What Do You Do When Your Child Disappears?

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Last Friday, my eight year-old daughter, Essa, stayed home from school with a bad case of everyone-else-in-my-class-is-sick-so-I-wanna-be-sick-too-itis.

As a mother, I’ve experienced these strange illnesses before. My son, Taylor, once had I-can’t-go-to-school-because-I-sprained-my-ankle-and-halfway-through-my-day-off-started-limping-on-the-wrong-foot syndrome, and my other daughter, Grace, recently struggled with I-didn’t-get-my-book-report-finished-therefore-I’ll-cry-until-my-face-turns-an-unnatural-shade-of-puke-so-I-can-stay-home-and-finish-it disorder.

Needless to say, I’m usually unsympathetic to the sudden onset of these strange and often fleeting maladies, but last week, when Essa came down the stairs looking like this, I caved.

Essa’s hair is unusually dark in this picture thanks to highlights expertly applied by the Sharpie she’s not supposed to have in her room. That application, coupled with a furrowed brow, deeply pained eyes, and hair sticking out in so many directions she must have styled it herself, makes for a pretty clean case.

Essa’s hair is unusually dark in this picture thanks to highlights expertly applied by the Sharpie she’s not supposed to have in her room. That application, coupled with a furrowed brow, deeply pained eyes, and hair sticking out in so many directions she must have styled it herself, makes for a pretty clean case.

Knowing Essa wasn’t that sick (she had a sinus infection), I asked her to take our dog, Wrigley, to the bathroom while I shuffled Grace into the car for the four-minute drive to school. Completely unhurried and in zero danger of receiving a dreaded tardy slip, I pulled out of the garage and left Essa behind with Wrigley, talking to a neighbor who lives up the street.

This is where I left my daughter.

This is where I left my daughter.

This part bears repeating, so I will. I intentionally, without thought or concern, drove off without my eight year-old daughter.

When I got home, Essa was gone.

When you leave your child alone and assume that upon returning she’ll be at the kitchen table coloring, in the bathroom, or en route to her room in search of a favorite book only to find she isn’t anywhere she’s supposed to be? The sound of her absence is deafening.

My first thought was that Wrigley had gotten loose, so I immediately ran to the back yard and up into the scrub oak calling their names. No luck. I then jumped into my car and drove the area where we often walk our dog. Twice. Still no Essa. I came back home and searched the house, yard and scrub oak again. Nothing. I next called a monitoring company (when you adopt a dog, the shelter often puts a microchip in him so that he can be returned if he’s lost), with the hope that Wrigley’s chip could be tracked. It couldn’t. Still alone, battling the roaring silence in my house, and scared out of my mind, I started to cry, and in that state of panic, called our neighborhood security. Our security officers, in turn, contacted the county Sheriff, and within five minutes, three security vehicles and two patrol cars screeched to a halt in front of my house.

That's Essa and me in front of the scrub oak where I was trying to find her...obviously on a different day.

That’s Essa and me in front of the scrub oak where I was trying to find her…obviously on a different day.

In almost thirteen years as a mother, I’d never, not even for a second, lost a child.

For me, the most poignant moment in that endless vacuum of time was pulling Essa’s child identity card from my wallet to give to the police officer; the one you think you’ll never use. She’s wearing her favorite softie bunny t-shirt, a pair of puppy earrings that she begged me to let her clip on for her school picture, and a huge grin. My baby was right in front of me, only she wasn’t. It was just a picture of her smiling at the world from the confines of a one-dimensional, laminated card, surrounded by information only meant to be used under the worst possible circumstances.

One officer took the card and left, and I covered my face and sobbed…a release of emotion so guttural and deep that it felt like the entire world had shifted beneath me, shaping itself into a self-created prison I had never, in my darkest nightmares, expected to know.

As I turned toward the house, I saw a little girl and her dog walking down the street in my peripheral view. My little girl and my dog. The confluence of emotions I felt in that moment is almost impossible to describe. Love. Relief. Incredulity. Happiness. Disbelief. Thankfulness. Wonder. I could use a million different descriptors and never get it right.

As she approached, I saw that Essa wasn’t alone. She was with the neighbor I’d left her talking to when I took Grace to school. That neighbor, who’s name I don’t know, who’s house is somewhere up the street, who I’ve exchanged small talk with when I pass her walking our dogs but who’s never been invited into my family’s life, and who appears to be my age (which is to say, not young), thought it was O.K. to take my daughter for a 45-minute walk without my permission.

Even more disturbing to me however, was that Essa thought it was O.K. too.

And that’s why I’m telling this story.

There are at least three important emotions I left out above in trying to describe how I felt when Essa came home. Anger, embarrassment, and shame.

I was embarrassed to call the police when I couldn’t find my daughter.

