We used to run 5Ks and 10Ks and even took the kids along. When they were one-year-old, we split them between two strollers and pushed them as we ran. Then when they were two and three, we took turns running, and the parent not racing cheered together with the kids from the
sidelines. By the time they were four, Molly wanted to run too. Her first was a “fun run” one mile race in July of 1997 that Jason ran with her while her brothers and I watched and shouted for her at the finish line.
One time when the kids were two, Jason had just finished his run and we were mixed in the pressing crowd near the water and swag tables on a huge field. I was herding the kids through the mass, frequently counting heads to four as I did all day long when we were out of the house. One, two, three, four. All kids accounted for. But then somehow, in the crush of people, the distraction for a second at the swag table, I only get to three.
My eyes sweep the crowd in a circle slightly larger than our immediate ring to catch of glimpse of Molly’s red baseball cap. When I can’t see her, I reexamine the circle then spread out a little farther. Still no Molly. My eyes begin to rake over everyone around me, then past those people, then everywhere, looking for her. As I search, my heart jolts to the edge of a cliff, just waiting for that “ah ha” moment, knowing it has to be nanoseconds away — because I can’t take it if that relief doesn’t come. Still, I can’t find her. As the seconds pass, my insides become on full alert. This is not good. This cannot be happening. I have to see her. My eyes have to catch sight of her. This is not compatible with breathing.
I find Jason, and I have to put it into words. “Molly is lost. I can’t find Molly!” Jason takes over the boys, searching from there, and I push my way back to where I’d last seen her. So many people, tightly packed, tall and blocking the view of a short red cap. It’s endless even if it’s seconds. You don’t breathe while you wait for that moment, that moment that just has to come. It must.
I search, I scan, I even cry out her name, careless that I draw stares or concerned looks from the people hearing the alarm in my voice. My heart is in my throat, a knot blocking my lungs. This can’t be. It just can’t. Then, finally, I see her. She is okay, just starting to look around herself, just noticing that Mom isn’t that person next to her, the one she thought was Mom and kept her from panicking, knowing she was separated, feeling her heart on the edge of jumping somewhere it couldn’t go — like I had felt.
We rejoin Jason and the boys, It’s time to go home. And all the way to car, I count to four over and over. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. It’s okay again. It’s okay. I can breathe again.
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