15 May 2009

Black Pants, Striped Shirt

I have been meaning to write about our Easter Sunday for awhile now. It was a big day. A good day for many hours, but a day that took some wild turns and tumbles.

I've been meaning to write about it, but haven't. It was such an intense day and I've had trouble capturing the depth and breadth of the intensity. Until now, I have given up. But the story won't stop rappin' on me brain, so I suppose I'll just try to tell it.

We went to a local regional park on Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful day. . .we brought bounteous good food from Trader Joe's. . .the weather was perfect and the kids went swimming in the lake. . .we loved every minute of it. Until the part where I got the hair brained idea to take ALL FIVE KIDS for a walk around Lake Anza. Give the hubby a break, I thought. Let him stay back at the beach and "chill," I thought. Such a dumb idea.

The walk around the lake was much more treacherous than I had remembered. Small girls -- all of them mine -- fell multiple times in the first five minutes, due to rocky and rooty path conditions.

This culminated in Lola tripping with serious ferocity over a mean ole root, and planting her face on a very pointy rock. I heard the scream before I saw the blood, busy as I was keeping the other two girls from falling in the lake. Lola turned to me with her hands covering her cheek and screaming that scream that moms 'round the world know instinctively to signify "not your average boo-boo."

There was a lot of blood. As it happens, she was wearing a white shirt, which accentuated the bright red blood quite vividly, and somehow made the entire situation scarier.

Anyway, we were half way around the lake at this point, and I had absolutely nothing with me to help her feel better or get cleaned up. The walk thus ended, with me telling the boys to get back to the beach, grab the wipes, and head back towards me.

I started back to the beach with the three girls, trying to shepherd them as quickly as possible, which wasn't fast enough for the 6-year old bloody cheek. Anyone else know how hard it is to rush a 4-year old and a 2-year old along a nature path? I'm sure many of you do. It's tough.

And the boys? Yeah, they forgot the part about returning with wipes; instead, they got back to the lake and jumped in for another swim. Heh.

The entire way back around the lake, I was like a mother hen, escorting the three girls along the path, swiveling my head back and forth to ensure they all stayed with me. Arriving at the gate of the beach area, I turned one last time, head counted all three girls, hollered an update to Rick, and hustled Lola down to the lifeguard station for some first aid.

Lola had settled onto the bench and the Lifeguard/Angel had started to patch her up, when Rick called down to me: "Where's Tallulah?"

Thus began the longest 15 minutes of my life. We could not find her. My 2-year old was gone, in the blink of an eye, at a lake, with too many different directions to look. What started as your average "can't find the kid for a minute" kept stretching out in time until it became a full blown fear, wide and ugly and bottomless.

I have often wondered, while watching news stories about children gone missing and hearing bulletins that start with "last seen wearing...," if I would even remember what my kid was wearing when she was last seen. In less high-stakes situations, I can sometimes come up with a shirt color or pattern, sometimes not.

Under the late afternoon sky on Easter Sunday, I knew. I couldn't get those black pants and the multicolored striped shirt out of my head. In the space of 15 minutes, I kept repeating "black pants, striped shirt." People joined the search: I could hear the news traveling from picnic blanket to frisbee game to BBQ pit: a 2-year old girl...black pants, striped shirt...missing from the gate of the beach area.

Rick and I were running, running, running, scanning the meadow, the beach, the paths, doing our best not to think too much about the lake edges. We had left our other kids at the lake with the lifeguard, while we split up to look in opposite directions. I felt so incredibly alone on what might suddenly become the worst day of my life. I was running hard, and breathing hard, and asking everyone I saw if they'd seen a 2-year old girl in black pants and a striped shirt, and thinking "I'm the mom, I need help, I need someone to tell me it's going to be OK and that someone has found her, and she will be in my arms in a moment." I wanted Rick to be with me, reassuring me, promising me that she was just around the next curve in the path.

The story does have a happy ending. We found her. On the third or fourth pass through the beach, I ran by Samuel, looking wild-eyed and panicked I am sure. Alarmed, he said: "Mom! What's going on?"

I told him we couldn't find Tallulah, and ran past him on the way to the lifeguard, who would certainly have walkie-talkies and wouldn't walkie-talkies help? But Sam called me back: "Mom, she's right here!"

I turned and there were the little legs in black pants and the chubby arms in striped sleeves. Air returned to my lungs, and blood rushed back into my head, and tears started pouring from my eyes.

I ran up the beach, grabbed her, and plopped down on the sand and sobbed.

My "pre-tween" begged me to stop crying because "people are watching. Everyone is staring at you, mom!" he hissed between clenched teeth. The 2-year old herself took my face in both her hands and kept saying "Top tying, mama; top tying." (Stop crying.)

We left shortly after we were once again a party of seven.

And when we were all in the car on our way, we realized that Lola's cheek was still bleeding profusely, soaking through the bandage the lifeguard had given her. The cut was like a puncture wound, as if someone had taken a large bore needle and jammed it into her face.

So. Having once been told that I should have brought my son in for stitches on a cut that I "home treated," I knew how the sun would go down on my Easter Sunday. Off to the ER we went, Lola and I. Four hours later, and no stitches needed, we arrived back home, and I had the most wonderful priveledge of putting all of my children to bed, whole and well and accounted for.

It was quite a day.

The next day, thanks to Laura, with whom I shared the whole story, I was able to make some good out of this horrendous experience. After we found Tallulah and filled in the boys about how she had been missing, Samuel felt truly terrible about forgetting to return with the wipes, as if he were responsible for the situation. He fairly tortured himself with "If I had remembered, this wouldn't have happened." And Laura pointed out to me that Sam was the one who found her, who ended the whole search.

So that next night, as I was putting the kids to bed, I talked with Samuel more about how he was feeling.

"Samuel, the only thing you did yesterday was the best thing anyone did for me in my whole life: you gave me back Tallulah. You were the one who showed me where she was. You brought us all back together."

Short of holding Tallulah in my arms on the sandy beach, the look on his face was all the Easter gift I will ever need.

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5 comments:

TeacherMommy said...

You brought me to tears...

nicole said...

I'm teary and I already know the story of that day!

Sarah said...

I was crying as well. I'm so glad all was okay in the end.

Viv said...

I LOVE happy endings.

Karen said...

Thanks for sharing the story - beautifully written.