I was ashamed to admit I’d left her alone.

I was angry with the woman who took her for a walk without my permission.

I was angry with Essa for going.

But most of all, a thousand times over, on top of my conscience, through my heart and back? I was angry with myself. I’m a mother. My primary job is protect my children. My secondary one is to teach them. I did neither in this case.

Somehow, between raising three kids, skirting in and out of once strictly bound parameters that have loosened with time, brushing hair and trimming nails, packing healthy lunches and hiding Halloween candy, I neglected to teach Essa the many shapes a stranger can take, and that just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean you can walk away with them. To her, the lady she left our house with was a nice person with a dog who she could trust. To me? That lady was, and still is, a stranger.

How could I have allowed such a huge disconnect between the two?

Once Essa was safely inside, a compassionate police officer explained that she falls within an age range of children who have a difficult time determining who a stranger really is. We all tell our children the classic “Stranger Danger” stories, often revolving around a creepy man at the mall who attempts to lure them into his car with candy. But what about an adult who doesn’t fit that description at all? What about a person that an eight year-old girl, who still believes in Santa and considers her favorite stuffed animals to be among some of her besties, might see as a friend just because she seems nice?

When it comes to dealing with adults, I’ve always taught my children to be kind, polite, and to defer to authority. I’ve never told them to pull back, be suspicious, say no, or walk away. It’s a gray area, but it’s one that she, and every child, should better understand.

Last Friday, I set off a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the payment of a small price for lessons my entire family has now learned. You only have to turn on the news to see that I was lucky.

I’d like to express a sincere and heartfelt thank you to all the officers who responded to my call. Every person who came to help me find Essa acted professionally, compassionately, delicately, and diligently. It’s a day I’ll never forget, and I will remain forever grateful to everyone who assisted and supported our family.

106 responses »

  1. It took a lot of courage to write this piece, Stacie. I probably wouldn’t have exposed myself to the public like that. Congratulations for doing that. I got chills reading your piece – not because I’ve lost a child (thankfully!) but because last Thursday, I left Gabi home alone – sick – for more than an hour as I took Maya to school. Yes, she’s a bit older but not by much… I can only imagine what you went through. Glad Essa is safe and sound. Thanks for the reminder; I will use this piece as a learning opportunity for my children. Also, maybe now I will have the girls’ identity cards in an easily-accessible place just in case — and hope that I never need them. A sigh of relief and a silent message of thanks to our friend up there.

    • I’m so embarrassed, Stella, but after thinking about it all weekend and then waking up this morning at 3:30 still thinking about it, I felt like I had to share my story with the hope that someone else will make a better decision than I did. Thank you for your lovely comment and willingness to share. I’m still feeling like the worst mother on the planet. =\

  2. Wow, Stacie. I don’t even have kids and this scared the beejeezus out of me. Thank Heavens Essa is ok. The burning question is, how or did you address the neighbor?

  3. Ugh. Being a mother to a daughter the same age as Essa, this was hard to read. But I imagine it must have been impossibly hard to write. I’m glad you did. We’ve all been there. Maybe not exactly under the same circumstances, but I know I’ve made so many mistakes with my kids that could have easily gone the wrong way. It’s humbling, and staggering, and your stark honesty is a great reminder to have the tough conversations with our kids.

    Big hugs to you. I’m so glad Essa is safe!

    • Thanks Beth. One of the things I realized this weekend, is that as my youngest, Essa gets less of me and by default more leeway than her older siblings did. Anyone who has children who are, let’s say 2, 4, and 6 and reads this will be horrified by my mistakes. Anyone who has children who are, let’s say 7, 9, and 11, knowing that this happened with my youngest, will better understand. Anyone who’s in law enforcement and doesn’t know me will probably try to have me arrested (that was an attempt at humor, although a reasonably uncomfortable one). Thanks for your candor, hugs and love. I don’t feel like I deserve them but I appreciate them nonetheless.

  4. Well said, but I hope in writing this you can move on and forgive yourself. Thanks for a lesson well learned, albeit at your expense. We live in a a loosely gated neighborhood that we should not take for granted as “safe”. You are a wonderful, super great mom. I hope you are taking the day to forgive yourself.

    • You always have a way of making me tear up, Beth. As I thought about it this weekend (and talked through it with supportive friends like you), I felt like to expose my mistakes would be a way to help someone else not make them. Writing this will help me move on, which needs to happen right about now, because Wrigley really needs to go to the bathroom. Love you. xoxo

  5. This is a magnificent story. I remember the time I went to a friend’s to play Business (an Indian version of Monopoly) and lost track of time. It was about 10 pm when I got home to ashen faces and a family that was contemplating reporting me missing. But this story beats that ;)
    As for faking illness to skip school, if I really were as sick as the number of times I faked, I’d be a medical marvel. Fortunately my parents saw through most of my pretenses.

