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. . .all over again when I think about it.

It was the summer of 1997. We were getting ready to leave for a relaxing vacation at our favorite destination, Pismo Beach. I was in the house finishing the laundry and packing the suitcases. BigBob went to the garage to get the car ready.

So the boys, who were then 10 and 5 1/2 years old, went outside to play. I reminded them to stay on the quiet circle where our house was located and not go out onto the busier street with which it intersected. There are two entrances to the circle from the more heavily-trafficked thoroughfare and plenty of room between the two to ride bikes. I also asked #1Son to keep an eye on his little brother, who was speeding up and down the sidewalk on his Big Wheels tricycle wearing a neon green Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helmet.

The street that ran parallel to ours is also a circle, but it can be accessed in either direction from the busier street. So it is possible to turn left or right and loop around back to the main intersection.

After a short while, #1Son came in the house, breathless and red-cheeked from riding his bike, and asked, “Hey, Mom, where’s Mattie-Boo?”

I froze, but it was too soon to panic. “He went outside with you and you were supposed to be keeping an eye on him, remember? So why are you asking me where he is?”

“Well, I was riding my bike and he was on the sidewalk on his Big Wheels trike, but when I turned around and looked again, he was gone.”

I was certain that MattieBoo was out there on the circle and #1Son just didn’t see him. So I went out to the garage and told BigBob to go out on the driveway and see where MattieBoo was.

“I don’t see him,” was the response.

And then I felt it for the first time. That sinking feeling. Deep in my stomach. I felt a scream rising up from the innermost recesses of my brain, but stifled it.

“Well, he has to be out there. He went out with #1Son and I told him to stay on the circle.”

“I don’t see him, but I’ll go look.” With that, BigBob hopped into his car, leaving my Camry with oil dripping into a pan under it, and took off. I was confident that in a few seconds, he would be back, and MattieBoo would come peddling down the sidewalk with the sun bouncing off that ugly green helmet with the big smiling face of a turtle on top.

Instead, BigBob came back alone. And that sinking feeling was slowly giving way to full-fledged, oh-my-freakin’-god-where-is-my-child? panic.

I had not gotten dressed yet that morning. I was going to finish the packing while BigBob readied the car. Then we were both going to shower, dress, throw the kids in the back seat and hit the road, arriving in Pismo Beach just in time for dinner and some evening play time in the hotel pool.

So I threw on my really unattractive, but totally comfortable, fuzzy fuchsia bathrobe and headed outside. I no longer cared that the neighbors might see me with my hair askew and discover what kind of schmatta I puttered around my house in.

I couldn’t drive my car since there was no oil in the engine, so BigBob took off again in his car to search the adjoining streets, while I walked up and down the circle, hoping against hope that little green helmet would round the corner.

I contemplated calling the police, figuring that at 10:00 a.m. Monday morning in livable, lovable Lodi, they were probably just sitting around the donut shop gossiping and they may as well come help look for MattieBoo. By this time, he had been missing a good 30 minutes and my bathrobe was soaked with my cold sweat, I was breathing rapidly and shallowly, felt dizzy and thought I might pass out, but knew I couldn’t give in to the effect my fear was having on my body. I had to find MattieBoo. My baby.

So there I was with the cordless phone in my hand, ready to dial 9-1-1, pacing up and down the circle, calling out, “MattieBoo!” when the next door neighbor, a middle schooler, came home with some of his friends. He instantly knew something was wrong. “Did you see MattieBoo on your way home?” I asked him. “No,” but he and his friends took off immediately to join in the search. A few minutes later, they were back. “We can’t find him.”

Nausea set in. The world was spinning. I really thought I was going to lose it.

BigBob came back again and he was pale. He was panicking, too.

“You’d better call the police. I can’t find him anywhere, but I’m heading out again.” He named the streets he had searched, including the next circle over, but planned to retrace his steps. After all, if he was out there on his Big Wheels, he was a moving target. And if he wasn’t there because someone had taken him . . .

I refused to think about it.

Just then I heard sirens on the main thoroughfare a few blocks away. They sent a shiver down my spine the likes of which I have never experienced before or since. “Oh, God . . . please don’t let those be for MattieBoo.” A vision of that hideous green helmet lying in pieces on the busiest street in town flashed before me and I summarily banished it.

