Vanished.

And just like that, they were gone.  Both of them.  Gone.

Her shoes tossed on the side of the empty cul-de-sac, the only sign they had been there just moments before.

It was too quiet. Neighbors garages closed. “Delaney?  Cooper?”

Nothing.

I tried again.  Louder.  Stomping down the beginnings of panic in my chest.  “HEY COOP?  MINI!  TIME FOR DINNER!”

I shook my head to push the fear away.  This isn’t how this happens (thought every mother who ever lost a child).

They never go anywhere without telling me.

They must be in the backyard.

Quick run through the house.  Eyes scan, left to right.  Nothing.  Still too quiet.

The oven dings to remind me: dinner is ready.  The rice continues to simmer.  The vegetables need to be sauteed.

Not now.

I need reinforcement.

I run upstairs to grab Jeff from his office.  I burst in as he is on the phone, “Can you help me find the kids?  They are supposed to be in the cul de sac right in front of the house and they aren’t there.”  He nods.  Continues to smile into the phone.

My panic isn’t registering.  Or if it is, he thinks I’m over-reacting…not realizing I’ve already been outside.  I’ve already looked.

And I can’t find them.

I resist the urge to trail him as he walks out the door, still chuckling in to the phone.  If I can ACT like things are just fine, they will be.  If it is possible to will away danger, I will do it.  I pull out a pan and begin to saute mushrooms.  I peek at the rice.  Almost ready.  Salmon needs one more minute.  With a dinner waiting, surely they will be home soon.  It doesn’t happen like this.  This is not our moment.  This will not be the moment when everything changes.

Busy hands, overactive imagination.

Two minutes.  Four minutes.  Seven minutes.

Nothing.

I text him: “Have you found them yet?”

Eight minutes.  Nine minutes.

The door flies open, “D….. you really don’t have them??  I can’t find them!”  The fear now has him too.

“I went up and down the far street.  I called their names.  They aren’t answering.  And her shoes, her SHOES are just sitting there on the side of the road…”

I know.

And like that, we are out the door together.  Dinner on the stove, in the oven, left.

Our only hope is that they have gone inside a neighbor’s home… so we start knocking.  We hold our breaths until the door is answered.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.  One is inside.  One is out back.  I see the relief collapse onto Jeff’s shoulders.  I stand in the center of our cul de sac.  I was waiting.  Ready to run to another house, to bang on another door.  There is no need.  But I can’t stand there and wait for them.

I will lose it.

I walk home.  Past her empty shoes, sitting alone on the side of the street.  Into my kitchen, back to my over sauteed-mushrooms.

I breathe. They are safe.  I knew they would be.  Right?  Right?

But what happens when right is wrong?  I don’t want that day to come.

In the past I have written (and vlogged) about my tendency to be paranoid about allowing the kids outside alone.  And I have been mocked, and called names – all because I was nervous about allowing my children (before this year – when they were 5 and 7 and younger) outside, in an unfenced area, without adult supervision.  I’ve been accused of stifling their independence.  I’ve been told they will need therapy because of me.

My husband has always fallen on the more lenient side… comfortable with them out front without us.

This was the first year I gave in.  And until today, I was moderately ok with it.  They would go out – I would watch them through my window, working as they played.  But tonight, I was also in the kitchen – without a full view of them playing.  My checking was every few minutes.  And one of those times, they were suddenly gone.

Vanished.

You know the rest of the story.

I have promised not to ground my small people until prom.  The sweet things that they are, they were equally as upset at the notion of having caused us such alarm.  They were ‘having too much fun’ and just forgot to tell us they were heading to the neighbors.

They won’t be doing that again.  Since I won’t be letting them out of my sight, I don’t imagine that will be a problem.

  • Kim – Mommycosm

    Oh, boy! Scariest.Feeling.Ever!
    This is something I struggle with as a parent as well – knowing when to hold or and when to let go. Danielle, listen to your gut and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it. It’s OK if you are not ready and/or they are not ready for such independence.

