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This is my entry this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This week we had to chose from among four topics. The topic I chose is "Disappear."

Running errands, I came to a horrifying realization. My toddler, nearly 2, was not in the car. Thinking that he'd somehow wriggled out of his car seat, I called his name. No answer. Racking my brain, I tried to recall where I'd last seen him. I could not remember. Frantically, I retraced my steps, shouting his name. My little Kung Fu Panda was nowhere.

Mercifully, I awoke in a sweat. Immediately, I ran to my son's crib. His chubby arms to each side, he lay on his stomach, his little butt thrust in the air. Because of the warm night, his honey-blonde curls were plastered on either side of his face. His long-lashed eyelids were still pressed together. He was only sleeping late. My body must have sensed the hour and been alarmed at the quiet.

I am so lucky I get to wake up.

My main paycheck comes from transcribing cable news programs, so I watch many stories about parents who aren't so lucky. I wish I could simply change the channel. If I want to get paid, however, I must keep watching. Sometimes, I feel as if I'm strapped down, my eyes propped open with toothpicks, as news anchors interview weeping families, replay grainy surveillance footage, and repeat the meager known facts: what the children were wearing, where they disappeared from, who saw them last.

I want to embrace those families. I want to rescue the children. I want to see the perpetrators punished to the full extent of the law. On the nights when the stories change from hopeful to tragic, the nights when bodies are recovered, I rush into the room where my husband is caring for our son. When he's awake, I hug my panda. When he's sleeping, I watch him longingly. Only then do I return to work.

For me, such stories don't stay in the transcripts I deliver each night. They are in the back of my head every time a stranger gets too friendly. While they all claim to be grandparents, or estranged fathers, whenever somebody sidles up to me and my little guy, my spirit animal -- a bear, naturally -- swells around us both. My claws, and jaws, are at the ready. I shut these strangers down with curt responses and walk away, grasping my son firmly by the hand or, better yet, holding him close.

My little panda, who picks up on my vibe, refuses to talk to those who impose on our space. Instead, he reserves his bright smiles and nascent conversing skills for those whom I introduce. "This is Miss Jen, Mommy's friend," I tell him, and he says hi, while standing close to me. If he recognizes her, he'll give her a hug. If not, he hangs close to me until he feels more secure.

Again and again, I have drilled into his head that he must "stay close to Mommy" when we are out together. This was born of necessity, when he first discovered his ability to run. I tried, briefly, to use a harness (a.k.a. a leash) to restrain him but found this only made him sink to his knees in frustrated tears. To keep him safe, I realized, I had to teach him to keep himself safe.

I was a stubborn, willful child, and my mother never tires of telling embarrassing stories about my rebelliousness. Once, when my parents were visiting friends in Texas, I decided I wasn't going to walk any further. My mother was very pregnant with my brother and told me I couldn't be carried. So I plunked my little butt down on the pavement, and Mommy and Daddy called my bluff. They walked away.

To hear my mother tell it, they walked until I was a tiny little speck before they finally relented and came back. To my mom, this is an amusing story about a willful child. To me, fueled with these nightly news stories, it is a chilling tale.

So many things could have happened in those long moments when I was out of arm's reach. So many horrible endings. I could easily have been one of the disappeared. Perhaps my spirit bear protected me, even then, expanding its starry fur in a bubble around me. I can see her -- me -- that tiny blonde speck, unaware of how fortunate she would become.

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( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 1st, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
If I haven't said it before, I'm saying it now: I will not be surprised if you're the last writer standing.
Jun. 1st, 2012 01:04 am (UTC)
No, you haven't said that before, but I am humbled and thrilled that you would think so. The irony is that I wasn't certain about this piece, but the topic simply would not leave me alone.
Jun. 1st, 2012 12:40 pm (UTC)
I don't know how you deal with those transcripts. Even though I've heard that most kidnappings are by relatives or people who know the family, it his me on a level that is separate from logic.

My son is 16 months old and is just in the running phase now. I'm trying to teach him to stay close and hold hands near the street but so far that involves a lot of "ok, if you won't hold my hand I'm picking you up" and then him screeeeeeeeching. This too shall pass, right?
Jun. 1st, 2012 01:13 pm (UTC)
It will, or so they tell me. We carry him across the street right now, because we don't trust drivers to slow down for little legs. Usually, he's excited about walking, but sometimes he just keeps putting up his arms and saying, "Up, up!"

And yes, it is often family members, which only makes me more angry when I hear such stories.
Jun. 1st, 2012 11:45 pm (UTC)
A wonderful entry. I enjoyed it as usual.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 12:56 am (UTC)
Thank you very much!
Jun. 2nd, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
The stories terrify me as well and I don't even have kids. To think of what evil lurks out there... It sounds like you are raising your son well and I believe your a wonderful mom who will take care of him at all costs.

This entry was great, very well written and makes you think.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 04:25 am (UTC)
Thank you. As he gets older, I suppose I'm going to have to reach a balance between protecting him and allowing him some freedom. That's going to be very difficult.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
*hugs* Such a chilling thought.

I was lost once in a store, and I went to the register the way my parents always taught me. It was maybe five minutes at the most but my mom was in tears when she came up to get me.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
Thanks goodness! I would have been, too. My sister once took a walk on the beach when she was a little girl, and the entire family was searching for her. We even got the lifeguard involved. When she finally sauntered back, she said she was surprised we had all gotten so upset.
(no subject) - jem0000000 - Jun. 2nd, 2012 09:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Jun. 2nd, 2012 11:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jem0000000 - Jun. 2nd, 2012 05:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - medleymisty - Jun. 4th, 2012 12:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jem0000000 - Jun. 4th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 2nd, 2012 06:11 am (UTC)
Wow - powerful stuff! I like the idea that to keep a child safe, one of the important things is to teach them age-appropriate self-protection. Excellent point!
Jun. 2nd, 2012 06:22 am (UTC)
It's on my mind all the time. I've seen parents, out of a belief that it's impolite for their children to shirk away from strangers, encourage them to say hi. I do the opposite; instead I tell the offending stranger that "he's shy" and to leave him alone. It's amazing the impositions some people will make. He's right not to automatically trust strangers, and I don't want to teach him to ignore his instincts.

