I lose my sunglasses almost every other day. My ski gloves went missing for most of the winter. I no longer own an umbrella. So it was only a matter of time before I lost my child, as well. And when I ran into a friend in Target one recent Sunday afternoon, that’s exactly what happened.
Now, for the record, I did have eyes on her for most of the time ⏤ I swear. While I chatted away, my 3-year-old was having a rip-roaring good time throwing squeaky dog toys around the pet aisle with my friend’s son. They were probably being too rambunctious for public consumption, but they were occupied and that was all that mattered. He and I were wrapping up when she and her friend darted away to the intersection of furniture and baby gear, although still clearly in view. While the boy began walking back to us, my daughter turned right and bolted down another aisle. I did not run after her. Why would I? She was only an aisle away, and I assumed would be right back. She always came back.
Except this time she didn’t. Realizing she was now completely out of sight, I walked to the intersection and turned the corner ⏤ fully expecting to see her standing there ⏤ but found an empty aisle. She was there and then she wasn’t. Where the hell did she go? I asked myself. And so we started to search one empty row after the next, all to no avail. At one point I swore I heard her voice in the distance and confidently told my buddy we found her. The search was called off. Feel free to go about your shopping.
Only it wasn’t her. I was hearing things.
Now, and I say this with absolute honesty, I was not the least bit panicked. In my mind, the store is a contained space with plenty of employees (and concerned customers) to help track her down and I was sure, as is always the case when I lose my wife while shopping, eventually our paths would cross. I had searched my way back to frozen foods where my wife was buying chicken tenders, only to be disappointed to learn that my daughter was still missing ⏤ she had not, as I had hoped, also found her way back.
This, dear reader, was the moment that panic set in. My wife did not take the news of our daughter’s absence as well as I had hoped, and immediately my level of worry skyrocketed to equal hers ⏤ which was high. I was now approaching next-level concern and my swift stroll turned into a full sprint through the store.
Before seeing my wife, I hadn’t allowed a single scary thought to enter my head. I was on a mission to systematically search the building and find my daughter, who I knew would absolutely turn up without question. That was it. There was never any doubt. The thought that she could be abducted or that a dangerous person would lure her away or even that she was, God forbid, gone forever never crossed my mind. But at that moment, those thoughts came raging in like a river. And good lord, did they freak me out.
I was reminded once again of how, much as in sports, work, life, controlling (and barricading) negative thoughts is the key to successfully navigating an unknown or uncomfortable parenting situation.
We ran to a store clerk who offered to make an announcement over the intercom. But our daughter was 3-years-old, we exclaimed somewhat illogically, she’s not going to hear it and come back!
Clearly, no other adult in the store would also hear the announcement, find our lost girl, and safely bring her to customer service, we figured. No, never. We respectfully declined ⏤ figuring why waste the valuable time? ⏤ and quickly rushed back to the area where she originally went missing to resume the search.
Which was pretty much where things anti-climatically played out exactly as I had envisioned from the outset. I turned down the aisle and low and behold, guess who was casually strolling in my direction ⏤ unfazed and clearly unaware of the stir she had caused.
“Daddy!” she yelled. I scooped her up and immediately, after big hugs and kisses, explained that she shouldn’t, couldn’t, ever wander away from us like that. We were calm and measured, no signs of panic in our voices, but let her know how worried we had been. She apologized. Turns out, she hadn’t ventured far at all. In fact, she had been sitting the entire time at a kid-sized table in the furniture section ⏤ not far from where she ran ⏤ just waiting for her friend to join her. When she got tired of waiting, she came looking for us.
And there I was, my heart rate finally returning to a comfortable beat, left to ponder how I was able to stay calm when focused, but frantic when fear-filled. It was as if a switch had flipped, but one that never needed to be. The odds of my daughter being abducted from the store were minuscule. In almost every scenario, she was going to turn up safe and sound. I knew this from the minute I realized she was missing, but I allowed my brain to deviate. And I was reminded once again of how controlling (and barricading) negative thoughts in parenting, much as in sports, work, life, is the key to successfully navigating an unknown or uncomfortable situation. Now, if only I could be reminded of where I put my damn sunglasses.