I had turned my cell phone ringer off, so it wasn’t until the conference lunch break that I noticed I had a half dozen missed calls waiting for me. When you have kids, and you get 6 calls in the course of a few hours, you get uneasy. I phoned my wife.
“The police called me this morning and said there was an incident with G at preschool.”
Immediately my stomach drops, coming to rest on the floor of my pelvis. It is amazing how fast the synapses can fire in less than a second, and how many random scenarios you can play out in your heard before you hear the line after that one. Accident? Hospital? Injury? Anyphylactic reaction of my 3 year old allergic son?
“He’s okay,” said my wife, her voice quivering on the other end of the line. “The preschool forgot him at the playground.”
“What?” My stomach lurches.
“They went to the playground for a Sportball lesson. While they were there another parent dropped of their kid, and they miscounted before they walked back to the centre. He got left behind in the park.”
She goes into the details. He was playing, looked around and realized he was all alone. Everyone was gone. He started crying. We’ve talked to him about this scenario before – if he gets lost he should look for a Mom with kids and ask for help. So, he does. Crying, he manages to find a Mom and tell her his preschool has left. So the Mom calls 911. Police are on the way. Meanwhile, another Mom in the playground notices the commotion and comes over. She somehow manages to figure out that the preschool G goes to is the same as the one her nephew goes to. Lucky. The police arrive. A phone call is made back to the preschool, and a few minutes later a breathless preschool teacher arrives back in the park. Both she and G are given a ride back to the preschool by the police, who spend some time talking to the staff.
My little guy is okay. By the time we picked him up, the incident was becoming distant. His first words to us when we walked into the preschool playground was “Dad, guess what? Today I climbed a tree!” This was followed by “…and got to ride in a police car.”
I am so full of mixed emotions about this incident. We have had an incredible relationship with this daycare/preschool for the past 5 years (The Girl has been going there since she was 14 months old) and know the staff to be nothing but competent, caring and committed. We love these people like we do family because they ARE family. Our children spend many hours a week in their care and we know and trust them. It goes without saying that they were as upset by the whole incident as we were. I have no doubt that steps will be taken to ensure this never happens again. Our relationship, and my trust in them, is still solid.
But it’s that brief split second between “there was an incident” and “he is okay” that I can’t seem to shake, and which has shaken me. For it is in that brief split second that you come face to face with your worst fear as a parent. It is a brief second that lasts an eternity and replays in your head long after the moment has passed. The moment when you believe that the worst has happened. I know that everything turned out well in the end, and I should focus on that. But still, it will take some time for the power of that split second emotional burst to fade.
Mostly, however, I am feeling gratitude; gratitude that this did have a happy ending, and immense gratitude to the kind strangers who, upon seeing a child in distress, got involved and helped.