My head was swimming. Everything sounded muffled and fuzzy, like I was underwater. My throat was choked, and I had to will my breath to stay consistent.
My eyes scanned the playground, crystal clear, but it still felt like nothing was in focus.
She can’t be lost. She’s here. She’s somewhere. LOOK HARDER!
I circled the playground, teeming with dozens of preschool kids. All of them looked the same. WHY WERE THEY ALL BLONDE?? Every kid had coloured streaks in their hair from Beaners, every kid was wearing shorts.
I will not panic. I will not be THAT mom. There’s no way she is lost. Oh shit, she doesn’t have her backpack on! Her backpack has my phone number.
I burst into the bathroom, calling her name. No answer. I met the eyes of another mom. She saw the fear. “Oh fuck” was all she said to me. Amen, sister.
Stay calm. What are you going to do? Do you ask people? But what if they just saw her sister? Same kid. How will you know? Should you call the police? WHAT DO YOU DO??? There’s a road, this is the end of the park, she could have gone anywhere, be anywhere.
WHERE IS SHE???
And then, a volunteer in a yellow shirt saw the frantic look in my eyes, panic bubbling under the surface as I clung to my last shreds of public dignity. “Are you missing a little girl?”
“We have her.”
The rest? A blur. Walking, walking, walking so far to the information tent. Crackles on the two-way radio, confirming that mom was found. Little blonde braided pigtails flying through the air, wrapping arms and legs around me, burying noses in each others necks.
“Oh Mommy, I lost you! I was so worried! I couldn’t see you!”
Shhh, baby. It’s okay. You’re safe.
That brief second where her curiosity tore her from the swing set towards the back of a food tent. Playing with a water hose, distracted. Then, lost.
No more mommy, just strangers. All alone.
Thank God the volunteers found my sweet baby, and that she was brave enough to tell them her name.
Thank God she is safe.