Did you ever have something happen to you that haunts you? It plagues your dreams? You keep reliving the "what ifs?"
Well, my family had one such event yesterday.
It was a time of absolute fear, panic and desperation rolled into one.
My hubby and I took our kids to Six Flags Over Texas to meet some Oklahoma family. Granted, it was Spring Break.... it was insanely crowded (so much so that we were told in the first 2 hours, there was a record-setting 15,000 passing through the gates.)
After a few hours of discussing, waiting in line and riding a few rides, we began moving.... our party of 6 adults and 6 kids. The kids ranged in ages from 13 to 5.
As we were walking toward our next ride, I decided the family needed a potty break. We called ahead to my cousins that we would catch up. I went into the ladies restroom while the boys went with Daddy into the other. I came out and saw #1.....he looked at me and asked, "Where is #4?"
Seeing as how Daddy wasn't out yet, I knew they were together.... and I stated as much.... until I saw Daddy.... without #4.
I lost my heart.
While hand-washing, DH saw #4 dash out.... he called to him to "wait up," but was not really concerned as the 3 older brothers were already out at the stroller. (Yes, we use a stroller for #4 when it is crowded, or there is a lot of walking, so that we can move quickly. In fact the progression is generally: Daddy pushing #4, followed by #1 and #2 and then Mom holding #3's hand and bringing up the rear.)
We..... I mean I am a paranoid parent. I am constantly counting noses, to be sure that we are all where we should be. I don't enter a bathroom alone until I see all the boys are with Daddy.
#4 never made it to the stroller.
He ran out and saw a daddy-look-alike..... and followed him.
We don't know how far he got before he realized it was not Daddy.
When hubby came out, and I realized we no longer had eyes on #4.....
Well, I can't say I panicked right away. I mean, he had JUST. RUN. OUT. He had to be near.
We looked in the men's restroom.
We looked in the women's restroom.
We looked in the line for the nearest ride (which was right behind the restrooms).
We looked into a crowd of hundreds.
It might as well have been millions.
Throngs of people going this way and that.
And no sign of my five-year-old son.
I pride myself in usually keeping a cool head.
We've had broken bones, busted lips, bloody noses, cracked noggins..... I just don't panic.
I don't recall ever feeling panic.
I calmly went to one of the workers to ask the protocol for "missing children."
She told me of the "Lost Parents" office in Looney Tune Land.
I called my cousin. They immediately turned and spread out. They retraced their steps, looking for the cute little blondie in a Buzz Lightyear shirt.
I texted names on my "recent list" with the words, "PRAY! We have lost #4!"
I started to holler his name. I expected him to be right there. I expected the hundreds of people to get quiet. I expect everyone to help me search for my child.
Fact: About 20,000 people in the park and less than a dozen knew he was gone.
I went through all this about 2 feet from my other children..... my cousins and my husband fanned out. We didn't know where to go.
With all the whack-jobs out there..... well..... I can't even put into words my fears.
One of my cousins stayed with my other 3 while I stood in the middle, hollering my son's name, fighting back panic, swallowing the fear, trying to function under the heaviness of desperation.
I have never felt so utterly helpless.
I have never felt..... so.....
I prayed. I didn't even know how. I could think of nothing holy. I couldn't formulate the flowery prayers that sound like they should reach God faster than the simple plea.
All I could say, over and over, was, "Oh, God! Please, Jesus!"
I called my mother..... and almost began to hyper-ventilate, for the first time in my life.
I asked her to pray. She did..... as well as the people in her office.
After about 15 minutes..... or was it 3 hours? My husband called and said, "I have him."
I almost collapsed in tears, pain, weakness, surrender, thankfulness, relief....
I texted all who had been called to pray, and told them our wonderful news.
My other children, when I reached them, all hugged me and said they had been praying. Judging from the looks on their faces.... they had been.
Our son had somehow gone quite a distance, before realizing he was going the wrong way. He started to cry. Thankfully, a Six Flags maintenance worker saw him and took him to the "Lost Parents" office.
Our son, through tears, told the guard his name, age and grade.
And he waited.
I have imagined how it must feel to lose a child.
I have felt the fear when, in a store, they travel an aisle or 2 over, without my knowledge. But, that fear is often laced with frustration that my child disobeyed and left my side.
This didn't happen.
He didn't do anything wrong,
WE didn't do anything wrong.
He just got confused and followed the wrong daddy.
Could it have been worse?
I can't..... no, I WON'T imagine possible outcomes.
I'm just thankful.
SO, SO THANKFUL.