We couldn't find Lila.
We were getting ready to leave for a family dinner at my parents' house. The front door was open. We were both occupied with packing up the last of the essentials - diapers, baby food, etc. I was in our room when I heard the Husband call for her. She didn't answer. He called for her again. No answer. I heard him open the screen door and call outside. I came out of our room, "Is she not answering?"
He shook his head and stepped outside to check her usual spots - the swing set, the back patio, her bike. I walked through the house calling for her, too. I heard my voice go from casual to frustrated to angry to nervous to frantic with each shout of her name.
"Lila! Lila! Lila answer Mommy! Lila, Mommy is scared because I don't know where you are - answer me!"
I saw the Husband cross in front of the house and called to him from the door, "She's not in the back?"
He shook his head again. His gait told me he was starting to get nervous, too. I tried to keep it together. She must be hiding somewhere. "Lila, don't hide. Come out!"
Faith was buckled into her carseat watching me run back and forth through the house. I wondered vaguely if she could sense my panic.
The Husband had gone to check with the neighbors in case Lila had decided to visit her buddy, Neveah, who lives next door. I couldn't imagine her doing that, though. Their yard backs to the side of our house and we never go around to their front door. Lila's taken to yelling for Neveah from our side of the fence until Neveah comes to her back door. The pit in my stomach was starting to get bigger as I realized we were out of usual places to look and we were moving on to the unusual. I tried to think. When did I last see her? She was standing by the front door. Could someone have taken her? What if she wandered out into the street and got hit by a car? Could she have left our yard? She wouldn't do that. She wouldn't do that.
It couldn't have been more than three or four minutes, but it felt longer - just like they always say it does. I started to wonder at what point we should call the police when I had a thought, Check the car.
I ran out to the car parked in the driveway and as I rounded the front of it I thought I saw movement inside. When I reached her window I could see on her face that she was scared. She must have seen us panicking, heard us calling for her. I tore the door open yelling, "Eric! Eric I found her!" Fumbling with the seatbelt the tears of relief started to come. She was completely silent as she gripped my shoulders and climbed into my arms. The Husband came around from the neighbor's house, followed by the neighbor with a relieved look on his face.
"She was in the car - she had buckled herself into her car seat."
Back inside, I collapsed into the chair by the door, holding her tight to me and trying to assure my brain and heart that everything was okay. I didn't say anything for several minutes, just held her close to me and tried to stop crying. I knew I was scaring her and I weighed how much of my fear I wanted her to feel.
A small voice said, "I was ready to go."
"You were ready to go?"
"So you went outside and got in the car and buckled yourself?"
In my mind, I could hear her whining, "I'm ready to goooooo," as we distractedly packed up Faith's bottles and diapers. She must have decided to take matters into her own hands when we didn't respond fast enough. I didn't even know she could open the car door by herself.
"Lila, you do NOT go outside without asking Mommy or Daddy first, do you understand? Mommy was scared because I didn't know where you were."
"Because. You're my favorite thing and I thought I had lost you. I thought I had lost my favorite thing."
Her big brown eyes studied me solemnly. I could tell she was scared. I could tell she knew I was scared.
"Could you hear Mommy and Daddy yelling for you? Could you see us?"
"Did you answer?"
"Yeah, but you couldn't hear me."
I put myself in her three-year-old shoes. She could hear us and see us, but we couldn't hear her. And she can't work the bottom part of her car seat's buckle so she couldn't get back out. Not to mention that her door has child locks on it so it won't open from the inside. I switched into reassuring mode.
"It's okay, Peanut. You're safe. We just didn't know where you were. It's okay. Next time, you ask Mommy or Daddy before you go outside okay?"
She nodded and wrapped herself around me again. I held her for a good five minutes - willing those moments of relief to cancel out the moments I thought I'd lost her. But it was hours before my heart rate returned to normal. I just kept thinking of all the things that could have happened. I just kept thinking, What if we hadn't found her?
Sometimes I catch myself reading news stories about horrible things that have happened to children. I don't know what it is - it's like my brain wants to know all the possible scenarios so that I can be ready to combat them if they occur. But really, it just makes me feel sick for the moms of those children who are living their own worst nightmares. It makes me fear even the smallest calamities. I start to live in the "what ifs" and they threaten to become more real than the true story.
I don't want to live a life of fear and it is a daily battle to say no to fear and trust our Good Lord with my family. But when fear comes knocking hard on the door, reminding me that those three minutes when we couldn't find our girl could have stretched into ten minutes, then thirty, then an hour, then more...it's hard to remember to trust. It's hard to just shoosh that fear away.
The thing is, we aren't immune from tragedy - I know that too well. But I want to find the balance of being proactive and wise, and being paranoid and fearful. I don't want my kids to live a life of fear - and they will if that's what I model to them. I don't want them to miss out on life's adventures just because things were are little dangerous. I want them to be strong and courageous and trust the Lord with all their hearts. So I need to figure out how to be strong and courageous and to model a life of trust, not fear - even as I go to every length necessary to keep my kids safe.
Lord, help me to be wise, but not fearful. Help me to trust your goodness and mercies. Thank you that you knew where Lila was even when we didn't. Please protect my children. They're my favorite things.