Yesterday...in a crowded Target store on a Sunday afternoon...I lost my 4 year old for 2 minutes...and I lost my mind in the process.
It was a truly terrifying experience. There is no other way to put it. One second she was behind me and the next she was gone. Like gone. No sign of her. No reply from my repeated shouts of her name.
My heart had never beat so fast. My voice had never sounded so strained. I was trying to keep my calm for the sake of my oldest daughter...but she was panicked right along side me.
I ran up and down the aisles shouting her name praying for a response. Other shoppers - all parents - asked me to describe what she was wearing and helped in my search.
I felt dizzy and scared and angry and heartbroken all at the same time. Until finally...I heard her tiny little voice say "Mama?" and my world came into focus again.
I followed the voice and the sobs that came after and found my little lost girl crying in - of all the odd places - the men's sock department.
I have never held my child that tight before in my life. Relief flooded through me. My oldest daughter joined us in a group hug and we all cried together.
The other parents that had helped to search for her watched our reunion with relief before heading back to their shopping. And still we hugged.
My heart broke when my oldest said to her "I thought I wouldn't have a sister anymore."
This was the first time I had experienced losing my child in a crowded place and I am dead set on it being the last. It really was the worst moment of my life. And in my frightened state I forgot all reason.
I didn't think to tell a staff member that my girl was missing so they could make sure nobody was running away with her. There were no logical thoughts in my head. Only the overwhelming fear I might never see her again.
And she too forgot all the things we had taught her about what to do if she ever got separated from us. We had just gone through all of these steps in preparation for our recent trip to Disneyland. We told her to stay where she was, to call out for us, to look for a staff member (with a name tag) or another mother that had little kids with her.
She listened to these steps, repeated them back with confidence and made me feel secure that she knew what to do. Now we know what happens in the real situation.
Instead of staying put she told me she almost went downstairs to look for us. Instead of calling out to me she said she was embarrassed to yell loudly (which is truly a first for her). And despite the large number of stroller pushing mothers in the store she never thought to talk to one.
Lesson learned - more teaching is required. Refreshers on the steps all of us need to take. Because after this experience none of us want to go through that again.