The day I lost my daughter at Target!

As a mom, there are things we will never forget. Our baby’s first kick, the first ultrasound, the first fainting smile, the first word, followed by the first sentence; in my case it was “I…luvvvv….youuu” at 18 months. Sweet memories to cherish for the years to come, the ones that will always bring a smile on our faces.

Memories we hang on to, as if filling our lives with them will make the bad ones go away. You know, the ones that resonate with fear, sadness, frustration and sometimes anger. Memories we are too scared to bring up, because we are too scared to think of that day, of that moment that left us helpless and fearful. My cousin’s dark moment is the day her neighbors knocked at her door, holding  her son’s hand. Her mother had just passed away and she was so distracted that she had forgotten her son in their basement.  One of my friends confessed that her son locked himself out of their apartment: she had left early for an appointment and so did her husband, each thinking that the other spouse was staying home with their child, who was still sleeping when both parents left. Thank God her husband came home earlier and found their little boy. Moments we wish we never had to go through.

My moment was the day I was shopping at Target with my then two years-old. I was a first time mom, and as I was browsing through the clothing section, I didn’t realize that my daughter had unbuckled herself from her stroller. When I turned my head to look for her, I could see her little feet moving around and hear her giggles: she was playing hide-and-seek. As I tried to catch her, she started running. When I called her name and urged her to stop, she ran even faster. And just like that, she was gone. It was so unexpected that it didn’t take me long to start panicking. Soon I couldn’t hear her voice anymore as I was rushing through the section of clothes. By the time the other shoppers started paying attention to me, my voice was breaking down with emotion. A fellow mom, with whom I have entered the store at the same time, ran to me, a concerned look on her face. I was able to quickly explain. She reassured me that we were going to find her and rushed on the opposite side. My mind was wandering. The Target was inside a shopping center which meant that she could still be inside or she could have run outside. As a biracial child, my daughter  was easy to spot but also easy to steal; she could pass for anyone’s child. I needed help, so I rushed to find an employee and explained the situation. I had to restrain myself from thinking about the scary movies I had seen, the horrible articles I have read: all about kids being kidnapped. Using his talkie-walkie, the employer sent a quick message to his colleagues and few seconds later I was told that she had been found and was waiting for me at the main entrance. Right then the other mom appeared, a kind smile on her face; she had heard the news. As soon as I saw her, I, who hardly hug anyone, rushed into her arms, and there, in the middle of Target, in a stranger’s arms, I sobbed while mumbling “They found her”, as much for myself as for her. She held me tightly and let me wet her shoulder with my tears.

When I went to pick up my little girl, she was in one of the female employees’ arms. You could tell that she was scared too. She rushed into my arms and we both cried, just as my husband whom I had called on the phone was entering the store. I don’t remember what happened to my shopping cart and even less what I was intending to buy that day. It took me a few months before I could go back to that same Target store, and when I did, my daughter was securely attached in her stroller.

That was five years ago. Then, about a month ago, as I was about to leave that same Target store, I saw the female employee who had found my daughter. This time I was all by myself. I walked to her and told her my story. She seemed to remember.” Well”, I said: ” I just wanted to thank you!” Sure it was part of her job, but I would forever be grateful, as I would never forget that other mom. Her face, her mid-lenght brown hair, her demure and sweet air, her clothes. I never got to say thank you, buy I hope that wherever she is, she knows that she will forever be part of a fellow mom’s memories. She is the one who has made it possible for me to remember without feeling too much guilt. Maybe she let me hug her that day because she had been there before and could relate, or was it because she knew that as a parent, there is just so much we can control!

 

 

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