It started out innocently enough. I had piled everyone outside — everyone being my one and four year old and the one and three year old that I look after occasionally. We were enjoying the mild autumn weather and decided to play hide and seek. The two older children would hide while I counted. I would seek the hiders — inevitably hiding together — while coaxing the one year olds to walk with me. My four year old then declared, “I’m going to hide in the best place ever!” Something dinged in me — momma early warning system, I like to call it — but I ignored it.
With the next round of counting, my four year old ran off on his own, the three year old hid nearby, and the one year olds decided to join her. They were only a few steps away, so I spent time exclaiming over how clever they were. We all set off to find my four year old. It took us some time to walk around the back yard with no sign of my son, so we headed to the front yard. I looked in all the bushes, around all the corners, all the while keeping the other three with me. By this time, it had been 10 minutes. I started to feel a small bubble of unease, and quickly herded everyone to the back yard again. 11 minutes. 12 minutes. 13 minutes. I’ve checked the back and side yard very thoroughly this time and have started calling out to my son. My neighbor across the street has started mowing her lawn. I’m hoping that he simply can’t hear me, but the bubble of unease has grown into a sticky ball of panic.
I start chucking kids into the house, so at least they’ll be safe, but I can’t leave them — even to check next door. I run back outside, continuing to call my son. I start to sob. 16 minutes. 17 minutes. 18 minutes. I run back inside, tripping over toys, searching for my phone. I call the girls’ mother, hoping she can understand me as I tell her she has to come get them now. She had already been on her way, and asked no questions as she hears the panic in my voice. I call my husband. He can’t understand what I’m saying, but simply states he’s on his way. 20 minutes. 21minutes. 22 minutes.
I’ve officially lost it. There’s no way he would have stayed hidden this long. I would have noticed a car lurking nearby, wouldn’t I? How could I have lost him this quickly? I hear my friend’s voice, “I’ve got him! He’s here!” She comes around the side of the house with my son, and I fall to my knees and hug him for all he’s worth. He was in the next yard, and my friend proved my suspicion. The lawn mower had been particularly loud over where he had been. He hadn’t heard me calling him. She saw him because of the direction she had been coming to the house. He had been missing for 25 minutes.