Monday, December 26, 2011


Matt had last Friday off from work, and as much fun as we had dragging five kids to three different stores together, we decided we needed something more fun that night. After an early gf pancake dinner we piled all five kids in the car once more and drove half an hour to a nearby town that had a fantastic lights display in the town square.

The kids oohed and aahed and we drove into a Christmas wonderland of lights--except for Toby who was sound asleep and Elijah who was ready to eat. Matt decided to take the three girls out to walk among the lighted displays while I sat in the van and nursed Elijah. I watched their shadowy figures disappear into a crowd. For awhile longer I could discern where they were from the little red flashes of Emma's light-up shoes, then I lost even that hint. The van grew colder as I sat in the darkness. After ten minutes or so I turned it back on and strained my eyes for a hint of my family's whereabouts. I began to imagine scary scenarios that could be keeping them away so long--it's a little curse of my overly-imaginative mind. I thought about calling Matt's cell phone to let him know that Elijah was almost done eating, but then remembered that the phone in my pocket was dead.

I studied the masses of people again and finally caught a faint flicker of red lights near the feet of a small figure a full block away. Two more little figures walked in front of her with an adult in the lead. OK, I thought, at least I know where they are, and they're all together. I watched the crowd in front of me again, knowing it would be a few minutes before Matt and the girls made their way back. Suddenly a child in a dark coat dashed alone in front of a display of carolers and disappeared behind a pine tree far to my right. "That looked like Hannah," I immediately thought, but I dismissed that thought because I was sure I had just seen all three girls with Matt. In the span of about 10 seconds the argument continued within me, "But the kid was wearing red pants, I think...was Hannah wearing her new red pajama pants tonight? And it carried something that could have been Hannah's blanket...did Hannah bring her blanket with her?" I couldn't remember for sure, but I decided I better get out and go check on the child, just to be be sure.

I detached Elijah and slung him over my shoulder (still wearing his snowsuit), just as the child came racing out from behind the pine tree and back towards the carolers. It was Hannah! I fumbled with my locked door, then jumped out of the van. She was running away from me and screaming frantically at the top of her lungs, "Mommmmyyyyy!!!! Mommmmmyyyyyyy!!!!!" Crowds of strangers were staring at her, bewildered. I ran towards her (little Elijah bouncing on my shoulder) and called her name. It must have looked like a scene to end a sappy movie as we ran towards each other and hugged.

Poor Hannah was shaking and sobbing, "I couldn't find Daddy! He was just gone! I was trying to find you in the van!" I calmed her down, then realized my predicament: Toby was alone in a running van half a block back and Matt was somewhere in a crowd half a block ahead, surely frantically trying to find Hannah. I wished I had remembered to charge my cell phone. I grabbed Hannah's hand and half drug her along the sidewalk towards the place where I had last seen Matt, glancing back every few seconds towards our tiny van. Within a minute I heard Matt yelling Hannah's name. He was relieved to see her with me, but I was surprised that neither Naomi or Emma was with him.

"I told them to stay right where they were," Matt said, "because I knew I couldn't cover ground quickly enough to find Hannah with them following." Looking ahead down the sidewalk I saw the girls standing stone-still under a streetlight.

"OK, take Hannah then and go get them," I said, "I have to run back to the van because Toby's alone." Within five minutes we were all seven safely back in our van, but it took much longer for my heart to stop pounding. On the way home we sorted out what had happened.

Matt was leading the three girls from one display to another when Hannah's mind had wandered from the task of following him. She remembers hearing him say that they were going to turn towards a different display, but can't exactly remember why she kept walking straight. "I was just following the lights," she admitted quietly. When she realized she was separated from Matt and had no idea where he was she ran a full block back to where she remembered the van being parked to try to find me, but she ran to the wrong parking lot. That was when I had first seen her. Failing to find me there, she began screaming, but I couldn't hear her over the noise of the engine running and the heat blowing. Meanwhile Matt had only had his eyes off the girls for fifteen seconds or so, but by the time he realized she was missing, she had already bolted for the other end of the park.

We had a good talk about safety and what to do if you're lost on the way home. Hannah was still a little shaken when we tucked her in bed. I have a feeling she'll be watching her parents a little more closely the next time we leave the house together.

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