My daughter’s grandparents came for a quick visit over the weekend. I don’t know what it’s like in your family, but for my daughter these little jaunts are the pint-sized version of backpacking through Europe: pure adventure, mayhem, and fun. Her schedule consists of swimming, shopping, schlepping, dancing, coloring, and singing, followed by a tiny bit of sleep and more of the same, only with oversized amounts of cake and ice cream thrown in. This time the weekend had some surprises in store for all of us, and not all them candy-coated.
It started on Sunday morning. Together we ate breakfast at the hotel and then I left to meet up with a friend who was visiting from Seattle. “Talk to you in two hours,” were my parting words to my in-laws as they headed up the hotel elevator with my kid. As a rule, I don’t worry when my daughter is with her grandparents because they’re so careful and attentive. You could successfully argue, except for the time my kid was swaying back and forth in the car seat they had sort of installed, that her grandparents are as, if not more, conscientious about her safety than we are.
Two hours later, at the appointed time, I called my father-in-law on his cell phone. No answer. So I tried my mother-in-law on hers. No answer. “No big deal,” I thought. “They must be busy.” With not much to do and hubby at work, I figured I might as well sit down, hang out, and read the paper. About 10 minutes later, I tried my in-laws again. Still no answer. That’s when the wheels in my head started spinning, slowly at first but with rapidly increasing velocity. Maybe it was the effect of reading about global atrocities in the New York Times, too much caffeine, or just my normal parenting anxiety, but after another round of unanswered calls to their cell phones I knew the truth: something terrible had happened to my child.
I called hubby, who was at the hospital where he works. Boy, sometimes I wish I wasn’t so convincing. Within a minute, he too was panicked. We then called his sister, who lives in NYC, because when the grandparents and grandkid are lost in Chicago, it makes perfect sense to call someone in a completely different time zone. She called an uncle in Cincinnati. After that, we called everyone else we could: the hotel, their credit card company, a museum they had mentioned they might visit, and even the police. Here’s a little bit of advice should you ever find yourself in this situation: the police can’t put out a missing person’s alert when your loved ones have been missing for only 90 minutes.
Finally, we discovered through the credit card company that they had just purchased an item at the Museum of Science and Industry's gift shop. For the first time in a long while, I was incredibly happy that my child has grandparents who feel compelled to buy her something wherever they go. I hopped in a taxi and headed up to the museum, a move I realized even at the time made no sense whatsoever. The museum does not have an intercom system and my in-laws weren’t picking up their phones. What was I going to do, swing from rafter to rafter to find them?
Just as I had imagined, they finally got in touch with me as I was standing in the museum’s lobby and they were driving north on Lakeshore. They hadn’t seen our calls or messages and were so confused about why we thought something had gone wrong. We know our daughter is safe with them. So why wouldn't we just sit tight and wait for them to reach us?
I asked myself that question during the long bus ride home. I could have taken a taxi, but I wanted some time to think about why my husband, sister-in-law and I had assumed the worst when we couldn't reach them. I couldn't help but recall my own childhood and the endless hours when no one seemed to know where I was, who I was with, and what trouble I was getting myself into. Granted, my parents were what we’d probably call today, and even back then, neglectful. But there seemed to be more freedom during my childhood, more time to get off the grid. These days, we need to know what our kids are doing at all times. And we expect those taking care of our kids to either be completely reachable or to let us know when they won’t be.
As I gazed out of the bus window and towards the city I call home, I wondered what kind of impact our fear will have on our children. Because that’s what was behind all of the panic over the previous two hours, the fear that something horrible had happened. Will my anxiety make my daughter more careful? Or will it make her more reluctant to wander outside the comfy cocoon we've created for her? Only time will tell. At some point, probably when she becomes a mom, we’ll all have little tracking devices under our skin anyway. Maybe then we'll finally feel safe. Maybe.
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop