When we were on vacation, I lost Riley for a while at an aquatic rec center. If you’ve been to Sunriver’s SHARC on a hot day, you know what it’s like: every cubic foot of water absolutely teeming with people, kids everywhere you look. The only way that pool could possibly be more crowded is if there were a dedicated staff of employees pushing people into the water like those white-gloved subway packers in Tokyo. JB and I were sitting nearby while the kids played, then one of us gradually realized we hadn’t seen Riley in a while. It was visual chaos trying to scan the scene, the only way I could make sense of all the thrashing, squealing activity was to section it off into a sort of mental grid before moving on. B7 is clear, Captain! Eventually JB was on one end and I was on the other, and the more time went by, the more I wondered what our next step should be. When exactly do you stop worriedly peering around and start to, you know, completely fucking panic?

The thing that kept me from unraveling, I guess, is that while the presence of people make parsing the area difficult, the water itself was somehow reassuring. Clear as a bell, bright noon sunshine illuminating its every nook and cranny: no shadowy submerged bodies, or anything. Still, it was of course slowly, increasingly awful until suddenly it wasn’t, because there he was and had been all along. Towheaded and be-goggled, just like 895 other same-sized kids.

It’s funny how the entire vibe of the place changed for me after that. Up until then I’d been sort of enjoying the shitshow of it all, gazing around at the throngs of people and playing a rude little mental game of Fake or Real? with regards to how various women filled out their bathing suit tops. Afterwards everything took on a sinister vibe, like a horror movie where things appear to be normal but there’s a pervasive sense of inexplicable dread. I felt like I kept getting slow-mo glimpses of people laughing: Muh ha. Ha. Ha. Haaaaaa. Somewhere, an invisible person on a cello steadily ground out the Jaws theme. All the surgically enhanced boobs held poison darts.

But in the end it was all okay, and isn’t it weird how many stories like that we all have? The thing that could have gone totally sideways but didn’t, or at least didn’t completely, and you’re left thinking about how life is just one big old Choose Your Own Adventure book only most of the time you don’t get to choose to flip back to the page that drove the outcome. On the first day of our vacation Dylan went flying off a hotel bed and and smashed headfirst into a table, total blood-spurting disaster, and after we’d made the heart-pounding drive to an Urgent Care and a kindly doctor sewed his brow bone shut I thought, Jesus, less than an inch lower and he maybe would have lost an eye, and on it goes, a million zigzagging what ifs, and I think that’s what drives some people to become nasty judgmental parenting-topic trolls, it’s the belief that you can actually control all that shit. Can you imagine that burden? It must like living at the top of Everest, clinging to a freezing rock and forever gasping for a full breath.

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Liz
Liz
7 years ago

Yes. I think the only thing that keeps me sane as a parent(and able to allow my kids to have any fun)is being able to let go of the “what if” part eventually. I really feel for people who have gripping anxiety because you’re right that it must be the worst burden to live with. I think it was you who wrote about checking in on one of your kids after a nap and having him wrapped up (unharmed) in a window cord once. God, so many heart stopping moments as a parent! Definitely thankful for all those moments that aren’t worse.

Mallory
Mallory
7 years ago

Linda,
I love your writing. Thank you!

bj
bj
7 years ago

Great to have you writing!

We had this experience in a major airport, looked away for a second, and our 10yo daughter had disappeared. It turned out that she had walked ahead of us, and, when she reached the people mover train, realized, that we wouldn’t have gotten on without her, and asked an attendant in uniform to bring her back to our gate (which we remembered).

But, before she returned, her dad was in full scale panic, imagining her to have been kidnapped and taken to another country (possible, we were inside security). I was calmer. I didn’t think it was that likely she’d been kidnapped and trusted her to find her way back to us. Strangely, the reaction of airport security is far more muted than we think it should be.

We got her a phone after that incident.

Taryn
Taryn
7 years ago

Truth!

birdgal (another amy)
birdgal (another amy)
7 years ago

Heart stopping moment: losing 5 year old child at Disney World. Time froze for those 20 minutes and I’m pretty sure a few grey hairs sprouted. Luckily he was totally fine, but man, the what ifs just play over and over in your mind. [Though I will say this–those Disney employees know how to find lost kids while keeping the parents from losing their ever-loving shit).

