Tuesday night was one of the worst nights of my life; I’m trembling now, just remembering.
We already knew it was going to be crazier than usual: Z-Man had Chess Club after school until 4:00 and Jo-Bear had play practice after school until 4:30. He’s the lead! Teacher, Princess and I had our usual Handbell rehearsal from 6:15 – 7:30. Jo-Bear and Z-Man’s Pioneers activity was bowling at a local bowling alley from 6:00 – 7:45 or 8:00. Angel Face had soccer practice from 5:30 – 7:30 and Academic Awards from 7:00 – 8:00. Finally, Jo-Bear’s summer soccer team had a meeting from 7:00 – 8:00.
We thought we had things fairly well under control, but as usual we were wrong.
Teacher went to pick up Z-Man after Chess Club, but couldn’t find him right away. Around 4:10 he called home to let me know he didn’t find Z-Man, and asked if he was already at home. It wouldn’t be the first time that we’d had a miscommunication with my Dad and both he and Teacher had gone to pick up one of the kids, but I started to feel a little anxious; I always worry when we don’t find the kids right away.
As the minutes passed my fear increased. After ten minutes I couldn’t stand it any more and called Teacher back, “Did you find him yet?” I was hoping he’d found Z-Man and just hadn’t taken the time to call me.
“No.” His voice was high and tight with panic. My body reacted immediately: heart racing, stomach sinking, mouth going dry, hands turning to ice.
Oh God, no… Please let him be all right…Please God let him be safe… Please God, please let us find him… Oh God… a litany of prayer began in my head.
I only remember snippets of our conversation: I asked if anyone was helping him look; he said there were lots of people looking. I asked if they’d checked the Teen room; he said they had. I said we should call the police; he said there were parents coming to pick up their kids from play practice, maybe Z-Man had gone home with a friend and was being brought back now. I paced from the play room through the dining room, and living room and back again, my whole body shaking.
What did he wear to school today? Was it the black Spiderman shirt? No that was yesterday. Didn’t he have on blue pants? Or was it grey sweats? Why can’t I remember?!
It seemed like time slowed down as I wondered where Z-Man was. Was he snatched while playing on the playground? Lured away by promises of candy or puppies or some other treat? Just a few days ago I’d had the “stranger danger” talk with him. I told him that we would NEVER send someone he didn’t know to pick him up, and even if someone said they were sent by his parents they weren’t so don’t go with them. I told him repeatedly and forcefully that we’d ONLY send people he knew to pick him up. He listened carefully, his big brown eyes looking soberly into mine as he nodded.
I thought of all the places he could have disappeared to in an hour, and tried not to imagine how scared he’d be if someone had taken him, or what terrible things could happen to him. I remembered the softness of his silky brown hair and regretted every single time I’d ever yelled at him.
Oh God please let him be all right…Please God let him be safe… Please God, please let us find him… Oh God…
By now everyone in the house knew there was something wrong; Little Guy, Peanut and Love Bug didn’t know what it was but they could feel the tension in the air. Irish Girl took charge of them; keeping them relatively quiet and out of the way despite their best efforts to be in the middle of things.
College Boy, Princess and Angel Face grabbed their cell phones and asked what they could do. Still on the phone with Teacher, I grabbed Z-Man’s class list and pointed to some of his friends’ names. I threw out more names as I thought of them: the after-school supervisor, the daycare parent from years and years ago who happened to live next to church, other friends.
Oh God please let him be all right…Please God let him be safe… Please God, please let us find him… Oh God…
Still on the phone with Teacher I head a babble of voices from his end of the phone and his voice barking at the principal, “What are your procedures for a missing child? What are you going to do?” he demanded.
Something deep in my gut told me I had to call the police NOW. “I’m calling 911!” I announced to Teacher.
“OK, keep me informed.” he said, and we hung up.
For the first time in my life I dialed 911.
“I need to report a missing child…”
Ten-month-old W, the last daycare child to be picked up, sensed our upset and began to cry. I scooped him up and settled him on my hip, carrying him as I paced desperately back and forth in the living room and answered the 911 dispatcher’s questions: What was his name, middle initial, age, race, what was he wearing… Oh God, I don’t know! How could I not have noticed?
I stopped my pacing by the kitchen where the older kids were making frantic phone calls, “Hey guys – anyone know what he was wearing today?” Eyes wide, they all shook their heads at me.
Feeling like the worst mom in the world I told the dispatcher we didn’t know what he was wearing, but his coat was army green – without a hood – and he had a red and black Spiderman backpack. Please let him still have his coat and backpack.
