I posted today on Instagram about this app that helps alert a community (locally & immediately) when kids, and at risk adults, go missing. A subject that has been sitting heavy with me all weekend since I first received the amber alert on my phone early Sunday morning about a missing boy believed to have been abducted in the San Diego area as his family was packing up to head home from his first time at the beach. It was his first trip to the beach and although details remain sketchy, his body was recovered Monday and the last news update I read said his mother had to be taken away on a gurney because she collapsed upon hearing the news. And his grandmother, there on the scene, couldn't stop screaming.
A story I haven't been able to shake all week. I don't know the child, or his family, but the weight of such a horror touches us all. And then I go back to the summer of 2010, when Arlo disappeared on a regular quiet midmorning where I had just returned from buying groceries and watched him jump out of the car and onto his scooter while I ran the other two boys upstairs to lay put them in cribs because they had both fallen asleep en route back home. Climbing the stairs I noticed an unfamiliar car out the window slowly circling our culdesac and remember thinking to myself how strange it was, given the hour. It was the second week of August, school had just started so any of the children or traffic that typically populated our block was non existent this time of day. When I came back down to unload the rest of the bags I saw his red scooter flung towards the edge of the curb, with him nowhere in sight.
The first few minutes I made the rounds calmly. Calling out, begging for him to answer. I checked the backyard, the pantry, the closets, every room and every corner of our house before I combed the length of our street. My calls turned to pleas and my pleas to panic. Within that 20 minutes I lost it. Crying there in the eerie stillness of that street where all I could think was someone, who wanted to hurt him, had him in a car taking him away from us forever. Shaking, I dialed 911 and found myself in the surreal scenario of giving detailed descriptions about my four year old. His height, hair color, weight, last clothing seen wearing. They asked about pools in the area, and I told them there were none. They urged me to stay calm and assured me they would send an officer out to speak with me.
In the meantime, some 35 minutes having passed I felt my whole body go numb and my heart start to shake. I called both of our mothers and then jumped in my car and drove around our small community screaming for him. I wept in the face of a stranger who had been crossing the street with her baby in tow where I tried my best, with broken logic to explain the situation and she stopped there on the curbside to pray for us.
The rest of hour I don't clearly recall. Only the officer pulling up just as Arlo emerged from the house next door in front of the small crowd of family members who had gathered there after my frantic phone calls. Turns out while I was upstairs he had knocked on their door and was invited in by the new neighbor's children who were apparently home schooled and being watched by their teenage cousin who had his music turned up loud enough to drown out all the chaos surrounding the area while we were calling out for him. Point being, he was safe. Everything turned out ok, and the relief of seeing him unharmed is something you only know if you've experienced it. But also the kind of lesson that changed me forever. In where I look forever differently at things and situations because of how quickly it was me, on the phone, with an operator, drafting the start of a missing child's report.
With each of these stories that makes the news I can't help go back to that day. The feeling of terror and helplessness. Some years later I still find myself struggling to maintain a healthy balance in allowing them fair freedom in childhood without compromising overall safety. It's a fine line, and every year the nature of the struggle sees to shift just a bit seeing that there is always something new for us to worry about. I can only suppose that once we come to accept fear as an innate aspect to parenthood, we can move on and do our best to stay focused on the few things we can control. Even if the reality of that is so much smaller than we ever want to fully recognize.