    • Thanks, Bharat. That someone who doesn’t have kids and is a hip, totally cool twenty-something guy can relate makes me feel like telling the story was worth the embarrassment. As for my trio of fakers, I totally cut Essa slack that day. That won’t happen again either. =p

    • I think the half dozen police cars in front of our house spoke in much louder tones than anything I could have said to her, but rest assured, there has been a lot of talk around the table for the past 72 hours. I swear my next post will be lighter, but as awkward as it felt to write this, I hope it helps someone else. Thanks for the kind wishes. =)

  6. As Beth Christopher said in her comment, we all make our share of mistakes. Raising children is a learning process, and because every child is different, the process is unique each time. I’ve made a thousand mistakes with my kids; all parents do. The things we see on the news are just the bad outcomes — and, I’m sure, just the tip of a huge iceberg. You’re a great mom, Stacie; your kids know that, and benefit from it every day of their lives. If only that neighbor would read your blog, but I’m sure that’s too much to hope for.

    • I’ve definitely made thousands of mistakes right along with you over the past thirteen years, but this one was so overwhelming. It will be a long time before I stop beating myself up for leaving Essa behind in the company of someone I didn’t know, not because she (the neighbor) is a bad person, but because she’s an unknown person to me. I appreciate your support, though. Your comments always make me feel better about life in general, so thank you. =/

  7. I taught my son not to trust anyone. That is kind of sad I know, but real predators are often people you know, and people you would normally trust. Teaching him to be wary came with a whole other set of issues, but I never wanted him to be a victim so that was the course I chose. He just turned 23 and he is happy and healthy. Your little girl is beautiful. I am glad she is safe. My heart goes out to you. :)

    • It IS sad that you had to teach your son to be wary, but it’s also the world we live in. There are a lot of people I’d trust my children with, but never, ever, an acquaintance. I consider myself to be a cautious person, and I still don’t understand why or how I got in my car, drove away, and left Essa behind. But I did.
      I’m glad to hear that your son is happy and healthy, and I appreciate your kind words, Dani.

  8. This was a great post, my gorgeous friend. I lost my daughter once at Walmart when she decided it might be fun to hide inside one of the many clothing racks inside the store. It’s incredible how much that shame dominates, even when you need to be loud and vocal. I started to panic and walked quickly up and down the aisles, calling her name quietly at first. The louder I got, the more ashamed I felt, knowing that more and more people would know that I did the unthinkable and looked away from my child for a moment in a busy mall. When I finally found her, I hugged her so tight that she begged me to let go. I was so relieved, but I was also angry. My children, from the age that they could understand, were taught about Stranger Danger and how to protect themselves in the event that someone tried to take them.

    I don’t know what possessed her to do what she did that day, but it was the one and only time. I’ll never forget that feeling of not knowing where she was, even if it was just briefly. I don’t wish that feeling on anyone.

    I’m so glad you got your baby back Staciekins. xo

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Wendy, and for all your positive thoughts. I don’t wish a missing child on anyone in the history of ever, but it’s comforting to know I’m not alone when then come back. xoxo

      • I think most parents have had this happen to them at least once. You are definitely not alone. xo

  9. This post had me remembering back to those big hugs essa used to give to my legs on the soccer field (when she was much smaller of course). She has always been so sweet and innocent! This is a good reminder for all of us parents. PS. – I am back to coaching Mary an Makenna (on the same soccer team) for the coming season and we would love to add Grace and Essa if they are ready to take up soccer again!

    • It’s so nice of you to comment, Kevin. Essa is the most trusting, loving child, and for that reason alone I should have always been more cautious with her. Instead I was the opposite. But never again. I’ll talk to her about soccer. Grace is tied up with three other sports, but if Essa is interested I’ll shoot you an email. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I hope you, Tina, and the kids are all well. =)

  10. My heart was heavy as I read this, and my chest tight, because I could feel your pain. Or at least empathize with it. I’ve had mere moments in a store when I couldn’t see my child (when they were younger), and I felt immediate panic. How terrifying that you had to experience such a feeling for almost an hour. I’m so glad things turned out okay, and no doubt the relief you felt is indescribable.

    And you are so right. We need to remember to tell our children that it’s not only strangers that might not be trusted.

    Thanks for a visceral post that gives all of us with kids an important reminder.