Rachel
Rachel
7 years ago

Thank you for writing this! Last night my husband had my two kids while we were out. My almost 2-year old staged an epic meltdown as my husband tried to get him in his car seat. As they were pulling out of a parking lot, my son escaped his car seat, opened the car door, and FELL OUT ONTO THE ROAD. He’s totally fine, save for a few scrapes on the side of his head. But my husband is a basket-case. He is beating himself up for not locking the doors, not making sure he was buckled more securely, and all the things that could’ve gone wrong. We got totally lucky, it was a freak thing that happened, and all we can do is learn from it and move on. We can’t control everything, especially deranged toddlers that do idiotic things on a regular basis. It happens to all of us, no matter how loving or careful we are.

Jen
Jen
7 years ago

Real or Fake? Bahahahah. Thanks for that.
I’m very glad everything turned out fine, and I love to see new blog posts.

I have a 4yo and 22-month old twins. Keeping track of them is becoming a nightmare, so it makes us not want to go anywhere right now!

anne nahm
7 years ago

First paragraph on, all I could see was that scene from Minority Report, where Tom Cruise loses his kid at the pool. Freaking freaked me out for crowded pools forever.

LD's Mom
LD's Mom
7 years ago

“and I think that’s what drives some people to become nasty judgmental parenting-topic trolls, it’s the belief that you can actually control all that shit. Can you imagine that burden?”
I couldn’t agree more. Kids are humbling and that should make all of us realize that any of the tragedies that have befallen some parents with their kids could have happened to us despite our best intentions. If you could control every single second of your child’s life, then there would be very little “living” left in that life.

Gigi
7 years ago

You NAILED the experience of losing a child in a throng of people. I remember that feeling well from when mine was small.

And yeah, I can see how that whole “what if” scenario can make some people crazy.

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Melissa
Melissa
7 years ago

I lost my youngest at a baseball game when he was two. He was playing on a playground right by the field and I was standing there watching him and the game. My other son was up to bat and after he got on base I realized the little one was gone! I looked, my parents looked, the neighbors and a few strangers joined in. After 20 minutes I was ready to call 911 when someone spotted him run out and back into a porta-potty. The worst feeling ever!

Jennifer
Jennifer
7 years ago

Yes. You are a brilliant writer.

Maggie
7 years ago

THis is so true. I try hard to not be that helicopter parent, but sometimes the “Very Bad Thing” that there is a remote possibility of happening creeps into my brain and I panic a little. My kids are at the age when they can stay home by themselves for awhile and sometimes my mind goes to awful places, but I can’t let the fear control me.

Em
Em
7 years ago

Yes. To all of it.

Also, I am glad you’re back!

Ashleas
Ashleas
7 years ago

Birdgal – I’m a Former Disney Cast Member who was on had two lost parent incidents (As we refer to them inside the park) and a lost wedding set. I only remember one incident clearly because it was a little boy who had gone in our bathroom at Pizza Planet, which had two entrances, and came out inside our arcade. His mother was waiting for him on the outside bathroom and did not know about the double entrance. My hair gained a few grey hairs when I was comforting him, trying to get a description while also flagging down another cast member to go get a manager. His mother quickly figured it out and retrieved him before that was even necessary. I remember another incident I heard of where a cast member I worked with corralled two little kids in her register station with her. She had two metal railing on both sides of her and she put them between her and the computer while we got the manager.

Scary stuff on both sides of the case!

sandy
sandy
7 years ago

Control is such an illusion. The idea that worrying and planning and being ever vigilant will produce a desired outcome is Bullshit. The best we can do is try our best, be in the moment and enjoy the ride, bumps and all.

sandy
sandy
7 years ago

* would like to add I meant to say enjoy the good stuff and deal the best we can with the other stuff as best we can

Life of a Doctor's Wife

I am having such a hard time with this – this knowledge that I CAN’T control it, that the slip in the bathtub resulted in a tiny bump on the noggin, sure, but could have ended in a concussion or drowning… Every tiny thing that happens splinters into a million fragments of Terrible, each one worse than the last, all of them ending in Death or Disfigurement. And it’s paralyzing, almost. I am still – just over a year into this parenting gig – trying to figure out how to tamp down the panic.

bessie.viola
7 years ago

That last line. Your voice, your writing, is so amazing… and I know I’ve been saying that for almost nine years now (NINE!) but it’s true. I love reading your words!

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[…] ” … and on it goes, a million zigzagging what ifs, and I think that’s what drives some people to become nasty judgmental parenting-topic trolls, it’s the belief that you can actually control all that sh*t.”  Three cheers for this essay from All & Sundry […]

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