My Toddler Wandered Away From Home, And That Doesn't Make Me An Unfit Mom
Yesterday, a terrible thing happened.
Let me preface this by saying that I am struggling to adjust to summer break. Struggling. Like, it’s good but also horrible. Can something be good and horrible all at once? Because I’m pretty sure that is exactly what parenthood is.
Making the transition from having all three kids in school for six-plus hours per day (and working during those hours) to having them home all the time and trying to get my work done in addition to mothering in a loving fashion is not going great. As I have already established in multiple blog posts from previous years, summer is effing relentless.
Pepper is obsessed with two things: outlets and babies. Here she is showing her baby doll the outlet in her bedroom. #multitasking
Thankfully, this year is somewhat easier than previous years simply because my children are getting older and more independent. Pepper will be 3 next week, so I think we’re finally on the upswing after a very dark time in the Valley of Motherhood.
Yesterday afternoon, we got home from playing at the park. The boys jumped out of the van, heard some kids next door playing, and asked if they could go over to play. I granted them permission and took Pepper inside. Her clothes were filthy—covered in layers of peanut butter and dirt—so I stripped her down to a diaper.
I ran to the bathroom with her trailing behind me, always my little shadow. And then my mom called. She wasn’t feeling well, and I could barely hear her on the phone. I was straining to understand what she was saying—did she just say she needed to go to the hospital?!—and naturally, my toddler got really loud at exactly that moment. As her shouting drowned out my mother, my stress level started to rise.
I went to my bedroom and closed the door. My daughter cried from the hall, and when she stopped, I was thankful. When I emerged only a few minutes later, the house was quiet. A panicky feeling started to rise in my chest, and then it felt like my heart stopped.
Our back door was standing wide open.
Screaming her name, I ran outside. She was gone. Or hiding. Or missing.
I heard a woman’s voice—our neighbor from across the street—yelling to me that she just saw a little girl cut through the fences in the backyard.
“She went that way, sweetheart! I was standing here watching her!”
I was barefoot, and it did not matter. I ran. I ran until I found her. I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t feel my body. All I could hear was my own voice screaming her name, and my heartbeat deafening my ears. That is what blind panic feels like.
My 2-year-old was wandering one street over from ours, wearing nothing but her diaper. She was holding a toy pet carrier with a little stuffed dog inside. I will never forget the way her face looked when she saw the horror on mine.
“Never again,” I said to her.
“Not with my dog?” she said.
“Never, ever. Do not ever leave this house without a grown-up,” I said as I wiped away my tears.
I’m sharing this story to demonstrate how quickly children can disappear. How many times have I heard stories of toddlers wandering the streets and thought to myself, where was the mother?
That mother is me. I was right there. It happened anyway.
I’m a damn good mom. I am capable. I am aware. I am not negligent. But children are fast, and sometimes quiet, and things happen. So today I’m hugging my babies tight, grateful for their safety, knowing that sometimes other mamas aren’t so lucky.
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