    • Thank you for your sweet thoughts, Carrie. If there was a Kind Blogger award I’d give it to you, no strings attached. Well maybe a couple of embarrassing facts about your childhood, but that’s it. I’ll be stopping by later this afternoon, and I promise, no annoying gifts. xoxo

      • Ah, thank you. Very nice of you to say. But you’ll never get me to post that photo of me from the late 80s with my big hair and my big red glasses. Never! ;)

  11. I am re blogging this. Perfect energetic way to relieve your needless self-berating. The blessing of a stern reminder instead of a life long regret. Shows you are living right! Also the energy flow is ripe for”accidents”like that..Plus of Essa was not so capable, you would not have been comfortable leaving her to simply safely walk the dog.
    You can’t disappear so you have to at least give your self permission to be forgiven (by you and everyone else you think should).That will help move things along. Permission to forgive.
    Courage, strength and love to all of you!

    • You’re so reasonable, rational and calm, Amber. I truly love reading your words because you’re definitely on a higher plane than I am. You make me feel lighter, and I appreciate that. I also appreciate you re-blogging this post. I hope that my thoughtless mistakes help someone else choose more wisely. Lots of love back ‘atcha!

  12. When I initially read your title, I thought to myself, “There must be a twist.” But there wasn’t. So as your story unfolded, I was filled with an anxiety that I can’t describe. Even though I’m not a mother, I know how devoted you are to your children and I’m so sorry that you had to go through those agonizing minutes of terror, wondering if Essa was lost for good. You’re so brave to put this out there; many people wouldn’t admit to the little mistakes that they make as parents that can add up to disaster. However, I’m willing to bet that this story will save a child’s life. After reading this, no parent would leave a child home alone – even for a few minutes – without thinking pretty darn seriously about it.

    Now, on to the neighbor. I hope you gave that person a piece of your mind for taking off with your daughter for 45 minutes. Did the police question the neighbor at all or Essa?

    Blogging Bestie, this post deserves to be Pressed, not only because it’s so well-written, but because it could save lives. Thanks for your honesty and your beautifully woven words, as always.

    xo

  13. The most scared i have ever been in my life was when i thought my kiddo went missing….felt the tension in this whole piece. Glad the lesson learned didnt come at a higher cost! Do not beat yerself up. I also love the fact that you snowboard!!!

    • I don’t know who you are, anonymous, but I appreciate your kind words. I also appreciate that you like snowboarding. Unfortunately, we haven’t had enough snow this year to board in the back yard. As soon as we get a good storm though, I’m grabbing Essa and heading out.
      =)

  14. Thanks for sharing Stacie. A great reminder for all of us. This does bring up a good question though. What is the appropriate age to leave a child home alone?

    • That’s a great question, but one, per the post above, I feel woefully unqualified to answer. I’d say the solution starts with a look at the maturity of the child and the time he or she would be alone. I hope this helps, I’m probably the last person in the world who should state my opinion. =/

  15. This story hit me particularly hard this morning. At 8:35am I walked out to my garage to take the kids to the bus and realized I didn’t have a car to take them since my husband took it to the mountains and my son took his car to school. So I told them to walk fast as I watched them walk up the main street towards the pool parking lot. When they got to the corner, a white BMW stopped and they got in the car, the car turned around and headed back to the pool. I panicked and was too far to stop them, but remembered seeing that car at the bus stop previously, so was hopeful that this was a friendly neighbor that didn’t want the kids to miss the bus. I called the person who I thought owned the car and it wasn’t her. I ran up to the corner to watch the bus go by, and I saw a kid waving, but the bus went by so fast I’m not even sure it was my kids. Now is the worst part…I assumed they got to school since I didn’t get a call. Now as I’m writing this I just called the school to see if they were marked absent. How stupid do I feel asking the woman in the office if my kids made it to school 2 1/2 hours after school started! They were not marked absent….Phew!

    • Thanks for leaving such a personal comment, Carrie. It’s really sad that we live in a world where we have to second guess just about anyone who isn’t a blood relative. But that’s the way it is. The person in the BMW probably knew your kids and visa-versa…just trying to do a good deed. I think 99.99% of the population falls into that category, and it’s the .01% we have to worry about. What a shame. I hope you and your family are well. =/

  16. I am more than relieved that Essa is fine, safe and at home. I appreciate your ability to be honest with yourself and to evaluate your actions as objectively as possible.

    You mothers are brave and amazing creatures. I backed out of that deal because I’m a coward and didn’t think my being a parent would work. This story reminds me of when my mom lost my little brother. While she sat in front of our building with other mothers and their children, my little brother who was probably about 2 and a half or three, wandered off with a little girl his age and wound up a half a mile away. Some nice lady found them, took them in, gave them milk and cookies and called the police. Thank God she wasn’t a sick person! When my mom was reunited with my baby brother he told her that he and his little buddy Linda had gone off to pick me up from school — I was in Kindergarten.

    Eight years old is the age parents feel safe enough to leave their kids alone — some let them travel on the buses here in NYC. So I could see you not blinking an eye leaving Essa for four minutes. I’m sorry you had to experience all this.