In another part of my brain I wondered if they’d need a photo of him, and if I had a current one. Oh God please let him be all right…Please God let him be safe… Please God, please let us find him… Oh God…
While I was on the phone with 911 W’s mom arrived to pick him up. Irish Girl took him from me and delivered him to his mom, explaining the situation. Immediately her face filled with concern, “Oh, Amy!” she said, her body tensing, “What can I do to help?” I think I stared blank-faced at her before babbling, “I don’t know – just pray.”
Some far-off part of my brain felt bad that I wasn’t able to talk to her about W’s day; I always enjoy telling her what he did and chatting with her in general, but I was still on the phone with 911. Unconsciously I paced back into the other room, just walking away and leaving her by the door – obviously I wasn’t thinking clearly.
After getting all of the information she needed, the dispatcher told me that officers were on the way to school and that I should call Teacher to tell him to stay at school until they arrived.
In the background I could still hear College Boy, Princess and Angel Face’s voices on their phones, and noticed that Irish Girl was still keeping an eye on the little ones.
I called Teacher again, and as I was relaying the dispatcher’s message my mom came into the house, closely followed by my brother Jay. “Z-Man’s missing!” I told her in between sentences. “I know; Dad’s on the way to school.” she replied, her face filled with worry.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered who called them. I’d thought about it but didn’t want to worry Mom and Dad – another sign that I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I thought I was. Oh God please let him be all right…Please God let him be safe… Please God, please let us find him… Oh God…
My memory here is sketchy at best. I remember ending my call to Teacher, and I remember seeing Mom and Jay standing in the living room, but the next thing I remember is College Boy answering the phone. I have no idea how much time had passed – it seemed like forever, but was actually 4:45 – just minutes after I got off the phone with Teacher. College Boy listened intently, nodding his head and making “Mmm-hmmm” sounds.
Holding my breath, I drifted closer to him; praying for good news and watching his face desperately for a positive sign. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God… I was very frustrated when second after second passed and he didn’t give us any indication whether it was good news or not.
“Yes, someone can be there in a few minutes.” he said and hung up.
“Did they find him?!” I stopped breathing as I waited for his answer.
Oh God please let him be all right…Please God let him be safe… Please God, please let him be OK… Oh God…
College Boy nodded. “He’s with an officer by the George Webb” (which is barely a mile from our house) and needs someone to go get him.”
Thank God! And thank you, Officer Rice, for finding our Z-Man!
I grabbed a phone to call Teacher and noticed W’s mom still by the door. She breathed a big sigh of relief. “Oh, I am SO glad he’s OK!” she said. I hugged her and babbled again, “Honestly, our lives aren’t usually this dramatic; just this year so far!” She laughed, and said something about getting out of our hair as she went out the door.
I dialed Teacher again, “They found him! He’s with a police officer at the George Webb. He needs someone to pick him up.”
“They found him! I heard him call out. “I’m on my way.” he said to me. I think I told him to drive safely but I really don’t remember. It’s strange how each moment seems crystal clear at the time but so fuzzy when you look back at it.
“Dad’s on his way there.” Mom told me. I vaguely remember seeing on a phone – probably Jay’s – while I was talking to Teacher.
The next thing I remember is our arms around each other as we both wept. “Praise God.” she murmured, “Thank God. Thank God he’s safe.”
I couldn’t say anything; I just sobbed wordlessly in my mom’s arms. She rubbed my back, “It’s OK now. He’s safe. It’s OK.” After a little while I pulled myself together. Mom went home to wait for Dad – she knew he’d be emotional and wanted to be there for him. Jay gave me a big hug and we chatted a bit before he went over to check on Mom. I asked the older children to call everyone they had called earlier to let them know that Z-Man was found.
It’s a 10-15 minute drive from school to our house, but it seemed like forever until Teacher pulled up in the driveway. I ran out the front door to meet Z-Man who had a Sheriff’s sticker on his coat, was clutching a football for dear life, and had tears flowing down his face.
I hugged him and held him for the longest time, then gave everyone else a turn, then grabbed him again and cuddled him on my lap. Apparently he had decided to walk home instead of waiting for his ride, but didn’t know why. He told me he was scared and his feet hurt – no wonder since school is over three miles away.
I’m guessing he won’t make that decision again!
We’re not sure when he left school and how long he was on his own, but the 40 minutes we knew he was missing were among the worst in my life. It’s given me new sympathy for parents whose children are missing for longer periods of time, and those whose children are never found.
They say that “all’s well that ends well” but that seems too trivial a phrase to express the depth of our emotions. I pray that we’ll never have to go through anything like that again. And that our family and friends are spared too.
Thanks and praise be to God for watching over our Z-Man and bringing him home safely.