Today my church hosted a mommy and me Harvest Party for the moms that are part of the MOPS program. Of course Judah and I went - I had bought him the cutest skeleton costume. I hate the big deal that Halloween has become, but I love that there's one day a year that kids can dress up and be whatever they want to be. Or in this case, whatever I want Judah to be. He looked so cute! The program was fun. We were all together in the church nursery with the kids playing and running around and the moms chatting. Our leader explained the craft for the morning and we all moved off for our tables.
The craft involved making leaf and fruit prints on canvas, along with words and whatever else we wanted to make a Thanksgiving door hanger. Since Judah's so little, I didn't involve him in the leaf-printing part, knowing that he'd just make a huge mess all over both of us and anyone sitting near us. But then I wanted to put his hand prints on my canvas. So I got up to go get him. And he wasn't there.
I checked the room down the hall. Not there. I asked the other moms if they'd seen him. No one had. I looked toward the end of the hall, and there was the door, standing wide open to the outside, to the courtyard which is only a hundred feet or so from a busy boulevard.
Panic. I never knew what it felt like until right then. I got dizzy, and I couldn't breathe right, and I was fighting to hold it together so I could look for Judah. By that time our children's director was looking too, and within a couple minutes the church office staff was searching for him. I've never known such terror or helplessness, knowing he could be anywhere: inside one of the other buildings, crossing the boulevard on his own - a tiny black figure in the path of huge trucks, falling off one of the balconies, riding to Barstow in the back of a crazy person's car. He moves fast. How would I ever find him with so many places for him to be? And the worst part was knowing it was all my fault, that I'd been in the room and not paying attention to him. I realized then exactly how much this tiny person means to me, how if anything happened to him I would want to stop living because the pain would be unbearable.
I searched the courtyard, the front of the church, the back parking lot, the inside stairwell, the street. I tried calling him, but my voice was so unsteady that I stopped, not wanting to scare him if he could hear me. Just as I was beginning to wonder who I should call first (Nathan or the police?), my friend Shayleen yelled at me from the front of the nursery that they'd found him. He'd managed to open the door between the nursery and the play yard, and then gotten stuck out there. Fortunately, the play yard is completely enclosed, so he was relatively safe. I managed not to break down completely (just broke down a little) and went to get Judah. He had big tears in his eyes. He was only missing for about five minutes, I think. But it felt like a hundred million years.