    • I wanted to chime in on what someone else said and say that I hope that you don’t beat yourself up about this. From what I’ve read, it appears that you’ve covered all bases when it comes to motherhood, and you seem to be enjoying the role immensely as well.

      • You’re right Sandee, I love being a mom. Even on days like Friday, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. At the same time, I don’t want to experience those feelings again. Ever.
        Thanks for your sweet comments. =)

    • You are most definitely not a coward, Sandee. You write with a passion and pureness of voice that I don’t see very often. It seems like everyone has a missing child story to tell, whether they were the parent or the child. Now I have mine. I’m happy that at least, for everyone I know personally, the stories have happy endings. A lot of lessons are being learned.
      Thanks for all of your sweet support. xoxo

    • I was so emotionally exhausted, I didn’t have it in me to yell (which is odd, because on a normal day I can be pretty loud). I’m still processing everything, but to your point, go back and forth between wanting to throttle her and never let her out of my arms again, depending on the moment. Thanks for your wise words, Christine. I hope you and adorable Alice are well.

  17. I was holding my breath reading this and horrified for you along the way. With no children of my own, it is hard for me to imagine what you went through. Hopefully, you are able to make Essa understand the seriousness of the situation. Someone should have a long talk with that idiot neighbour as well.

    • I can’t address the neighbor thing on this blog because we live in such a litigious society, but I wish I could. I appreciate your kind words of support. You don’t have to have kids to be compassionate, and you are definitely that. Thanks reading and commenting, Michelle.

  18. Stacie,
    I’m glad Essa is safe. I can’t imagine how worried you must have been. I think it’s great that you wrote about it. Totally Freshly Pressed material, even without that Indian dude. But I really want you to write about the conversation you had with the neighbor. Is that bitch out of her fucking mind, or what?
    The Bill

    • Dear The Bill,
      We need to meet in person to discuss that conversation. Not that I’m paranoid or anything, but people are always watching. Always. =p
      Thanks for your support. I know you carry a shiv, and that somehow brings me comfort.
      Stacie

  19. My heart was in my throat as I read. My son is now almost 43 years old, but the time (the one and only) that I lost him in a store for five minutes came roaring back and I instantly felt every emotion you were describing. Thankful, thankful, thankful that your harrowing experience turned out just fine — except for that neighbor. I haven’t read through all the comments prior to mine, but I hope she, too, learned a vital lesson out of all this. I don’t know you, but I’m sending you hugs!!

    • I never experienced that “child lost in a store” scenario, probably because I had them all leashed (that was a joke, and since I don’t know you, wildly inappropriate).

      In all seriousness, it’s that lack of knowledge and the feeling that your child could be anywhere in the world with anyone, good or bad, and you can’t get to him or her that is probably the worst. Even if I lost one of my children in a store for 5 minutes, I imagine my mind would automatically turn in the most dire direction. I can now say I know how you feel, and I hope neither of us experiences it again. Thanks for the sweet comment and follow, Judy. You’ll find that I’m usually more irreverent than in this post. I’ll be by to see your site tomorrow. It’s almost pm MST and my carriage turns back into a pumpkin in a matter of minutes. =)

  20. You made me cry, and if my baby wasn’t upstairs in his crib attempting to fall asleep, I’d go up there and hug him until his eyes popped. I’m so glad that she’s okay, and I think that’s a neighbor you need to get to know better — if only so that she knows that it’s not okay to take your kids out without your permission.

    • Kathy,
      The neighbor thing: I’m back and forth and in a million directions on that one, and I appreciate your straightforward advice. I’m sure you’ve hugged your little boy by now. Do me a favor and hug him again. Even on the days that feel like they’ll never end, he’s growing, and before you know it, coloring his hair with a Sharpie. Thanks for the kind words.
      Stacie

  21. I don’t even know what to say. You can’t beat yourself up … all parents have at least one major foulup. Anyone claims otherwise is a liar or completely oblivious. Plus, as others have pointed out, the neighbor also made a huge error in judgement. Essa seems like a spirited outgoing girl and that often translates to “I’ll talk to anyone,” which is cool when the parents are there to keep an eye out, but can be a problem when the kid is out of sight–i.e., at school, on an outing with a large group, etc.

    You’ve learned from it; you’ve passed along the wisdom and hopefully spared someone else a waking nightmare.

    • Hi Garrett. I wrote this post for the exact reason you state above, with the hope that someone might read it and make a better decision than I did. I CAN beat myself up, by the way, in large part because I lift weights and am a serious badass.