Without my car, I was powerless to do anything but keep pacing and call the police to assist. The dispatcher was professional, sympathetic and reassured me that an officer would be along shortly. “I’m sure he’s just gotten lost and we will find him, safe and sound,” she said in a comforting, if utterly unconvincing, tone.

It seemed like an eternity, but a few minutes later, as I stood there willing my knees to hold me up, I looked down the street to see BigBob’s car rounding the corner.

And in the front seat next to him, peeking up just above the dashboard, I could see something very green — and exceptionally beautiful.

I will never forget his little face when he smiled at me through the window of the car as BigBob pulled into the driveway. There was my MattieBoo with that enormous helmet encircling his gorgeous little bespectacled face. He was grinning from ear to ear.

The car had barely stopped when he hopped out and ran over to me, “Mom! I was riding my Big Wheels and Daddy came and got me!” He had no idea how panicked I had been or why I was crying uncontrollably. I grabbed him and refused to let go, carrying him into the house. I went straight to my bedroom and flopped down on the bed, still squeezing him while BigBob got his Big Wheels out of the back of the car.

“Mom, why are you crying?”

“Because I was scared to death. Where were you? We’ve been looking and looking for you.”

“It’s ok, Mom,” he said, taking both of my cheeks into his little hands. “I was on my way home. I wouldn’t leave you.”

Just then BigBob came in. “Where did you find him?”

“Oh, he was just riding along, completely unconcerned. When I pulled up, he told me, ‘I’m trying to get home, Dad.'” He had gone out onto the busy street and ended up on the next circle over.

Ironically, he had been riding around and around that circle, trying to get back onto ours. But the first few times BigBob drove through that adjacent circle looking for him, he was on the opposite side and did not hear BigBob calling him. The same thing must have happened when #1Son and the other boys rode their bikes over to that circle to search for him. Finally, BigBob got lucky, ending up on the same side of the circle at precisely the same moment as MattieBoo.

I let him go back to playing with his brother. They were both aware that I was upset, but completely oblivious, of course, to the extent of my distress or their father’s. I made them stay in the house the rest of the morning while I finished packing, BigBob completed the oil change, and we finished readying to begin our vacation, during which I never took my eyes off either of my babies.

Having learned his lesson about the neighborhood geography, MattieBoo never again left the circle without my permission.

There have been other moments since then when I have gotten a sinking feeling in my stomach, but, thankfully, none exactly like the one I experienced that day.


Originally published August 25, 2007.


33 Comments

  1. I’m so glad this story had a happy ending. When I was a kid, I’m sure I terrified my own mother just like MattieBoo did you.

  2. My heart was beating, I felt sick to my stomach, and by the end of this I was crying with you…this is every parent’s worst nightmare! Words can’t express the relief I felt when your son was found…what a riveting post. I’m only sorry that you had to live through it! Thank you for sharing what has to be the worst “sinking feeling” in the world.

  3. Wow! That sounds scary. Thank you for sharing this, it’s nice to hear he’s alright at the end.

  4. Oh my goodness – what an absolutely dreadful experience! I am SO thankful that it ended happily for you!

  5. Oh my god, my heart was pounding as I read frantically through your post to make sure that it all ended well!

  6. My sons are only 6 and 3 years old, so I really felt your fright. Thank god it ended well.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  7. That was an amazingly gripping post. I completely felt your tension and panic and subsequent relief! There is probably no way you can relate unless you are a parent yourself.

    When I was reading, I was remembering the time that my 6-year old went out for a playdate with her friend at 4PM, expected home at 7PM and was not yet home by 9PM — and I couldn’t reach her friend’s parents via cellphone or home phone. I drove by their house and to every park in the city, but couldn’t find them. It was a terrible feeling. Turns out they had stopped by the ice-cream store and stayed longer than they had planned.

  8. OMG! I can’t even imagine going through that! It’s the feeling of being powerless and the not knowing. It’s every parent’s nightmare. I’m so glad that your story had a happy ending!

