I was driving down my street, slowing to turn into my driveway when I saw a pink streak zoom across the road in front of me.
When Sunshine realized I was turning in, she scooted her bike out of the way and waved.
“Sorry.” She said through my car window while pulling off her bike helmet.
“Sorry for what?” I replied.
“For parking in your way.” She didn’t understand where my sharpness had come from.
“Oh, I see. I thought maybe you were apologizing for racing across the road on your bike without checking for cars.”
She put on her “Busted” face.
“We’ve talked about this. This is your last warning. The next time I see you do something dangerous like that, I will take your bike away. I would rather you not have a bike than me not have you.”
“Okay.” She said, sounding a bit defeated. I felt bad for yelling at her as soon as I got home.
“Are you coming in?” I asked.
“No, I’m going to ride my bike a little more.”
“Okay – you just make sure you’re CAREFUL. It only takes a second to look for cars. You’re not too busy for that!”
I went in the house and started on dinner. The Man was downstairs playing games with Ninja Boy.
Twenty minutes later, the spaghetti was nearly done and I called my boys up and asked NB to call for his sister.
“She’s not out there.” He said a few minutes later.
This was not the first time she’s been late coming home. It was not the first time we called for her and she had gone out of hearing range (usually inside a friends’ house). I walked down our sidewalk and called both directions for her, then went in to eat.
“Well, her dinner will just be cold, then.” I said, trying to cover my anxiety.
We all ate. Then started to clean up dinner. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I shut of the water and threw on a sweatshirt. “I’m going to walk to the end of the block.” I called as I ran out the door.
I walked up the block, then back down to the other end. I peered around the houses to check the back yards. I looked for her bike hiding by bushes. I called her name.
Stopping back at home, The Man informed me that her bike was there the whole time. She had switched to her scooter. So we both walked, again, up and down the block searching for a sign of her.
I walked down to the park that, even though it is out of her “play area” in the neighborhood, is not too far for her to get to. No luck there. I walked back through the field where some kids take their bikes to “jump.” That was when the feeling flooded my body. I had fought it off, disguised it as anger, pretended it wasn’t there. But there it was, full on and fierce: fear.
I have an absurd knack for envisioning the worst situation possible. Not just thinking, “Oh, I hope THIS didn’t happen.” No. Perhaps it is due to all the graphic images my mind has taken in over the years, but I SEE the worst happening. My ‘visions’ come more when I’m driving, but they are never as bad as when I’m looking for my child in a vacant field.
What if someone snatched her? Just pulled up and grabbed her? What could she do??
What if they didn’t TAKE her, but just harmed her and left her somewhere? How would we ever find her?
I tried to shut it off. “That didn’t happen. She’s fine. She. Is. Fine.” I muttered to myself repeatedly.
I went back home and told The Man I couldn’t find her. He got in the car to patrol the neighborhood. He could see my lips quivering and told me to wait at the house in case she called.
I looked at Ninja Boy with desperation in my eyes and asked him if he would be willing to go door to door to check for her. He obliged.
I walked calmly in the house, into the bathroom. I closed the door, then fell to my knees sobbing.
“Please, God. PLEASE. Bring my girl home okay.” I cried over and over.
My crying was interrupted by Ninja Boy, who burst through the garage door yelling, “HERE SHE COMES!!!!”
I thanked The Lord, wiped my face and ran outside.
Sunshine met me with a smile. “Oh, no!” I cried, “Where WERE you!?”
“At…my…friend’s house.” She said meekly.
“Um. My friend right down there.”
“So…you went to someone’s house that YOU don’t even know their name…and you thought that would be okay!?? You didn’t think we would be worried!?”
She didn’t know what to say. She knew she had done wrong.
“I’m not even going to yell at you because Daddy is very mad and I know he will.”
She sat, sullen, at the kitchen table. I put her plate in front of her and kissed her on the head. “I was very scared, doll. VERY scared. I didn’t know where you were and I was scared and upset. I love you so much.”
She got her Daddy Lecture, choked down her cold spaghetti and went straight to bed.
When I tucked her in later, she told me she was sorry she had scared me and “I’ll never do that again!”
“That’s good, baby, because I don’t think I could handle worrying about you like that again.”
But I know – I have eleven more years before she’ll venture off on her own. Eleven years – mostly teenage – during which she is going to forget to call or be she’ll be late getting home. During which she will get a driver’s license and go on dates. Trips with friends, sleepovers, lock-ins, parties and The Yet to Be Determined. And then she’s going to leave me to be a grown up and I’ll have a whole new mess of reasons to worry about her.
I think I had better trade up for a stronger heart.