Yesterday might have been the scariest moment of my life. Seriously.
My wife and I play this game where we are constantly changing who picks up our daughter from school on a daily basis. Sometimes I get her, sometimes she does. Sometimes we have to work out last minute things and one of us has to rush up there, so there has been some confusion in the past.
But nothing like yesterday.
I was at home, working. I looked at my watch and it said it was 2:25, and I usually leave the house at 2:50 to get my daughter. Her school is about 3 miles away from our house, so it takes me no time to get there. My iPad pleasantly chimed to remind me that I had an appointment in 15 minutes, so I headed to my office to get ready. Then it hit me...my appointment was scheduled for 4:00. I looked at my watch, and it still said 2:25. It had completely stopped and I hadn't realized it.
If you have done the math here, I am now 45 minutes late to pick up my daughter from school, and my wife wasn't getting her. I called my daughter's cell phone to see if she was still waiting, and I heard it ring upstairs, which means she forgot to take it to school. So, I jumped in the car and sped off to the school, hoping that she was just waiting for me, or maybe had gone into the school to wait.
She wasn't there.
Normally she waits at a picnic table at the corner, and we pick her up from there. No dice.
I look inside the school (the doors were already locked). She wasn't there.
I checked with the after school program. She wasn't there.
So, my mind is starting to work a little faster. I am not prone to panic, so I haven't lost it yet, but it is starting to get there.
I checked with her cello teacher...nothing. I checked with her homeroom teacher...nothing. No one had seen her.
As a quick aside, my daughter is pretty smart. She isn't normally the type to just go wandering off. That thought started to worm its way into my head, and that made me nervous. We have talked numerous times about not going anywhere with strangers. We even have a code phrase that she is supposed to ask for if she doesn't know the person, and if they don't know it, get out of there and find a responsible adult.
So, I have about 4 teachers, an assistant principal, myself and my frantic wife on the other end of the phone constantly searching for her. I told the AP that I was going to drive towards the route that she might have decided to walk home, but I was sure she wouldn't have done this. It is just too far, and you have to cross three pretty major roads to get there.
I jump in the car and start driving, frantically looking on either side of the road for any clue that she might have gone through there. In my head, I am already preparing my script for what I am going to say to the police. I imagined hearing the Amber Alerts breaking through on the radio, and knowing that they were looking for my daughter. I was paralyzed with fear as I drove home, going just slow enough to see if I saw her walking down the street.
I pulled into my neighborhood, pleading to any deity I could think of to please make her be ok. I pulled into my driveway, and I noticed that the front door to our house was slightly open, which gave me hope. I walked in the house, and I heard her sobbing in my office, as she was trying to send an email to her mom to figure out what was going on.
So, she was ok, and I was completely flooded with the highest sense of relief you could ever imagine. Her face was red and sunburned from the walk, and she was exhausted. Three miles. 8 years old. Crossing who knows how many lanes of traffic. Not only that, but she knew how to get home, which (after my fear had passed) I was somewhat impressed with. I am pretty sure my 14 year old son couldn't make it home from his school on his own. He never pays that much attention.
In the end, everything was fine. I was relieved. But do me a favor and talk with your kids and make sure they understand that they can always go back to the school and find a trusted adult to help them. We had planned for every contingency imaginiable, except for that one. Just know that their brains will work in weird ways under stress, and if the perfect storm ever happens, they need to know what to do.