I couldn’t find my 5 year old son for about 20 minutes and it was the most frightening, gut-wrenching moment in my life. We were at a family party with a ton of kids playing in the front yard and some parents and teenagers taking watch. Long story short, time had gone by where all of the other kids had come in and when I went outside to get him for dinner, he was gone. After calling for him, peering in bushes, checking the entire inside of the house, I panicked. It had gotten dark and the safe suburban cul-de-sac was eerily quiet. The party quickly came focused on finding Joey. In those 20 minutes multiple family members took off on foot through the neighborhood and some in cars, calling his name and looking for him. I held it together the best I could because I couldn’t think of unthinkable things happening to my baby boy.
I was on the phone with 911 when he was found hiding on the front porch. I hung up the phone, collapsed on the grass with him in my arms and cried harder than I have ever cried before. A few people had already looked in that exact spot, including myself, but with the dark and shadows, didn’t see him. His only reason for hiding was that there were too many people inside that he didn’t know. Kids….
It’s hard to relive that time in my head because now I do think of the other horrible ways it could have ended. I worry that it is such a reflection of my parenting. I knew he wasn’t comfortable with how many new faces were at the party and I shrugged it off. As a mom I have always struggled with the instinct to hover and know their every move to ensure their safety. This was one of those few moments I told myself to cut my kid some slack. Whoops.
I am now humbled by how easy it is to cast stones from our proverbial glass houses when we hear of other parents foibles. I suspect every parent has had a moment (or more) in their career that makes them not so proud- kids falling out of grocery carts, off changing tables, falling into pools; the kids that get lost in the grocery store….or the teenagers that get caught stealing, or drinking, or texting inappropriate things. I can now relate to the internal struggle of beating yourself up with the “woulda, shoulda, couldas” and it feels awful.
But as I’ve had some time to reflect, I believe that most of the population are doing the best they know how to as parents. The fact is that we aren’t perfect and this job does not come with an instruction manual. And even if it did, despite our best efforts, we just can’t control everything. It is really up to us, a community of parents, to learn from and help each other, rather than judge one another’s mistakes. I have so much gratitude to those who have already shared their “scary moment” story with me since this happened. It feels good to know that I am not alone and this one incident does not make me a bad mother. It’s just my responsibility to learn from this.
Now I’m not condoning leaving your babies home alone, or unattended with small objects to choke on- but there are going to be trial and error in this parenting gig. I pray for you that big lessons come with small prices, and that you give yourself a break. Tomorrow is another day to do it better.