The first day of school started out innocently enough. Charlotte was dying of excitement even though it was just a straight forward informational meeting where the kids got to meet their teachers.
Little did I know what was about to enfold.
I finally made it to the school after parking about a quarter of a mile away. We found our way to Mrs. M's class and deposited all the school supplies. We were then herded into the all-purpose room to be instructed on the ins and outs of the school's discipline system. The principal had all the kids sit in the front of the room so the parents could park comfortably on the benches.
As soon as they turned off the lights for the powerpoint presentation (yes, a power point on playground behavior. It was riveting) Tom started yelling, "Hey, turn on the lights! The lights! The lights!" so I had to take him out the back door. Unfortunately, since Charlotte was all the way in the front of the room, I couldn't give her instructions on where to meet me after the presentation, unless I wanted to make an even bigger spectacle of myself than Tommy already had.
Even as I exited the hall, I knew this was not going to end well.
I spent the rest of the presentation standing by the back door of the auditorium trying to keep Tommy from ripping cutesy kindergarten decor off the walls. As soon as the presentation ended, there was a stampede for the doors. I tried to enter against the tide of parents who were desperate to leave, but by the time I got back in, there was no sign at all of my daughter.
I rushed back out and around the hall to Char's classroom, to no avail. Charlotte was nowhere to be found. Frantically, I ran through the school, while carrying a very heavy and wiggly toddler, trying to find my sweet girl.
It didn't help that there were hundreds of kindergarteners in the throngs of people leaving the school; I couldn't spot my child in the huge lingering group no matter how hard I looked. As I tried to stay calm, I couldn't help but note how unwise this setup was. Separating kids from their parents seemed like an obviously bad idea to me.
Panicking, I finally caught sight of Danny's old speech therapist and told her I had lost my kid. The principal heard and made an announcement over the PA system.
Still no sign of my darling girl.
My heart started racing as I recalled every single episode of Law and Order SVU that I have ever watched, thinking that a school open house would be the ideal place for a pedophile to find his latest victim. I was convinced he had snatched Charlotte and was planning on stashing her in his backyard tent making her his love slave for the next 20 years, like JayCee Dugard. I wondered if I had taught Char enough survival skills for her to escape from her captor's evil clutches.
I envisioned my life without my darling daughter, who is so wonderful and fanciful. How in the world would I ever live with myself knowing my carelessness had led to her demise? How would Bil ever forgive me? How would we ever find her?
As I tried to staunch the onslaught of catastrophic thoughts, the likes of which would have made great script material for my favorite crime show, it occurred to me that Charlotte might not have been kidnapped. Instead, perhaps she was wandering the streets about to be run over by a giant SUV. Envisioning her lifeless and bloody body lying in the street almost gave me a panic attack.
A dad who had heard the commotion volunteered to go to my car to see if Charlotte had gone there looking for me. Grateful, I deposited Tommy on the floor as I waited, pacing in the lobby, praying that the dad would find Charlotte and rescue her from her abductor.
When one of Danny's old teachers offered to watch Tommy so I could go to the car, I gratefully I ran the whole way, because by that point, I realized that the dad had volunteered to find Charlotte rather eagerly. What if, instead of the Good Samaritan he appeared to be, the "father" was really a child porn producer who decided to capitalize on the fact that I had lost my kid? What if his plan was really to grab her and run, so he could make millions off my poor girl?
Gasping for air, I finally arrived at the van, where the wonderful, kind, saintly dad was standing with the van door open. He had found Charlotte but decided to just wait for me at the car, so as not to scare Charlotte.
And my darling girl? She was sitting calmly in her booster seat, waiting for me. She munched some scavenged, stale crackers as she scolded me for getting lost.
Back at the school, a few teachers and therapists were gathered around my screaming toddler, who thankfully quieted down when he saw me. I explained to everyone that Charlotte had gone to the car to wait for me.
Ms. Jenni glanced at us and said, "Wow, she's so calm. She doesn't seem upset at all. I am impressed!"
And I thought, She's right. I did handle this all rather well. I didn't scream or have a breakdown or curl up in the fetal position and bawl, and I didn't yell at Charlotte when I found her. I'm a superstar. I handled this beautifully. And I am so grateful for Ms. Jenni for noticing. That was so sweet of her to validate me like that. I should treat myself to an ice cream cone for this. I really deserve it.
Ms. Jenni, breaking into my reverie again marvelled at my calm demeanor.
I thought, You know, I have never considered myself as particularly good at crises, but maybe all along I've been wrong. Look at how well I handled this! I have nerves of STEEL, man, STEEL. I was as calm as Detective Benson on SVU--hey, maybe I should become a detective.... I would be so good at that. I notice details and am obviously good in scary, traumatic situations.
Which is when I noticed that Ms. Jenni was looking at Charlotte, not me.
Well, yeah, I guess Charlotte was pretty calm.
Of course, Charlotte had never seen Law and Order, so she had no idea of the danger she had been in. It's no surprise that she stayed calm. She knew where she was that whole time. I was the one who should have been panicking.
Whatever. Obviously, Ms. Jenni wasn't nearly as validating as I had thought.
I promptly ushered the kids out the door and headed straight to the ice cream place.