Sheesh! It's going to take me a long time to get everything in my brain back together after this!Let me begin by stating that Zoë is in the basement safely watching Llama Llama with her cousin and brother, so the children are all accounted for.
For whatever reason, I signed up to be room parent again this year for not one, not two, but three classrooms. I'm co-room parenting for two of the classes, so it shouldn't be too bad (that's what I tell myself every year). I was the only person to sign up in Miriam's classroom so I'm all alone there (but her teacher is super low-key and I have a long list of volunteers so even that shouldn't be too taxing). Anyway, today was the room parents orientation and instead of dragging my little ones to it and making them behave for all of thirty minutes, I sent the whole brood to the playground together.
"This is the first time I've let Rachel tend the baby at the park," I remarked to my friend Ashley as I sat down. "So I'm a little bit nervous."
"That's got to be a good feeling," she laughed as her baby bounced on her lap and her six-year-old begged for a cookie.
"Older kids certainly are nice to have around," I told her.
Because it's true. Older kids are way nice to have around.
Anyway, with three teachers to meet with, I was at the meeting for about a half hour. Less than, really, because I was in full-on panic mode at 4:09 and the meeting only started at 3:30.
So, I finished up the meeting and my friend Kara sent me packing with extra snacks.
"I know how many kids you have," she joked. "You can take some of this home."
"But not too much," I told her. "Because they're all at the park so I have to carry all this stuff there."
Thus, balancing cups full of cookies and grapes and cinnamon cake on a makeshift tray of file folders filled with room parent information, I made my way to the playground where I found my children (or at least most of them) happily playing.
They descended upon me like a flock of vultures and made quick work of the treats Kara had sent me with. But...
"Where's Zoë?" I asked of my little lover of treats. It was weird she wasn't getting in on the action because treats.
"I don't know," Rachel said, puzzled. "She was right here."
"Zoë!" we called as we hunted around the playground. "Zoë!"
She was not at the playground. We quickly ran to check the bathrooms. She was not at the bathrooms.
"I don't know where she could have gone!" Rachel said. "She was just here playing at the little-kid area! She had asked to go home but I told her that we had to wait for you. She said, 'Okay,' and then climbed up into the pirate ship and... She was just here!"
"Then she can't have gotten far," I said, scanning the horizon for a bright orange shirt.
But there was no bright orange shirt to be seen.
"She's probably just headed home," I said.
"Do you want me to run home to see if I can find her?" Rachel asked.
"Yes," I said. "I do. And I'll call Grandma."
I wanted Karen to head outside to see if she could see Zoë approaching from her end (it's a pretty straight shot from our house to the park), but it took me a while to explain what was happening (I'm not at my finest when I'm panicking) and by the time I had finally done so Rachel was talking to a couple at the intersection.
"It's all good," she called out to me as she calmly made her way back across the field.
"What do you mean it's all good?" I asked, jogging up to meet her. "Where's Zoë?"
How could it be all good without Zoë?
The couple at the corner didn't have her but they said they called the person who did have her. Some lady driving by had noticed a little girl running along the sidewalk, crying. She asked the couple at the corner if they recognized her and they did not, so she left her cell phone number with them so that they could call in case someone came by looking for a little girl.
Rachel had been running down the sidewalk calling Zoë's name, which I thought was silly because clearly Zoë wasn't anywhere close enough that she could have heard her name being called. But because she had been running down the same sidewalk screaming Zoë's name, the couple on the corner figured she belonged to the missing little girl they'd just seen.
They didn't have the little girl's name, because she wouldn't tell them, but she did tell them that her mom was Fancy Nancy. Once Rachel confirmed that her mom's name was indeed Nancy, they went ahead and called our Good Samaritan.
She had driven Zoë to the school to see if anyone in the office recognized her.
How?! I'm not sure because she was just in there with me at 3:30. Our receptionists aren't very observant. Just saying. Because remember that one time one of my children called me from school and the receptionist couldn't even tell me which child of mine it was, let alone if they child had brown hair or blonde...so then Kenzie's mom ended up bringing Rachel lunch? They maybe need to pay a teensy bit more attention.
