Updated: Oct 12, 2019
One year ago, my three-year-old daughter was lost for 18 minutes. They were the longest 18 minutes of my life.
She went out into the garage just a minute before me as I was busily grabbing snacks for our ½ mile walk to the bus stop. When I went into the garage she wasn’t there. I called to her. Silence. I ran to the swing set, but she wasn’t there either. I scrammed for her. Silence. I began to panic and assumed maybe she had never gone outside. I went back into the house and pleaded with her to come out. I offered candy and lollipops but still there was only silence. I began to search around inside then outside then inside again. Back and forth I went calling her name. I looked everywhere. It didn’t make sense. She was nowhere to be found.
I began to wonder if she had decided to walk to the bus stop on her own. I got in my car to drive down the road then I froze. I got out of my car to check underneath. All clear. I got back in my car and began to pull out of the garage when I froze again. THE POOL. It was covered but what if??? I ran to the pool. It was clear. She had simply vanished. We live at the end of a quiet dead-end street surrounded by woods. Had she wondered into the woods and lost her way? Had someone grabbed her? My mind went in all directions.
After eight minutes of searching and in complete desperation, I called 911. I had been trained to respond calmly in emergencies. I had been trained to relayed the facts. I did my best to stay calm when inside every cell in my body was screaming. I remember saying over and over, “she’s wearing a gray dress with graphics on it, pink pants, pink cowboy boots and her hair is in a bow.”
With each passing second the severity of the situation grew heavier. My husband was midair flying home from a business trip. I remember thinking, “how will he ever forgive me?” At one point my panic began to escalate again and I heard the 911 operator saying, “we’re losing her”. How ironic, given I was right there and my daughter was no where to be found. Just then the police cruiser came down my driveway.
In all the chaos I had forgotten my 5-year-old would be getting off the bus and I wouldn’t be there for her. I was failing both of my daughters. I called a friend who lived nearby and asked her to sort things out with my oldest child.
One officer searched the perimeter of our home while another searched inside. I ran to my closest neighbors' house. I was an absolute wreck as I rang their door bell repeatedly. My neighbor happens to be a State Trooper. He jumped into action to help coordinating with the officers. His wife stayed close to me. His daughter went down the road to search. A chain of support was activated.
As minutes passed, the panic in my heart and belly began to give way to dread. I prayed to God, "please, please, please find my baby". I was just about to drop to my knees when my neighbor calmed me and gently guided me back to the garage where this nightmare had begun. My neighbor's name is Celeste which means heavenly. She lead me right to my daughter.
My eyes were immediately drawn to my daughter crouching behind our double stroller. She looked terrified. I ran to her and held her as tears streamed down my cheeks. She was so scared. I’ll never understand what was going on in her head. She had frozen in the panic. How had we all missed her?
Beyond my house and my yard, our neighbors had gotten involved in the search. My friend took my oldest daughter off of her bus and alerted the bus driver of teh situation. The bus driver agreed to search on her route. In my darkest 18 minutes, our community showed up.
That night after my husband got home and we put our girls to bed, those 18 minutes came flooding back to me. My body would not stop shaking and my tears poured out. For 18 minutes I had to hold it together and now it was time to finally release. I shook and sobbed and then put myself in a hot bath to soak.
Two life changing truths emerged in the weeks following as I continued to process what had happened.
My daughter was hiding in plain sight. The phrase “hiding in plain sight” echoed in my brain. She was physically hiding in plain sight while I was metaphorically hiding in plain sight. I was showing only parts of myself to the world all the while keeping so many other parts hidden. This was an invitation and an awakening.
The second gift of this ordeal was that that my community was right here to support me. All I had to do was ask. I’ve always had a hard time asking for help instead insisting on doing everything on my own. Here was the Universe saying, “you are held and you are supported.”
This year I came out of hiding. I now let others see the parts of me that I'd become an expert at concealing. I no longer hide my humanity. I no longer hide my emotions. I no longer hide my wisdom. I no longer hide my wounds. I no longer hide my needs. I no longer hide from my dreams. I no longer hide from failure. I no longer hide from vulnerability. And this has all been possible because I allowed community to support me.
And I've created a new safety practice with my youngest daughter. I sing, "when I say Sadie, you say Mama, SADIE" then she follows in her adorable voice, "MAMA!"
Let yourself be seen. Let yourself be supported.