When Panic Strikes

Yesterday I had one of those parenting moments that you always think will never happen to you.  It stopped my heart, and turned my blood to ice, and for someone who is normally pretty calm and collected, I was surprised to find that I absolutely panicked.  We’re talking hysteria.

Here’s the story…. I finally decided that I felt able enough to venture out of the house alone with little Vijay.  If I could use only two words to describe my little one, they might be fast and fearless- so you can understand my hesitation at wanting to take him out into the great wide open, seeing as that I can’t move very well.  I decided we would drive to the campus bookstore, which he loves, and wait for my husband to meet us there after work.  Simple enough.

We had a great time- we read books for about 1/2 hour, and played a few little games, when my husband called to tell us he was on his way.  I told Vijay to pick two more books, and by the time we read them, DaDa would be there to meet us.  When we finished our books, Vijay stood up from where we were sitting on the floor, and took off.  It took me quite some time to get up and follow- from sitting, to kneeling, them hoisting myself up to my feet, and waiting for my back cramp to subside- and by the time I was ready to go, he was nowhere to be seen.

I started limping around, calling his name, getting more and more frantic.  A minute passed.  Two minutes.  No sign of Vijay.

I hit the panic button with full force, grabbing the first bookstore employee I could find and screaming, “I can’t find my son.”  She was wonderful- quickly locking down the entire bookstore and turning on the alarm.  Every employee, and several customers began looking for Vijay- frankly, I don’t remember any of this happening, I was in my own world of panic and tears.  Meanwhile, my husband had just come in, and as soon as he saw my face, he took off for the second floor of the bookstore, knowing just what was going on.  Granted- this is not a large bookstore- two stories, pretty contained.  But I was having visions of Vijay being snatched, or having run out into traffic.

Perhaps four minutes had passed when I heard an employee shout- “He’s here.  He’s been found.”  My husband had found him on the second floor, in the very back of the bookstore, making his way into the stock room.  By this time, all eyes were on us, and I was sobbing as I took him in my arms.  What a sight I must have been- super pregnant, super hysterical, clinging to my little guy, who was smiling without a care in the world, having no idea what all the fuss was about.  All’s well that ends well, I suppose, and this ended up being a pretty minor incident, all things considered, but it took several hours for my heart rate to return to normal, and for the tears to subside.  I was weepy for the rest of the evening, thinking of what could have happened.  I woke up with nightmares throughout the night, and had to go into the nursery and check on my sleeping boy.

I am learning that being a mother means a big piece of your heart is outside of your body, walking around the world, susceptible to danger.  Heightened emotions, and extreme fragility are just two of the side effects of this.  You hear mothers tell stories about losing their children all the time- usually told with laughter years after the actual incident occurs.  I think it will take years before I can talk about this incident without tearing up.  In the meantime, I’m holding my little guy close today, and thinking that perhaps a play day at home is just what the doctor ordered.

I’m curious- have you ever felt that panic when you thought you lost your child?  Any stories you would care to share to ease my feeling of being ‘the only one this has ever happened to?’

16 thoughts on “When Panic Strikes

  1. Kristianna

    Oh you poor dear. I have 3 kids and have to admit most trips to the park or beach involve at least a few moments of 'where is ______?' The worst was when I was pregnant with my 3rd and took the older 2 to an amusement park. My middle child, was nearly 2 at the time and the group I was with (mother's club; I was not crazy enough to try it ALONE while pregnant and slow) was walking along a path, but the little guy needed to squat to, ya know… go #2 in his diaper, so he stopped and no one noticed until we were around a corner. He stayed put, so I found him, but it was so scary. It happens. Kids wander. My parents had to put a leash of sorts on me (in the 70s this was seen as even weirder than some see it now) because I was a wandering child and nearly gave them heart attacks repeatedly.

    Best wishes as you end out your pregnancy.

