Dirty Dishes, Missing Toddlers, and Police Officers With Great Ears
Yesterday started out well enough for the worst day of my life. I went to a new Zumba class and was the only person who showed up, so I got to attend a private class while Penny stayed in the childcare room at the YMCA.
Then I brought Penny home and she watched a movie, ate a snack, and ditched her warm winter clothes in favor of a princess dress from the dress-up bin. I didn’t know how much I would curse the decision to let her do that.
She asked me to paint her toenails and I said no because I had to wash the dishes. She stood next to me for a while, then she walked away while I finished loading the dishwasher.
And she did not come back.
I walked around the house, calling for her.
I checked all the usual spots. Then I started checking all of the unusual spots.
She was gone.
She was standing right next to me less than five minutes ago, how could she just disappear?
I started yelling that if she was playing Hide N Seek the game was over and it was time to come out. I checked every closet. I looked under every bed. I checked every shelf in our pantry. I checked the bathtubs and the kitchen cabinets. I checked the oven and the washer and the dryer. I even opened the dishwasher to make sure I hadn’t shut her in there by accident. I checked the toy boxes and the window seat.
There were two men from our church doing some construction work in our basement. I called them upstairs to help me look.
They couldn’t find her either.
We started looking outside. We looked in the cars and under the cars and in the pool. We checked the basement and the attic and the garage.
I called Eddie and told him to come home from work.
God, wherever she is, be there with her.
I called my uncle who is the retired chief of the Maryland State police.
She was not in any of the places that he told me to look. My aunt suggested I yell that I was sick and I needed her to come out and help me right away. That didn’t work either. They told me if I couldn’t find her within the next few minutes, I should call the police.
My baby was gone.
Saint Anthony, I need you to help me find my daughter.
Now it had been twenty minutes.
And it was only 14 degrees outside.
And then the What Ifs started coming. I started to imagine all the things my uncle must have not wanted to tell me.
What if she swallowed something dangerous? Is that why she won’t answer me?
What if I didn’t hear the alarm on our door? What if she did get outside? In that snow. With the negative windchill. In her princess dress and no shoes.
What if an intruder came in while we were at the Y? And now he has my baby girl? What if he is still here? Or worse, what if he isn’t? What if he took her out a window while I was standing right in my own kitchen and that’s why I didn’t hear the door alarm beep?
I knew I had to call 911. Because what if?
Another 20 minutes had gone by. Eddie was home. There were now three men searching with me.
No one could find her. The men started taking furniture apart, in case she had gotten herself stuck inside of something.
I answered the operator’s questions about what she was wearing and what color her hair
I had to go through the events of our day. I started bawling all over again when I realized she hadn’t even eaten lunch yet.
Because now it was 1:00 in the afternoon and the police were here.
And four officers were looking with us and they hadn’t found her either.
And wherever my daughter was, she was hungry.
And now we had to call the Y to confirm my whereabouts for the morning and make sure I hadn’t just left her there in the childcare room by accident. (Even though of course I knew I hadn’t.)
And how do you lose a child when you are just standing there washing the dishes?
I wondered around aimlessly, checking places I knew she wasn’t going to be, because I had already checked them, but what else could I do?
And then I heard my name.
“Steph! I hear her crying.”
And I ran to a uniformed officer who was holding my terrified daughter.
He found her in the closet of our master bedroom. She had pulled a tote bag upside-down on top of herself and had fallen asleep like that, behind several boxes of out-of-season clothes. With the vinyl tote bag over her head, surrounded by plastic pins full of clothes, she had not been getting much air.
No less than five adults had checked that closet thoroughly. Officer Justin was the second policeman to check it, and he didn’t see her either. He heard her breathing.
When he found her, she was tired and scared (of the police swarming down on her hiding spot) and red. And completely lethargic. She acted exhausted like she had just run a marathon. The pupils of her eyes were tiny little pinpoints.
No one but me seemed to think this was as big of a deal, but I really don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that I think he saved her from suffocating under that vinyl bag. She had been like that for over an hour by that point.
Everyone else was just relieved she was found.
She cuddled and cried and stayed on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon.
She asked for Goldfish crackers.
All of the men went right back to work.
I don’t know what else I expected anyone to do.
Apparently everyone still trusted me alone with my daughter.
Even though sometimes I have to call in four police officers to hep us finish a game of Hide and Seek.
And now a piece of my heart will forever be missing for all of the stories that didn’t get to have a happy ending.
If, God forbid, you ever do find yourself in a similar situation, the police officers told me that in the majority of the calls like this they receive they find the child inside the home, or sometimes on the property. All it takes is a minute for a child to get away from you, even in your own house! I was in shock and just I could not think straight. I kept opening up the same closet doors over and over again, knowing I would not find her there. Once I had my uncle on the phone, he had me check the most dangerous places in our house (our pool, our bathrooms, our cars, our garage, our basement, our dryer, our attic rafters, etc) right away. We also learned that listening can be even more important than looking.