You'll never know true terror until you think you've lost someone else's child.
Over February break, we had two little girls visiting us, so we took them to the Providence Children's Museum. Seeing as it was over school break, the place was packed, like sardines in a can. As soon as you entered, the noise hit you like a brick wall, and there wasn't much standing room.
I had been asked to watch the older girl, whom I'll call Jane, while my parents kept an eye on her younger sister. Jane was only 6 years old, so she was energetic. As we climbed up the ramp - which was barren, despite how busy the museum was - she decided to run ahead. At that point, we had been there about 2 hours, and I hadn't been able to sit down much, so I wasn't up to running. From what I had gathered from my mother's comments, she was good about not running off, so I let her go with a quick call of, "Wait up, Jane."
Jane (In my own artistic Fashion [AKA: I can't draw])
By the time I had gotten to the top of the ramp, a group of people had gathered there, so when I didn't see Jane immediately, I wasn't concerned. As I looked closer, however, my heart began to speed up. I saw plenty of children, sure, but not the small, blonde 6-year old I was supposed to keep an eye on.
Worse case scenarios filled my head. 'Perhaps she had been kidnapped. Maybe she ran off. What if she gets taken?' Most of these thoughts were outrageous, but you never know these days.
Suddenly, even worse thoughts filled my head. 'What if I can't find her? What will I tell my mom? What will I tell HER mom?'
All in all, my thoughts were saying that I was screwed.
I sprung out into the upper floor and waded my way into the sea of people. If you had never been to the upper floor of the Providence Children's Museum, you wouldn't understand the struggle I was having. Even without the people, there were hundred of places to hide. The exhibits contained small houses, hidden enclaves, tiny crawlspaces, and raised platforms. If you then add the hundreds of kids, and even more adults standing around doing exactly what I was supposed to do, it would take hours to fully check every spot. Instead, I somehow wove my way between people as I examined the small closed off sections in a panicked dash.
I checked the "Coming to America" exhibit first because I knew she liked it there. After a short while, rushing down the hallway and checking and re-checking each part, I had no luck. I did, however, have adults giving me strange stares while I pretended that I hadn't just lost a small child.
The "Coming To America" Sign (In my own artistic Fashion [AKA: I can't draw])
Next, I moved into the more hands-on learning area, with shadow puppets, blocks, magnets, and too many children. I took a brisk glance through the area, then moved to the construction area near the ramp.
She had never displayed interest in this area to me before, but I had only recently been charged with her care and haven't been upstairs with her yet, so I had to check anyway. After a stressful, far away search came out fruitless, I moved back to previous possibilities.
I had watched enough Scooby Doo as a kid to know that there was always the possibility that we were just missing each other. It's happened to me and my parents once before, so it wasn't that outlandish a possibility.
I circled around the floor at least three more times before going to the stairs to beg for my mother's help and forgiveness. Of course, as I crossed past the blocks and magnets and shadow puppets to head towards the stairs, I hear my name being called.
"There she is. Erin! Erin!"
I see a small, blonde head running at me. As soon as she was within arms' reach, I pulled her closer to my body.
As my heart rate began to slow from a pounding bass beat to a softer accent, I sighed.
"Please, don't do that to me again. I thought I lost you."
It was mere minutes after that my mother and the two-year-old came up to visit.
We headed home after that, but that moment of sheer panic will be burned into my memory forever. My friends, after hearing this story, began to joke, "Don't trust Erin with small children," but I don't think they understand what I felt.
Very few people will understand the terror of losing someone else's child, and I'm glad I only felt half of it.