      I love seeing you here and hope you and your family are well. Things seem to be going well for you, which makes me smile. Did you see Cristy’s FP post by the way?
      Stacie

      • I’m glad things worked out and that you were cool enough to share this; most people would not admit a mistake in public with such grace. I did see Cristy’s post … which is good because I haven’t been that active on WordPress lately. Plus, my Reader feed seems to have 400 million posts by writers I’m not really following.

      • I honestly don’t know Stacie. There were child abductiions and assaults and child murders years ago, but in general we were much less media saturated than nowadays and I do think our level of anxiety is greater. I think another difference is that when the world was more of a village, we would at least hope that someone would intervene if they saw a child alone or in distress, and they would eventually be thanked for their support rather than automatically suspected as a potential offender themselves. It’s a terribly sad and touchy subject and eventually I am sure the neighbor will explain themselves to your satisfaction or otherwise. All in all, a very frightening experience. Don’t be too hard on your daughter tho – in my experience of eight year olds she is well aware that she caused you distress, and is now feeling rather uptight deep down as a result. You don’t want her carrying it for life … As always, quiet words and extra hugs never go amiss. All’s well that ends well. Wipe noses and move on.

      • I didn’t even yell at Essa. I didn’t have the heart or the energy. There’s no punishment worse for a young child than to see a half dozen police cars in front of your house, your mother hysterically crying, and then realize it’s all due to what you unintentionally did.

        I agree on your level of anxiety and media saturation thoughts, although I have no idea what the actual statistics were then and now.

        As for the neighbor? There’s another layer to that part, but I can’t print it, because our society is also now overrun with lawsuits.

        Thanks for the visit and comments Yolly. I’m always interested in what you have to say.

  22. Oh poor Stacie! I send YOU a hug (and Essa too, of course). Lesson learned I am sure, but I want to tell you that you are not alone. The fact that you went 13 years as a mama without losing anyone is a marvel. I lost my precious Sofia (now a nineteen year old college student) in a busy Barnes and Nobles on 83rd and Broadway WHEN SHE WAS TWO! It was the most terrifying ten minutes in my life. We were together in an aisle in the kids section. A book caught my eye and I picked it up. I turned my back on her for a second. When I turned back around to look at her she was gone. Simply gone. I ran first to the escalator and then to the elevator and then honed back in on the kids section. By that time I was screaming her name. I was crying. She was standing a few aisles over from where we started, utterly unconcerned until she saw me crying and screaming. The things that ran through my mind in those ten minutes were awful. To this day I have perfect recall of the sick piercing dread that came over me. I know you felt that and I am so sorry. Parenting is fraught with missteps and mistakes and your honesty with yourself and your daughter and your blogging community is wonderful.

    • What a kind, thoughtful, personal comment, Ann. Thank you for sharing it. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one out there who’s made mistakes, although as you mention above, I wouldn’t wish those horrendous feelings on anybody. I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to read and speak.

    • I remember that kidnapping like it was yesterday. I was 11 years-old in 1981 and Adam Walsh’s death was the first one described to me by my parents and teachers in a way I hadn’t known existed before. Thanks so much for sharing the link. I’ll take a look at it, and hope others do too.

  23. Stacie, I haven’t read through the comments and apologize if I’m being redundant, but I could definitely feel your panic and worry here. Have had similar moments myself although not lasting as long. Watching one of my kids playing in the lake and then losing site of them in the sea of other kids, etc. and I have also made similar judgment calls myself as I suppose many moms do. Glad it all ended with everyone safe and sound.

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Lisa. I don’t know the numbers, but I would guess that in the vast majority of situations like this things end up OK. There’s still that small percentage where they don’t, so if by sharing my mistakes someone else makes a better decision that averts a terrible conclusion, I’m happy.

  24. I read this yesterday. This was a post that stayed with me all night and into today. I can only imagine the panic you felt, Stacie. I can relate to this in so many ways. We are only human and we make mistakes and I’ve certainly made my share. Take it easy on yourself if you can. I am beyond relieved you had such a good outcome and your daughter is safe and sound.

    • Thanks for the support, Darla. I don’t want to become an overly protective parent, but there were a lot of lessons learned on Friday for sure. One was to check our kids’ tech exposure. It’s limited, (no FB, no youtube postings allowed, etc) but we did find something disturbing on my 10 year-olds google+ account. She’d set it up through a school email address to chat with her friends and there were two men “following” her. We had no idea the settings allowed that and she didn’t even realize they were there. My husband deleted her account before I could tell them exactly where to go and how to get there.

  25. Oh. My. Gosh. Stacie, that is truly horrifying. I’m so sorry that you had to experience those terrifying minutes of absence… absolutely heart-wrenching. My heart was literally pounding as I read. While I cannot feel your exact pain, I did feel the pain of ‘losing’ Isabella in an airport when she was around the same age… when instead of escorting her to the bathroom near where we sat, I told her she could go by herself and she for some reason went downstairs, then was prevented from coming by up by security. You are not alone! What a very poignant and well-written piece about your experience. Thanks for sharing.

