I was reminded this morning of my worst parenting experience. Four years ago, I was 7 months pregnant, and having just entered the last trimester, I was exhausted. It was a Friday afternoon and my husband had just come home from work early. He had been to the doctors earlier in the day and needed a prescription. I was lying in bed reading a book when he got home. He told me that he was going to run out to the pharmacy and get the prescription filled. My oldest who was three started crying, as his dad got ready to go. He really wanted to go with him, but he was still wearing his PJ’s.
Even though it was close to five o’clock, I had failed to get him dressed because on this particular day we didn’t leave the house. I was barely dressed myself with yoga pants and a t-shirt. At this point in my pregnancy, bras were strictly for public appearances, and I had no plans to venture into public.
I knew what it was like to want to run to the store without dressing a toddler, strapping him in the car, out of the car, into the shopping cart. It is exhausting to even think about. So when my husband opted to go by himself I wasn’t surprised, and I didn’t blame him. I heard the door close and him leave.
I was still in bed upstairs, and S was in the playroom. I could hear him playing and continued reading. Until I heard nothing. He could be a very quiet, so I called his name, and there was no response. My mom Spidey sense told me something was wrong. I heaved my very pregnant self out of bed and went downstairs. The front door was wide open; I walked past it to the playroom. It was empty. I went into the yard and called his name, no answer. I was running around the yard checking potential hiding, or playing spots. I ran back into the house to get the phone when I noticed that his shoes were missing.
I called my husband, panicked. Did you come back and get S? “No why” he asked. He is gone, and I hung up. I grabbed my car keys knowing that my pregnant belly was going to stop me from running around the neighbourhood. My gut told me that he was heading to the grocery store. I drove to the end of the street, and no toddler. I could see a few blocks ahead and no toddler. I turned in the opposite direction from the grocery store, because there is a very busy street a block away and it was rush hour. I was worried that if he went that way even though it wasn’t on the way to the store that he might get hit.
At this point, it has been less than 5 minutes since I noticed that he was missing. He was three how far could be get? All of the horrible possibilities flooded my mind. Then I saw him, a block away with two elderly women, standing on the street corner. He was wearing PJ’s and his shoes were on the wrong feet. I swept in and hugged him. I was a complete disaster with tear streaming, pregnant belly, ill-fitting clothes, and no shoes.
The women told me that he was walking down the middle of the road. They stopped because they knew that something was wrong, their little blue car was still parked in the middle of the road with the doors open. They told me that he wouldn’t talk to them, and commended me on his stranger awareness.
I was completely overcome with emotion. I was buckling him into his car seat, and one of them said “Don’t worry he is fine. It happens to all of us honey”. They didn’t pass judgement; they didn’t ask questions, they showed kindness, which is exactly what I needed.
As I pulled in the driveway, my husband pulled down the street. After my panicked call, He left his purchases in the store, and drove the five blocks home. I couldn’t even talk I was so upset. He asked S what he was doing, and he said he was going to the store to find daddy. We later realized that our young adventurer was following the path that my husband would drive to get to the store, which incidentally isn’t the fastest route by foot.
The entire incident took maybe five minutes but the scar it left will last a lifetime. Indiana Jones was fine. I was not. It took me a while to get over the incident, as I write this I still have tears in my eyes. We now have a door chime, and I am reminded every time that I open a door about the incident. Four years later, I remember the detail and the pain like it was an hour ago.
I never would have guessed that S would venture out into the world at three without an adult. He had never left the yard alone. However, this particular day he really wanted to go to the store with daddy. We hear stories all the time with kids wandering off, and sometimes they do not have happy endings. Before this incident, I would have been judging the parenting ability of people that lose their children. Now I know that it can happen to any of us and if it happens to you, I wish you the kindness of strangers.