  9. Kids can be so blissfully unaware of how much their actions are affecting the parents. This is one of the reason I never want to have kids…but then there are the moments of pure magic.

    Happy BYB Sunday and have a great week ahead.

  10. I was kind of anxious reading this with a sick feeling. I was so relieved when you mentioned that green helmet. Kids sometimes don’t know the extent of our concern for them.

  11. My heart was in my mouth during the entire reading! Glad it was only a sinking feeling and not a disaster. Cute kid!

  12. Oh, I stayed with you all the way with this one. Totally gripping. What a gorgeous boy. I can see him in that helmet!

  13. Very panicky situation. The mother love was very strongly expressed. Great Post!

  14. Oh, I know just the feeling you’re writing about. I’ve never had any situation quite so panicky, but I hope I never do.

    I’m glad it all came out well.

    Great post.

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  17. Terrifying!
    I’m so sorry this happened to you and your family and so relieved that it all turned out okay.
    God bless you.
    (He already has!)

  18. It’s clearly every parent’s nightmare. I’m happy everything ended up well! My daughter is trying to resist me holding her hand in the grocery store and sometimes, she disappears from my sight and I panic. When I look again, she is just playing peek a boo behind me!! I always feel fear even for a second.
    Visiting from COFL.

    • My oldest nephew used to think it was fun to hide in the racks of clothing, especially those round kind. I thought I’d lost him a couple of times . . . Scary!

  19. This was like a suspense thriller. I couldn’t move my eyes off the PC till I did not complete the whole story. I can just imagine what state you must have been at that point of time. But I guess at these times do we realize the value of each and every relationship in our lives.

  20. Pingback: That Sinking Feeling » In Mother Words

  21. I had a sick stomach the whole time I was reading this! I have had similar situations with my kids and the panic you feel is unbelievable. Glad everything turned out good!

  22. Oh, my beating heart! Your story had me so nervous! I’m glad you were able to keep it together like you did, I doubt very much that I would react the same way. I’m usually known for shouting out for Sprite when I lose her in a crowded room. Of family members. You’re linked up for last week’s Cycle and I’ll link you up again for this upcoming round!
    .-= Sprite’s Keeper´s last blog . . . Celebrating the family firecracker =-.

  23. :mrgreen:

    Glad everything worked out for you. I was starting to get scared the further down I went. I actually felt what you were describing. lol

    Sidenote: I grew up around Pismo Beach. *High Five*

  24. Almost speechless. First of all, very well written, I felt like I was living or re-living the whole event right along with you. So glad your little guy was found safe, sound and happy. I have two little girls…OMG! Love your blog. Keep up the awesom work!
    .-= Phil W.´s last blog . . . Commodity Options Trading: Volatility Matters =-.

  25. Dave@Conversation marketing Philadelphia

    My heart is still pounding after reading that! I couldn’t imagine what you went through. You feel so helpless in what you can do. All you can do is wait… which doesn’t help!

  26. Diesel Engine Performance

    Glad everything worked out for you. I was starting to get scared the further down I went. I actually felt what you were describing. lol

  27. I can only imagine about how hard can it be to be a parent, let alone concieve a baby. Its funny how we can be strong as rock infront of the world, but melt down in an instant to see our child smile or cry.
    thanks for such a touching story!

  28. Anonymous

    “And then I felt it for the first time. That sinking feeling. Deep in my stomach. I felt a scream rising up from the innermost recesses of my brain, but stifled it.”

    I had the same feeling when I was out in the mall with the kids. My little girl was just playing around when I turned around and she was gone. As it turns out, her attraction was distracted by a nearby ice cream store.

    “Just then I heard sirens on the main thoroughfare a few blocks away. They sent a shiver down my spine the likes of which I have never experienced before or since. “Oh, God . . . please don’t let those be for MattieBoo.” A vision of that hideous green helmet lying in pieces on the busiest street in town flashed before me and I summarily banished it.”

    I had the chill down my spine when I was first reading this blog. It’s a good thing nothing bad happened to your son.

  29. I am so happy your son was not harmed. I can relate on what you have felt as you are searching for him. Any mother will feel exactly the same way as you did.

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