  26. Horrific experience that has been tumbling around my head ever since I read your post. So much so that it sparked a conversation with a mom friend of mine. We discussed the “what would I do?” scenarios and realized how truly unprepared we would be. I just downloaded the FBI Child ID app…I plan on spending some time educating myself. Thanks for sharing Stacie – so incredibly grateful she is fine.

    • So nice to see you here, Karen. This the first year our school handed out student I.D. cards. I remember putting them in my wallet as an afterthought, thinking I’d never really need to use them. I was wrong. I hope I never need them again, but I think you’re smart to self-education. As I mentioned a couple of comments ago, my kids aren’t on FB or any other social networking site, but my 10 year-old has a google+ account that she set up to chat with her friends through a school email address. Scot checked it out last night and found that there were two men “following” her. We had no idea this was an option. Needless to say, we deleted her account.

      I hope you’re well. Have you heard anything about a 25 year EHS reunion? I vote for something low-key at a bar if anyone’s looking into it. Lots of love to you and your family!

      • I think my visceral reaction was because it was so close to something I would have done and exactly the way I would’ve felt afterward. And I wanted to kick your neighbor’s ass. In fact I would’ve kicked a lot of asses, including my own, and then had a few giant cocktails before crawling into my daughter’s bed to sob into her hair. Seriously, your post rocked my shit.

      • Someday, when we have our cocktail with Sweet Mother, I’ll fill you in on the neighbor part. I thought about Hubs when you commented, and how he might kill you before you could off yourself. As for the cocktails? I’ve been saving up. Tonight’s the night. I also managed to lose my dog the Monday after the Essa event, found him half-drowning in the middle of a pond surrounded by ice, and went out to save him. It was the “went out on the ice to save him” part that my husband almost strangled me over. It’s been a long week. =|

      • Damn! You aren’t kidding. You definitely deserve a cocktail.
        Yeah, Hubs would’ve had my head, our neighbor’s head, our daughter’s head, the heads of random passers by. He would’ve had a head collection.

  27. This is such an amazing post. You bring up some really good points I never would have thought of – like discussing how acquiantances are still strangers, and such. I’m so glad everything turned out ok, and this really was well written!

  28. My heart was in my throat as I read this. I am so thankful your daughter was returned to you unharmed. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to hold my temper with the neighbor in that moment, my hat is off to you.

    You bring up so huge points, like the gray area between friends, acquaintance and stranger. This is such an important distinction and one we need to make with our children, or in my case our grandchildren. I am giving this link to my children to read.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Valentine. I can always count on you to say something that matters.

      The major issue in this whole saga is exactly what you picked up on. I, as a parent (and I exclude my husband from this because I’m the person they spend the most time with) neglected to do just that.

      As for the neighbor? I didn’t keep my temper, but in the lawsuit-friendly climate we live, thought I should keep that part of the story to myself.

      Thanks for coming by, and for forwarding to your children. I hope that by exposing my bad decisions others will do better.

  29. Stacie, I liked and commented on this yesterday… yet it seems to have been lost in cyberville somewhere (?). Just wanting to send you support, relief, gratitude, that all ended well with this incredibly frightening scenario. I am so happy that you wrote about it because it’s something I never considered–this strange confluence of events that led to the most terrifying minutes of your life. And there are an endless number of such scenarios that we can’t even dream up. I’m so sorry about the experience. As I wrote yesterday, I once “lost” Isabella in an airport for about 20 minutes, after allowing her to walk 20 steps to the bathroom by herself, while I sat in the chair near the door. I turned my back and didn’t see her walk downstairs to a different bathroom instead. She could not get back upstairs because of security (idiots) and I was out of my mind with panic. I don’t even HAVE an ID card for her so… thanks again for sharing.

    • I only have the ID cards because the school gave them out. I remember putting them in my wallet thinking I would never need them. (!) It’s the “out of my mind with panic” part that’s the worst. I know you know what it feels like. Thanks, as always, for the thoughtful comment. Lots of love coming back ‘atcha. =)

  30. Happy endings are the best endings…when it comes to your children. So, so, so grateful this one was happy.
    I lost my 2 1/2yr old daughter in a TJMaxx store – the scamper monkey disappeared before my very eyes under a rack of clothes. Ten minutes of HELL! I was hysterical and so conflicted when I saw her happily skipping toward me, holding hands with an adult stranger, oblivious to the danger. So glad your family has its happy ending, too. -Nikki

    • The ticking clock is the worst worst worst worst because your mind spins in 1,000 different directions, all of them bad. I don’t know how parents, who’s children don’t come back, make it day-to-day. I really don’t. I never ever ever ever want to feel that way again. Glad the scamper monkey was OK too. =\

  31. Oh… my… God… Stacie! My heart was alternately beating like mad and not at all, while reading that. Of COURSE you wouldn’t have written that story if it ended anything but happily, but still. I about had my shoes on to go trawl your neighborhood with you. Never mind you’re 3,000 miles away.