I've also been known to look out for other people's children. If I see a distracted child wandering away from his or her mother, I'll call out to the mom.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 07:03 pm (UTC)
Powerful, and moving. I've known enough kids that take time to trust new people, and it makes more sense to me than the ones that are encouraged to be overly friendly. Who would take it personally that a child is shy?

I'm either weirdly independent/aware or my parents didn't mind, but they would let me sit and read in the book aisle during grocery trips.
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
How old were you at the time? They probably figured it was a good way to keep you happy.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
It is so sad the things that can happen in this world.
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:01 am (UTC)
Very true.
Jun. 2nd, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
How to keep them safe and let them grow at the same time...
a constant parenting dilemma. Even when they get all grown up, moms never stop worrying sometimes. This was very touching.
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:08 am (UTC)
Thank you. I've said before to other people that from the moment he began to crawl, every step in development is, in a way, a step away from me. I'm going to try to enjoy every moment while he's young enough to still need me.
(no subject) - myrna_bird - Jun. 4th, 2012 01:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Jun. 4th, 2012 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - myrna_bird - Jun. 4th, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 3rd, 2012 01:25 am (UTC)
I love your take on you teaching KFP to keep himself safe. Obviously he won't understand the implications until he's older. Empowering your child like that better than any harness.

You'll never stop worrying. You're a mom.
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:12 am (UTC)
Very true. And the harness just didn't feel right, for many reasons. You're absolutely right; I will always fear for him but will do my best to make him strong and capable.
Jun. 3rd, 2012 02:09 am (UTC)
I still worry now. Mine are 50, or close, it never ends.
Our youngest son often took to wandering, not with malicious intent, he was just curious about the world
He got out through a normally locked backyard gate, when I had been watching from the kitchen until then, Then I was distracted by an emergency, and he was gone. He walked to the school where his brother and sister went. It was about 2 miles and he was not even 4 years old. It was a route past a wood and not safe. I was distraught. He went missing again and was found in the midst of a herd of bullocks, quite at home and happy. The final time was when at 13 he walked a 16 year old girl home to another village,(to be gallant) that time the police were involved as I was convinced my wandering son had met his end. I was sure he was dead in a ditch, his older brother lost him when he got chips after youth club. It was 1.30am. when he came home, and he never forgot the 'welcome' which was full of anguish and rage. I love him and he grew up to be an independant hard working man. But now it starts, he has teenage daughters.....he knows the pain now.

See what you have stirred up with your wonderful entry, we all react to it!!

Edited at 2012-06-03 02:10 am (UTC)
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
Wow! Those are terrific stories, because they ended well. At the time, though, they must have been horrifying. I once followed the wrong pair of legs at a store and was surprised when I looked up and realized it wasn't my mom.
Jun. 4th, 2012 12:37 am (UTC)

It must be awful to have to listen to those stories when you're so worried about your own kid, but it does mean that you're extra careful and work hard to keep him safe.
Jun. 4th, 2012 02:59 am (UTC)
Thanks. It's so true.
Jun. 4th, 2012 02:59 am (UTC)
I never had kids, but like you I heard the horror stories. I just cannot imagine what that it must feel like when you can't find your child.

Thanks so much for sharing.
Jun. 4th, 2012 03:20 am (UTC)
Re: Wow.
Thanks for reading. I can't imagine it either, but I'm sure it must be a nightmare.
Jun. 4th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
To hear my mother tell it, they walked until I was a tiny little speck before they finally relented and came back. To my mom, this is an amusing story about a willful child.
It was a different time and different generation, that's for sure. So long as the child wouldn't run out into traffic, that was probably safe back in the day. My mother used to put me in time out in the car if I acted up in a restaurant, but she'd be watching me from the window to be sure I was safe. Nowadays? I doubt parents would try even that.

I didn't realize you worked nights on an at-home job like this, which balances work/family very well. But I can see why you'd hate the images and sorrow it puts into your head. :(

I'm sorry the harness didn't work out for you. We had the wrist-to-wrist leash, mainly because my husband is very tall and can't run due to a disability (the kids were faster than he was). It helped let (especially our son) wander without getting away. For me, it was always the "Stay right here next to me, or you will have to hold my hand/ride in the stroller" (depending). That worked for me, because they knew I could chase them down if I had to. ;)

Glad this was a only a dream. I hate those vivid, awful dreams that panic you so. It's always a relief to wake up.

Jun. 4th, 2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
The worst part about those dreams is how they stay with you, sometimes for days, and you can't shake the feeling that they actually happened.

I read a childcare book a friend gave me written in the 1970s that advocated giving children "time outs" in cars. I'm fairly certain they'd call Child and Family Services on you if you tried that today.
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - Jun. 4th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Jun. 4th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - halfshellvenus - Jun. 4th, 2012 11:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Jul. 5th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 4th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
I can imagine the night sweats that must be created by that line of work. Though, that confuses me... don't cable shows have their programs transcribed inhouse for TDD subtitling?
Jun. 4th, 2012 11:06 pm (UTC)
We're not producing closed captions. We're producing the transcripts that the cable stations can then use for their records.
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )

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