Despite what it says on my resume, I’m not very good at multi-tasking. Especially when it comes to parenting.
I can’t play an effective game of Eye Spy when I’m making lunch. I can’t recount the lyrics to “Let It Go” when I’m writing a post. And apparently, I can’t keep track of three small children at once while waiting in line for a family skate.
I joke about losing my kids all the time, especially since my husband and I are officially outnumbered. But the truth is, it has happened. It happened last summer on the soccer pitch, when our third and youngest child waddled off without us noticing. It happened a few months ago, when our third and youngest child wandered a few aisles away in the grocery store. And it happened this weekend, when our third and youngest child (notice a pattern here?) went missing at the skating rink.
In an effort to prep our oldest daughter for her upcoming debut in hockey (yes, we took the plunge) we decided to take in a family skate at our local rink. We were meeting two other families who each had two kids of their own. Almost immediately, our kids mingled and weaved and zagged out of sight, the way kids do when they’re in a gigantic space filled with hundreds of strangers and sharp objects. I was already suffering from a bit of sensory overload, with the long line for entry, the shrill of the skate sharpener and just the complexity of the space. I was also a bit distracted in discussion with our friends, who we hadn’t seen in a while, as my husband waited to pay.
I usually take a quick mental note of the outfits our kids are wearing when we leave the house. While I was giving our friend a run-down of our summer highlights, I scanned the crowd for my kids. Purple, pink… My eyes scanned for a third hoodie, belonging to a tottering two-year-old who should be by my side.
I circled my head around and around to confirm that she was really missing. She was. I asked my daughters if they had seen her. They hadn’t. My husband was too far away, so our friend and I sprinted in different directions. I ran down the hall towards what looked like a birthday party. She must have followed the balloons, right? Wrong. I circled back towards the line and looked over at our friend, who was still searching.
I started to feel dizzy and sick and scared and so, so scared, when someone’s voice said, “Are you looking for this little one?”
I whipped around and coming down the stairs from the entryway was my daughter, holding hands with a complete but lovely stranger. I grabbed her and squeezed her tighter than I ever had. (My daughter, and the stranger.) Even though I had no right to, I dared to hope that my daughter had never really been that lost at all, and it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. I was wrong. It was worse.
Apparently, my two-year-old had followed this lady up the stairs, through two automatic doors, out of the building and into the rain. Thank God, Thank God, THANK GOD this woman happened to look down to notice my daughter there, standing solo on the sidewalk next to her.
Assuming correctly that this toddler was lost and not just waiting for a bus, this woman brought my daughter back inside. She almost immediately saw my face, the face of a parent who is looking for his or her lost child, and returned her to me.
The entire incident lasted only about a minute. I wouldn’t believe it was that fast, if not for the fact that no one else had seemed to notice. It was only after the tickets were bought and the skates were laced did I recount everything to my husband. My hands were still shaking.
We did go on to skate, and we did make it home with all three kids safely in tow. As I was tucking my littlest one into bed, I kissed her lids and squeezed her arms and said, “Let’s never leave each other again.” She agreed and drifted off to sleep. I know that won’t stick, I know that eventually she’ll have to leave (and maybe, unimaginably, I’ll want her to) but for now, that’s our deal. And I’m holding us to it.