster. This was all before cells, so I couldn't call 911 or my Mom or anything. So, about a mile from the house, I see her FINALLY, but IN A STRANGERS CAR!!!!!!! They were going opposite way, so I kind of pulled a Charlie's Angels Uey and almost T-Boned them, honking and screaming. In my 16yo brain, I was hearing all the "don't get in a car with strangers" stories and I was SO not letting that car get away. The WONDERFUL, AMAZING ANGEL IN DISGUISE woman behind the wheel totally understood and had been driving my baby sis around looking for her home. And my husband wonders why I insist on the doorknob covers, or why I won't shower and nap unless he's here. THANK GOD IN HEAVEN YOU ARE ALL SAFE AND SOUND!!!

  26. I lost my son in our yard. He knows he's not supposed to leave without permission, but...he was 5, so he was really big and knew what he was doing, right? He walked to our neighbor's house and asked if he could play with their son. This is not an unusual occurrence - I let him walk over alone if he asks to go - so they thought nothing of it, just told him their son wasn't home, he'd gone down the cul-de-sac to play with some other boys.

    Enter me, the mom who's been screaming her son's name for 5 straight minutes, who noticed that the front gates (which lead to a HIGHWAY) were open. The neighbors dropped everything and went out looking with me. We get to one of the other kids' houses, and there's my son. Having a TANTRUM on their lawn, because apparently they were older boys and didn't want to let him play too. AWESOME. Hi guys, I'm your new neighbor down the street, the screaming monster on your front lawn is my son. Nice to meet you.

    He lost ALL his treats (1 treat = 1 dollar or 10 minutes of video game time), got to listening to a rambling version of Mommy Loses Her Schmidt, was grounded for a week, and had to help me make and deliver cookies and an apology to both neighbors.

    Repetition: 0. Point made. Also, now the neighborhood boys know that cookies are sometimes an option at our house. They're much nicer now.

  27. After my so-very mild version of 'lost' 3 year old who'd wandered outside to visit the flowers she'd planted - we installed simple eye-hook latches HIGH on the storm doors. Simple, easy and ever-so-effective.

  28. Whew- that made me tear up, too! I lost my daughter (who was 3, hiding inside a round clothing rack, and silently laughing because it was soooo funny ... but it was not nearly as funny once Mommy found her) in the little girls' section of Target for about a minute, and I have never felt a worse, crust-crushing, stomach-dropping feeling in my life. And I totally understand the hug-and-spank response because that's exactly what I did! SO glad Happy was safe!

  29. this just happened to me this week. My daughter 7 1/2 decided to "hide" from me at her daycare. Apparently she hid in the class and i didnt see her when i came in to sign her out. she ran out and went and hid in the girls bathroom. I looked on the playground and the comp lab (i have offically lost my schmidt) while my heart was choking me then she came running out of the bathroom with a huge smile on her face....until she saw my beyond-maude face. all is well after alot of effort to breathe again and explain why i was melting.

    So happy to hear Happy is safe!!!! and yes i cried like the

  30. I have my hand across my mouth, tears in my eyes, and a lump in my throat. Oh heavens. I am just a puddle.

  31. BOTH my girls have the wandering toddler gene (I get zero sympathy from my mother, since as a toddler I used to drop my diaper and wander down to the local pub dressed only in my undershirt - the local boozers would give me pennies and beer nuts and chat me up. Oh, did I mention that my mom was the local social worker?).

    We have had several dramatic where-is-the-toddler moments (they always just go to visit our friends a block away, but we live beside a ravine and the thought of a wee body floating in the water is always befor my eyes at that moment), so finally we installed double locks on the front door.

    I got the most appalled look from a JW who came by this week because I invited them in and then locked the door behind them with a key! She thought I was going to kill them and bury them in the side yard .

  32. i sat here and cried like a little girl. a little girl who just had her pudding snatched away by her big brother. who then hit her. hard.

    but yeah. i'm super glad things turned out well, and even with your little disclaimer at the beginning, i was still wiping tears away as fast as i could before my mascara could run, dammit.

  33. You gotta warn a girl when you post a story like that! Holy tears! So thankful he's back and safe. Ahhh!

  34. Let me start by saying I'm a super cry baby. At everything. So as I started reading this - the tears started, and haven't stopped. I have this HUGE fear that I will loose my baby. I've had two very real dreams about her being lost or taken. It scares me to death. When she is out of sight for more than 2 seconds I start to freak. I'm so, so glad that everything worked out OK for you guys.

  35. I understand completely. I took my son to the playground when he was 3 (he's 5 now), he was playing and climbing and having fun. I looked down for a minute to put the bag on the stroller. I looked up and he was gone. Full panic mode. I started yelling his name and searching. I looked across the way and saw him in some strange man's arms. I've never run so fast in my life. I remember saying "Give me my baby NOW!" and took him out of him arms. Turns out the poor guy was headed my way to bring him back because my son was pointing at me and shouting "Mommy!" We live in Korea but speak English so really finding him took less time than it felt like.

  36. Even though you started off warning us that all ended good... I had a feeling of terror up until you wrote he was found. It seems we all have misplaced a child at one time or another, even if it's for a minute or two is horrific. I'm so glad everything was okay.

  37. Thank you. I needed that story this morning when my husband is out of town and the kids are monsters.

    I feel better.

  38. My son, at 18mo, had a grand mal seizure and then was completely unresponsive post-ichtal for several hours.

    Since then (he's 21mo, now) he has played the disappearing act on us a couple of times - once we found him in a closet (and thus realised that he is able to open doors) and once he'd crawled under our bed.

    Each time, I've got that complete feeling of fear of not knowing where my baby is - compounded by the terror that he might not be answering because he's having another seizure.

    Thankfully, he's never managed to take off in a public place on us yet... but his baby brother is due to make an appearance any day now, and I have a feeling that keeping track of him is about to get much more difficult!

  39. How terrifying!! He's so sweet though, I love his simple version of the story!

  40. I remember when i was 8 my 3 year old sister went missing when we were all playing outside one summer afternoon and my parents, other sister and i started looking around the neighborhood for her, got the neighbors involved and were just about to call the cops when someone went home. They (don’t remember which one of us it was) sat down on the couch next to the clean pile of laundry and something under it moved. Appearantly as the afternoon cooled off, my sister got tired and felt asleep under a nice warm pile of laundry. Laundry Fairy meet The Fear! Now I'm sure one of these days it'll happen to me with one of my girls. Sigh. It's inevitable, isn't it?




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