  2. Kellie from Indiana

    YES!! My son was, pardon my expression “hell on wheels” when he was younger. I could barely bat an eyelash without him disappearing. I would panic and start the hunt for him. Luckily for me he would be hiding in a nearby clothes rack. He would “stalk” me, he thought it was so funny. Took awhile and some of my tears for him to realize its not funny. It never ends, he's twenty now and if I fall asleep before he gets home I always wake up with a feeling of dread and run toward his room to see if the door is closed. I'm sorry to say it's neverending, the feeling that we can lose something so precious and dear to us. I am so glad your son is safe. Take it easy on yourself, I know as mothers we tend to beat ourselves up when these kinds of things happen.

  3. Mama Poobah

    I went to a Scottish festival with tons of tents and people milling around, and my two-year old daughter was supposed to be holding onto the stroller her younger brother was in. She must have let go when I turned to look at a stall, because suddenly I'm whipping around frantically not seeing her, and within 30 seconds, I'm yelling her name. A group of four or five people chatting and drinking pints, and one calls out, “Over here.” She was in the center of their circle looking up at them and apparently deciding she wanted to be in on the conversation. It only took a minute, and I was freaked out for hours.

  4. Gk Threek

    I so feel your pain! We are very laid back parents, we don't hover or overdictate or do crazy extra schooling, or whatnot. But we are hardcore, and I mean scream my bloody head off (with appropriate language and more intensity than volume) when it comes to 2 things: Treating other people kindly, and you never get out of eye sight of mama or dada. Those are the only times I lose my cool, and they get it. Like from walking and on, you don't cross your parents on those things. Be strong girl!

  5. Professoressa

    My nephew and I went to pick up my neice after school and she wasn't there. I will never forget the horror I felt at that moment.

    With a firm grip on my nephew, I raced through the school corridors screaming her name, tears streaming down my face. I was hysterical when the principal caught up with me.

    The gym teacher had a large group of older kids. As soon as he heard a child was missing, he blew his whistle and they were all searching for her. My nephew was too young to understand what was happening, but he was showing signs of distress too seeing me cry for the first time.

    In minutes a little girl was discovered to have seen my neice. The child witness said, “She seemed to be walking with someone she knew.”

    I hit the ground at that point on visions of our child having been taken by someone she “knew.” I called home and learned Grandma had completely forgotten I was asked to pick her up. Only when I heard my neice on the phone did I start to calm down.

    These things happen. I am just so grateful she was at home, safe. Grandma uses post-it notes now.


  6. Anonymous

    I had my four under 5 with me in a parking lot at the mall and as I strapped the 5 month old baby in his Bjorn to my chest, the oldest two took hold of my pockets (a hard and fast rule in my little platoon). The 2 year old on the other hand, darted away to the entrance of the mall…..through the parking lot……giving me screaming hysteria, since I couldn't run with all my other little guys. A stranger caught him by the hand and waited for me to catch up. We went fast to the nearest store which sold those (in my mind 'horrible leash things”) and clipped it to my Bjorn with my 2 year old wearing it. We never looked back. We may have looked crazy to other people, but I knew where my babies were and I felt safer! You do what you have to do to stay safe and have peace of mind. I feel your pain!

  7. agujasblog

    I can completely relate. Especially after reading about so many horrors in the world – shootings in a movie theater, cousins missing. My son is curious and had the tendency to follow things that interested him. We were in a science museum when he wandered off. It only took a split second. We looked for him on every floor. That museum had so many nooks and turns. I had images of him stuck inside some storage closet; or worse, taken by someone who lurks around museums looking for the right opportunity.mit was chilly. I can't even remember how we found him. Now that he's older, he knows to stay close,mod only to spare his mom a panic attack. I'm glad your little boy is fine.