  • Kirsten

    I can remember to this day my mom’s response when I innocently accepted a ride to grade school (I was in 6th or 7th grade) from my 20-something half-brother… who had, since his last visit to our house, purchased a new car.
    It was sometime in the 80′s, eerily close to “The Adam Walsh Story” airing on network television, and my mother watched me climb into a strange car at the end of the street.
    Compound this with the fact that when he dropped me off in the parking lot next to the school that he got stuck in the snow… and being the diligent and doting little sister I was, I refused to go into the school building until he got unstuck.
    My poor mother watched me climb into a strange car and ride away. I then did not show up for school like I was supposed to after lunch break.
    I remember walking into the school office to report in as late, only to be yanked into the vice-principal’s cubby and scolded for taking a ride with a stranger, and unsuccessfully trying to explain that it wasn’t a stranger, it was my brother. I also remember the lecture my brother received later that night after I got home, and caught another earful from my parents.

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you for this, Kim. I know I am supposed to go with my gut, but it is amazing how a community of people can easily make you feel like a ‘helicopter’ parent in a matter of minutes. The funny thing is – our cul de sac has 10 children (9 and under) – and ours are the only ones allowed outside unsupervised in the front yard. Clearly, I will be keeping a closer eye on them for my own sanity AND they learned a good lesson as well.

  • Danielle Smith

    Kirsten – I can’t even imagine! I remember the Adam Walsh story well – in fact, I remember watching his parents on TV begging for his return. In my head, I DO know cases like that fall in to a ‘rare’ category, but I can’t help but be vigilant with my own small people. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • http://twitter.com/AWelbaum Amanda Welbaum

    I don’t let my 7 year old outside by himself. We have unfenced back yard, with an alley that runs the length and width of it. Cars use that alley as a side street, speeds much faster then they should and they pay no attention. It sickens me to think that if I let him go out there, just to draw with chalk or blow bubbles, that something so innocent could end badly.

    I am SO relieved to hear they are okay. Seeing your post pop up on Facebook a few minutes ago made my heart stop.

  • http://twitter.com/ErinCLane Erin Lane

    Oh Danielle, a few weeks ago my 3 year old wandered out of sight at a children’s museum (a BUSY children’s museum). I “knew” he was up in the slide area. I just knew it but after 4 minutes or so, I was pacing, yelling his name, trying to figure out next steps. He finally came down the stairs completely unawares. I hugged him and we left. I just couldn’t do it. That panic. I don’t want to feel it again anytime soon. Hugs lady!

  • http://jennymotley.com/ Jenny Motley

    WOW. I was waiting for the “And then I woke up from the nightmare . . .” part that never came. So glad it ended the way it did, but how terrifying while it was happening. Been there.

    Two words for you: WALKIE-TALKIES. (Or one hyphenated word, I guess.) We bought a pair by Motorola for less than $20 at Target. They have a range of about half a mile (even though the package said 12 miles…um, no). One of my girls (ages 10 and 8) clips it on her shorts before they take off to play in the front yard or cul-de-sac and we now have instant communication even when they are out of sight.

    They can walkie you before they go to a neighbor’s house or, more importantly, you have an adrenaline-free way to find them when they forget to walkie you first.

  • Maureen @ Wisconsin Mommy

    Just this morning, my 8 year old wanted to ride his bike off our cul-de-sac to catch up with his father who was walking the dog over in the next neighborhood (across a busy road no less). I said no. I was accused of worrying too much, treating him like a baby, etc. I’ll take a little anger from him if it means keeping him safe for as long as I can! I’m SO glad your story had a happy ending!

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you, Amanda. We finally fenced our backyard just so I could have the peace of mind – knowing they would be safe, but they prefer the front – where the neighbors are, where the basketball hoop is, where they can ride their bikes. I know it is a cul de sac, but…. my heart. I don’t want to stifle them. I know I played outside. Just the minutes when they were gone felt like hours…..