Anyway...the lady who had her said, "She said her mom's name is Nancy if that helps."
My friend Kara, who was in the teacher work room cleaning up from the room parent orientation, ran into the office and said, "Oh, my goodness! That's Zoë! Her mom was just here! She's in my ward!"
Kara and the other lady gave Zoë the choice of riding back to the park with either one of them and Zoë wisely chose Kara (because the other lady was a complete stranger). So, soon Kara arrived with Zoë in tow and delivered her to me, completely free of judgement ("We've all been there," Kara said). Our Good Samaritan followed soon after.
"I hope I didn't make things worse!" she said (and I said it was fine, though in retrospect I think she really did make things worse).* "I just saw her running down the sidewalk crying and I knew something wasn't right about that. So I asked her her name and she wouldn't tell me. So I asked her her mom's name and she said it was Nancy."
"It is," I said. "Nice to meet you."
"And then I asked her if her mom was at the park and she said no."
"I wasn't at the park, I was at the school," I said. "But she was at the park," I added, putting my hand on Rachel's head.
"See? I thought she'd come from the park. I should have asked if she had a sister or babysitter at the park. But I just figured someone at the school would recognize her."
And thank goodness someone was at the school to recognize her! I do wish she hadn't made Zoë get into her car because that's a lot of re-teaching we'll have to do. You never get in a stranger's car!
So, dear reader, if you ever find a lost child, go ahead and WALK them to a safe place (or call the police because I was minutes away from calling them myself) but don't put them in your vehicle and start driving them all over the neighbourhood!
Anyway, we have Zoë back and we're all much less panicked now, though, as Benjamin said, it did take us quite a while to put everything in our brains back together after a scare like that.
"Here's a secret," he told her (with ample attitude) when we got home. "Never do that again!"
Agreed. We had a long talk about how she can't decide to just leave a location by herself. She is only allowed to leave with the big person who has been charged with tending her (so, like, her sisters...not a complete stranger). And she's never, ever to get into a stranger's vehicle (because although she was picked up by a good stranger...gah...I can't even write the other part of that sentence).
Hopefully she's learned her lesson.
Poor Rachel was worried not only about Zoë being missing but because she felt like the whole thing was her fault, so after we had Zoë back safely she was worried about getting into trouble.
"I thought you would be mad at me," she said.
"Oh, no," I told her. "I used to babysit Josie, so...I know. I know."
Josie was a little escapee (particularly as a three-year-old). She'd disappear all the time and we'd find her off at the park by herself, down by the lake by herself, heading to a friend's house by herself, coming home from a friend's house by herself, or, if we were lucky (and quick enough) running down the alley at full speed to get to one of her favourite places. We could hardly keep tabs on that kid!
And sweet level-headed Miriam taught me another valuable lesson on prayer. While I was panicking and my mind was going a mile a minute (Who do I call? I want to call Andrew but he can't do anything. So do I call the police? It's probably too soon to call the police. Do I call Karen? Should I leave someone here in case she comes back to the park? Where else could she have gone?) I know I was also pleading with my Heavenly Father to just let Zoë be alright. But I did not take time to quiet my mind and say a dedicated prayer and wait for any sort of answer.
But Miriam did.
"After we looked in the bathrooms, I prayed about Zoë," Miriam said. "That's why it took me a little while to catch up to you. I think we got an answer to my prayer, though, because there were so many people to help us."
She is such a wonderful kid (they all are)!
We're all very grateful that Zoë is safe and home and that we had so many wonderful helpers (both in heaven and on earth, as my Uncle Bruce remarked last night (about our job situation, not this situation, but it's true for many situations)).
* Honestly, while I'm grateful this lady wanted to help, had she not put my child into her vehicle, Zoë would have seen me walking (or I would have seen Zoë walking) because she picked her up next to the soccer field (so not very far from the park at all)! Just...if you're a good stranger, don't make children get into your car because...just don't. Walk with them. Call the police. Don't put them in your car.