    I think I just recently said, but I’ll say it again: your Essa’s a darling, even with sharpie-enhanced locks.

    Also, we happily think we’ve taught our girls as much as there is to be taught, but this raises about 27 red flags in my brain, as we’ve not talked about this kind of thing with them since they were wee little ones. You can believe we will now. So thanks Stacie – and don’t be too hard on yourself about this.

    • Thanks for the kind comment, Sid. The thing that surprised me the most was Essa’s inability to differentiate between trustworthy and stranger, in addition to the fact that she deduced that it was OK for her to take off without my knowledge. There have been so many lessons learned since Friday my head is swimming, but the key to making this alright is in continuing to teach them…over and over, reinforcing when, as a parent, I think it’s OK to back off.

  32. stace, this may be the best piece you’ve ever written. a must read. i’m going to tweet it out later today. also, YOU ARE A GOOD MOM. you just are. ur kid will never do this again. some kids are more ‘trusting’ and some kids are ‘born suspicious’ – either one can get taken by a psycho. but, teaching them like you did after it happened is a must. and the neighbor, OH THE NEIGHBOR, i may have reamed her a new a-hole. i’m sure she was just innocent and naive, but for feck’s sake – she’s an adult and she needs to THINK. i hope you gave her a dressing down too. or your husband did, after you talked to your little one. anyway, a great post. i’m glad everyone is okay. and YOU are a great mom. this unfortunately happens to almost every mom or parent at one point or another. ugh. glad you came through it, more or less unscathed. xoxo, sm

    • The neighbor. I’d love to write about my reaction to all of this as it pertains to her, but as life is short and law suits are long, I’ll refrain.

      Thanks for the kind note and support, SM. It’s great to see you here, even under such stressful circumstances. Life’s calmed down a lot since Friday. The leash I’m keeping Essa on is a huge help. =p

      Love ya!

      • lool. right backatchya. and oy, the neighbor. if we ever have a drink together just tell me which house it is and i’ll toilet paper it… xoxox

  33. Holy shit ball, batman. So sorry you had to go through that. Man, that’s scary!

    When my kids were growing up, I used to have nightmares about them being kidnapped. I still do even though they are both adults now. Only that in the last couple of years, I turn into this ninja person who goes after the kidnappers a la Jason Statham, kills everybody and gets the kids back.

    Glad to hear it ended well. In the best way possible, anyway.

  34. All reasonable emotions to have felt Stacie and I’m just happy that Essa is safe. I’d too be rather angry with myself. However, in my opinion, no matter hard much we want to we can’t think of everything situation that might confront us while raising kids and it’s just an important to learn of events. I think you and us readers have done just that.

    Lastly, your neighbor was way beyond out of line.

  35. Thanks, Jed. I made a lazy, somewhat complacent decision when I left Essa alone, and I learned a valuable lesson that had a happy ending. Thanks so much for your comment. Hope all’s well in DC!

  36. Love your blog – especially this piece! A friend of my “liked” your blog on FB and I, being a Gemini, was curious and checked it out. Really great reading! Look forward to more of your posts.

  37. This must have been so difficult for you to write. I’m not a mother but I remember when I was a small child (younger than Essa) and I wandered off with a woman I met on the beach – my mother was there but her attention was distracted at the time – and when finally spotted me heading off into the distance with this stranger, she ran after me and snatched me back. It terrified me as I didn’t really understand at the time what I’d done wrong. The woman seemed nice. God knows what could or would have happened if… but we know the possibles.

    Now your posts – the humorous and this very sad and poignant experience – have got me thinking of how my mother coped through my growing years. Nothing’s easy, being a mother is surely one of the hardest jobs if not the hardest?

    • Having spent way too many hours in corporate life, gotten on far too many planes for non-recreational travel, etc, I feel pretty confident in saying that parenting IS the hardest job out there, and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface yet (three kids who are all 22 months apart and will likely experience teenage angst at the same time is terrifying to me).

      I appreciate your comment, and that you shared your own experience. Besides being the most scared I have ever been during my life during the time that Essa was gone, I was incredibly embarrassed by my decisions. After thinking it through though, I figured, better to share my embarrassment with the hope that someone else will make better decisions than not.

      I’ll be over to check out your blog soon…I’m off to start my night job first though: chauffeur. =)

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