  • Danielle Smith

    Oh Erin – it is the WORST feeling, isn’t it? Your brain goes in a million directions – all while your heart is racing. You keep telling yourself it is perfectly fine, he is FINE, but it doesn’t FEEL fine. Last night, it was just TOO quiet and they always tell me when they are even going in to our backyard….. Typically, they are the most responsible children. I think that is why I was so thrown. So appreciate the hugs. xo

  • Danielle Smith

    Jenny – I love you. Adding those to my list of things to purchase this week. I will feel better and the kids will LOVE having them. Thank you for the suggestion. I want them to feel independent – I just can’t handle not knowing they are ok…. so grateful.

  • Danielle Smith

    I’m with you – I can handle the anger. It IS my job to keep them safe. Fortunately, everyone realized how important it is to communicate. Even my husband (who is typically non-flustered) was worried. For the kids – seeing us so concerned really brought it home. Thank you so much!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=780947742 Dawn Mitchell Chace

    Oh Danielle, my 9 yr old daughter has done this to me a couple of times. We live in a nice, quiet – TOO QUIET – cul-de-sac, and she’s gone to “her” tree, or back behind our trees in the back yard – but it doesn’t matter – she’s just GONE – and suddenly, I’m John on America’s Most Wanted because my child is GONE. I do NOT let her outside to play alone – because it only takes that one second. When I’m in the kitchen, doing my school work, tending to her brother, or any one of a dozen other things I do at any moment in time. It’s that second that it takes for her 50 lb frame to be shoved into a car – that’s too much for me to handle. SO I GET IT.

  • http://allthingsmamma.com Kasey@ All Things Mamma

    Oh WOW! That post scared me and I knew the outcome had to be good since you were blogging about it. So scary! I am like you… I am paranoid and don’t let my kids out of my sight at 4 and 6. I am having a hard time letting my almost 7 year old walk home from the bus stop a half a block away even with me standing at the house watching her get off and walk toward me. It’s a scary, scary world. Not at all like when we were little. I’m so glad you’re little people are safe and well!

  • stacy

    wow you had me in a panic reading this!!!! wow…. I am THAT parent.. & i’ll gladly admit it & it’s ok w/me.. others can talk i don’t mind.. My boys are 8 1/2 & 5. They are NOT allowed to go outside w/out me or daddy… not ever.. seriously i watch them go get the mail from the mailbox for me… To much Dateline no doubt in my head at times but after the Shawn Hornbeck case & many others around here that was it… they are mind & i’d rather have them safe than not at all… I dropped my 8 yr old off at a friends house this past weekend for a short(1 hr) play date… good friends that we trust… when i went back to get him come to find out the dad let them go off riding bikes into the woods & there was another older friend of theirs w/them… they “lost” my son who then never having been to this place bf had to backtrack himself to their house w/out the other boys… seriously i had a full on attack hearing this story… never again & i thought just being w/ME was enough…

  • http://twitter.com/MTDLBlog Nicole H.

    I’m with you on the outside of a fenced area thing…it always causes me so much anxiety. You’re not wrong for being cautious and those who say they’ll need therapy are foolish. They can be independent without having to be out of your sight at 5 and 7. It’s nice that you’re in the cul-de-sac though. That does help. Our house is on the main thoroughfare through our neighborhood which always makes me so nervous so our kids play in the fenced in backyard or with us out front.

  • Karin

    But nothing happened. Why would you not allow them to play outside?

  • Karin

    But nothing happened. Why would you not allow them to play outside?

  • E.S. Ivy

    Oh, wow! So scary! My mind works the same way yours does when my kids go missing. (And it was so well written I thought it was a novel excerpt at first.)

    I have older kids (youngest is 10) and I still have trouble letting them free in the neighborhood alone (or only in pairs for the youngest.) But our number one rule is they must have a cell phone with them. (Go phones, nothing fancy.) And no going into even the neighbor’s house without telling me (because I can’t just stick my head out the door and holler.) I know I have to give them some freedom, because in less than 2 years the oldest starts *driving* places without me. :) So you have to do it in stages, but I worry at every stage. I think if you tried more freedom and they weren’t old enough to remember the rules… maybe another 6 months or a year before they’re old enough to try a stage again.