  8. Rubia Monteiro

    I went through something similar with my daughter this year, at the supermarket. We were buying Easter eggs and suddenly she was gone … in seconds, I panicked. I remembered everything that was taught to her. Do not move, even someone asking for help. I took a few turns. It seemed that he was not breathing, I could not hear anything. It's amazing what happens to the gent is not it? All the stress returned to find her. Soon after she saw me … he ran and hugged me hard, crying. He said he felt very afraid of losing me … Imagine me? Really, the son is what we call the heart out of our body …

    Being a parent is the greatest act of courage that anyone can have, is if Exor to all kinds of pain and fear of losing someone so amado.Mas, lose as if they are not ours? They were only on loan …
    Rubia Monteiro

  9. Kellen

    My daughter was four, I was 18 months pregnant, and we were at the beach with family. She was playing at my feet and then she wasn't. I got up already sensing something wrong. She had taken to running off very fast in the past few months. Christine, it took twenty minutes to find her. On a beach, ocean to worry about, with strangers, with ponds- three at the hotel. I was hysterical and thinking the worst. When finally her cousin came walking down the beach holding her hand. They had gone to the park to play near by. He was sixteen and saw nothing wrong with this. He told no one he was taking her. Thought he was doing something nice. It still isn't funny to me even now.

    Parenting is not for the weak of heart. It takes courage every day to be the mama I know you are. First, just know you are not the only one this has happened to. Yes, parenting is challenging at times…many times. Yes, there are moments like these that make you question many parts to this whole deal. Somehow with the joy and pain involved, the joy is what we remember in the end.

    I remind myself of that all the time. So, take heart as you welcome this new baby into your family that you just have to do the very best you can at any given moment. That's all. It will be enough.

    My love to you and your boys. Hope they are lavishing you with all types of pampering as you await the new baby.

  10. Elyse

    hi christine,

    checking in to see if baby arrived but my heart is racing over your story that instantly brought up a terrifying memory of my own.

    when my boys were very small we would spend hours and hours at “the baby park” (on humboldt) with many mom friends. in the fall, we would even stay until dark and it all seemed so fresh and safe and magical until one early evening as we all packed up to go and i could not find my youngest, probably 3 at the time. as we all called for him, the park grew darker and i tried to seem brave to my oldest (age 5). finally another mom found e hiding on a tree stump. he was afraid he would be in trouble. in the dark of 6:30 p.m. in november i drove my boys home, rattled and overjoyed.

    i still get very rattled at the thought.

    enjoy your quiet day. you need it, my friend.


  11. 1001 remedes naturels

    It's a nightmare and I won't forget that.
    Even if my daughter is now 18 years old (in August).
    I was hysterical, stupid probably but it was terrifing.
    You are true, our heart is out of our body (a big part of time, for a mother).
    Take care of you.
    Read you
    Julie (from France)

  12. Lindsay Law

    I was crying along with you as I read the post. My younger daughter (she was 3 1/2 at the time) went through a stage of wandering off. She did it once in a large department store (a member of staff found her hiding behind some clothes: “Am playing hide and seek with Mama” she claimed, except Mama had no idea!). She did it once in Heathrow airport. A lifetime of loss flashed before my eyes in the ten minutes before we found her. It was appalling, and I hope I never feel it again. But still, all's well that ends well. And there was an amusing coda. We found her next to the Chanel store, talking to the assistant, who asked:
    “What does your Daddy look like?”
    “Boy-shaped” my daughter replied.

    Of all the men at the airport, my husband probably fit that description least that day. We were travelling to a wedding in Spain, and my husband was wearing his wedding outfit so it wouldn't get crushed or lost in transit. It was, of course, that Scottish skirt, the kilt! Hardly boy-shaped.

  13. Heather of WA State

    I was visiting my mother, who lives on a busy street. My daughters were 3 and 1. I was holding my 1 year old in my arms and had dropped my 3 year old's hand for just a moment to help my elderly mother up the curb. My daughter was right in front of me where I could see her, and then she was gone. She dashed between parked cars and across the street. When I was a child another child was hit by a car and killed in the street, and for an instant I thought it was history replaying, although this time it was my child. That family was destroyed, and many childhoods, including my own, were haunted by that event. I was so stunned to find myself unable to move, unable to yell out, and absolutely terror stricken. Finally I was able to find my voice to yell at my daughter to stay there (on the other side of the street) while I tried to get passing cars to stop so I could get across to her. It was a miracle she wasn't hit. I started using a leash for her from that day forward, and shamelessly used a leash for her little sister as well, until they were both about 5 years old.


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