December 7, 2013

Little Moo Lost

I don't even know why I started writing this today.  I mentioned the incident to someone who wanted to hear how the story ended.  But one of the things I so love about writing is that it has the ability--regardless of whether you've heard a story before or not; or perhaps even whether or not you initially set out to tell it--to take someone (even the writer) on a journey.

When Moo was in first grade I worked at my first (nearly) full-time job since having kids.  It was sometimes confusing when it came to after school arrangements.  Because The Sarge works shift work as a firefighter, some days I would pick her up at the school and have to go pick Slim up at a friend's. Other days I would pick him up first and drive home to get her off the bus. There was no easy pattern to which days were which.

One particular morning, on the drive to school I told her to get on bus that day. The work day went by and I left to pick up Slim and get Moo at the bus stop.  

She did not get off the bus.      

Although my stomach lurched a little, I just assumed that she had gotten confused because of the unpredictable pick-up arrangements and was sitting at the school waiting for me.  Since driving to the school would take almost ten minutes,I rushed up to the house and called the school.

She wasn't there. 

Now my whole body felt like jelly and I started to shake a little.  I called the police.  I was starting to cry as I explained what was happening.  The officer I spoke with was extremely calm and was trying to keep me calm as well.  I was losing it quickly and beginning to shout into the phone. 

I can't accurately describe what it feels like when you hear a police officer ask you what your child is wearing.  Your mind skips back through the day and searches the flashcard moments of that morning. Breakfast, clothes, riding to school.  The clothes.  And the worst things also flash through your mind faster than you can imagine.  You think about your child being scared, alone, or not alone.

When I think about it now I'm not sure I could answer that question on any given day lately.  In the whirlwind of school clothes, tweenage fashions and dressing three kids for school every day, I might not be able to recall what outfit was donned by whom on any particular morning.  But back then there was only Moo and Slim and I remember my mind focusing like a laser on what she was wearing that day.  

As I described her outfit to the officer, I paced around the living room feeling panicked and sick.  I had no idea what to do.  I wanted to race back to the school but the officer said it was best if I stayed home.  I started to call my mom (who lives three hours away) but I didn't want to tie up the phone.  I was terrified, frantic, overwrought--no word I can find now can really sum it up.  To sit and wait for the phone to ring was simply maddening.

I lived the longest ten minutes of my life before the phone rang.  It was the Police Department telling me that she was back at the school.  I cried and cried with relief all the way to the school.  One thing I clearly remember is her puffy, tear-streaked face looking up at me when I walked in the office.  That fear and disappointment--a little lost trust.  I squeezed my baby girl so hard and we both cried together.

When I hadn't come up to the doors that day Moo had crossed the street looking for me.  She was standing by a tree where I normally parked my car to walk up and get her.  I am not sure how close he was or if he had noticed her crying, but a man had seen her and watched her from afar so that he did not scare her.  For whatever reason he was certain that she was either lost or at least should not have been waiting there so long alone.  He watched for about 15 minutes before finding a woman to approach Moo to ask her if she was okay and walk her back to the school.  As far as I know the man never went near the school and the woman left after Moo was safely inside.

I can't say that I really learned any deep-seated personal lesson from what happened.  I think we tried to establish something more routine all around.  I know we thanked God, Fate, Allah, Karma, our lucky stars and whoever and whatever could have been responsible for our lack of tragedy; just as in the opposite situation there would be no object too small to blame.

I never met the  man or the woman who helped her that day, but obviously they were good people.  I am so grateful that they were there that day.  I suppose some people might call them angels or heroes, but really it shouldn't require an act of heaven or heroism to believe in the simple kindness of others, or to find faith in our fellow humans.  

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