  • http://twitter.com/AndreaUpdyke Andrea(LilKidThings)

    Oh lady I was in a panic just reading this. The shoes! My heart would be in my throat. It’s so hard to be a mom and walk that line. You are doing an awesome job!

  • http://twitter.com/nicholee Nichole

    Heart stopping. Absolutely. I would’ve been a soggy, weepy puddle. So glad they’re safe. I let the kids play in our partially fenced backyard (the unfenced part is hedges) by themselves sometimes, but I’m still paranoid the whole time they’re out there.

  • niri

    I am exactly the same way. Sometimes I wait a few extra minutes to see how long I can take it before I panic, but panic is what I do best. People tell me to let go but I am not taking any chances. They are all I have. So glad everyone is safe and sound my friend.

  • Danielle Smith

    Dawn – thank you, more than anything, for ‘getting it’! I try so hard not to be the over-bearing, helicopter parent. I want them to run, play, explore… but I know I simply have to keep my eyes wide open to maintain my sanity :)

  • Danielle Smith

    So grateful, Kasey. You are right – things are so different, aren’t they? I used to roam freely. Now, I’m not going to keep them locked inside, but this reminded me, for my own peace of mind, I do need to remain vigilant, and I need to continue to talk to THEM about being aware of their surroundings….

  • Danielle Smith

    Stacy – You mention Shawn Hornbeck… it seemed as though EVERY time I was on the verge of giving in and letting them outside alone (in the past couple of years) there would be ANOTHER stranger abduction somewhere around here…. and I would lose my mind all over again. I do know it is rare, but those simply reminded me that it CAN happen. I do let them out, but I’m watching and our neighbors are always around too….

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you for commenting, Nicole… the fenced in back yard makes me feel more peaceful, though they definitely prefer the front (basketball hoop, bikes, scooters and of course, our neighbors…) But I just know I need to keep talking to them about it and keep my eyes open.

  • Danielle Smith

    Karin – I didn’t say I wouldn’t allow them outside to play. I have been allowing it and I will continue to do so…. this situation simply made me aware that I need to be more vigilant about their whereabouts and they needed to be made aware of the boundaries….for everyone’s peace of mind.

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you so much for your kind words…. I think you are so right, the freedom definitely needs to happen in stages. We had a good, long talk after this…and since then they have been extremely careful about letting me know about every step they are taking outside – for which I am extremely grateful. Good luck with your ‘small people’ as they approach some of those big milestones!

  • Danielle Smith

    I adore you! Thank you so much for that. You are right on – the shoes were my undoing. I did everything in my power to talk myself away from the ledge…. but I could even see they affected Jeff the same way. It even makes my chest tighten now. xoxo

  • Danielle Smith

    Oh Nichole…. I WAS a soggy, weepy puddle once they were back in my home. As soon as I knew they were ok, I bolted for the house and kept it together until my husband put his hand on my back and said, ‘are you ok?’…. at that moment, I lost it and then, naturally, so did both of my small people… *sigh* We had a long talk and I’m hopeful that won’t happen again. Thank you so much for your kindness.

  • http://twitter.com/DawnSandomeno Dawn Sandomeno

    That’s sincerely the worst feeling, nothing else in the world matters for those few minutes. I think you should always trust the voice inside – it’s our special God given Mother’s intuition. Every time I let someone make me change my mind because to them it’s foolish, I have gotten burnt.

  • Danielle Smith

    Thank you, lovely friend. And YES – they are what I have! And I live for them. I was doing everything I could to avoid the panic, but it was hard to control… I lost it once I knew they were safe…. xoxo

  • http://franklymydearmojo.com Molly Jo

    I held my breath while reading this; knowing deep inside if something *had* happened you wouldn’t be blogging it so soon. But still… I held my breath for you. I’m so thankful you had a good ending to this story. I hate those moments of parental panic. Hate. Them!