Just Saturday gone we all went shopping. The girls needed some new clothes and I wanted to get a new keyboard for my iPad. We dropped into the local computer store and picked up the keypad. BB was in a bit of mood as she was hungry. Jade was also a bit testy as she too was hungry, both girls were feeding off each other and working themselves up. We decided to hit the local fast food place next door as it had a playground that BB could let off some steam. BB played in the playground and we enjoyed our burgers. Jade sat happily in the stroller munching on a chicken nugget. Just something small to get her through to when we stopped at the shopping centre. When we were done we packed up and headed off to the major shopping centre in town.
As we arrived at the shopping centre I could see it was packed and thought we would never get a spot. I found a couple loading an infant into the car. It brought me back to when BB was a baby and we would take extra time to make sure everything was 100% before closing the door. The same with Jade. Even opening the door a 2nd and 3rd time just to be doubly sure was normal to us. This couple were doing the same thing. I was not about to rush them as I knew the feeling. Eventually we pulled in and parked. Jo and I unloaded the girls and headed towards the lifts. The plan was to head to the kids play section of the shops, let BB run off some more energy and we could also feed Jade. If we didn’t Jade would go into an epic melt down, much like I do when I skip a meal. We arrive at the playground and BB is off. She knows this playground well and loves it. Jo asks me to heat Jades food up in the parent’s room, I grab the food and head for the room, as I am walking to the room I change my mind and think I don’t want to take Jades food into the toilet with me. I walk back to Jo and drop the food off. I tell her I will be back in a sec for it. I make my way to the men’s toilet.
As I come out of the men’s toilet I can see Jo looking around for BB. Jo sees me coming and asks is she over my way? I do a quick scout around and say no. I can see the fear instantly appear in my wife’s eyes. I look around the playground and see a little girl in a pink top the same that BB was wearing. I keep looking at her thinking its BB until she turns around. By this time I am back in the playground, Jo says to me she isn’t here. I step back to the side of the playground to do another scout around. It’s not the first time BB has snuck under a slide or ladder or behind a fake tree. I look out at the playground I see that she is not there.
My world slows down, all noises stop, my chest goes tight and my mind speeds up to a million miles an hour. Where is she? Where could she have gone? I tell Jo that I will check this side of the shops you check that side. I turn and start to scan the shopping centre, I half run half walk past a kids clothing store, I see children inside playing, and I go in. BB likes to be around other children playing and will wander over to kids at the playground and join in. The world still moving in super slow mo. I look at the kids running around the clothes rack and do not see BB, I tell myself to keep going and head back out, but I second guess myself, what if she is in here and I miss her? I force myself to turn around convincing myself that she is not in the shop. I head out of the shop my feet feel heavy like its and extra effort to make them move. I spot the escalators. BB loves Escalators and will ride them all day if she can. I run around to the top of them and look down at the lower level. I don’t see her. Surely she couldn’t have gone that far in this short amount of time.
My mind is still ticking over at an alarming rate – how long has it been? a min? 2 mins? Then fear grips me like a cold hand around my heart, what if she has been taken? What if someone this very minute is walking away with her? News flashes of James Bulger flash across my eyes. My chest gets tight, I try and call her name but I can’t get the words out. I can hear Jo calling her and I try again. As I call her name I hear Jo again. I can feel the fear in Jo’s voice. I understand exactly how she feels. My god BB is gone. Just like that. Out of our lives. Where the hell is she? How did she disappear so quickly? I can’t see her anywhere. I look over the railing to the lower floor, praying that I see her just wandering along so I can run down and scoop her up but the area is bare. There is no one around. I hear a lady ask Jo something about BB but I don’t catch it, or Jo’s response. I can hear pain in Jo’s voice though and this increases the fear in me. My mind is fried. I feel that I am wasting precious moments looking here and not seeing her. Everything still moving is super slow motion. I make my way past the escalators and back to Jo’s side of the shops. I can see Jo is still empty handed and it’s about here that I get a lump in my throat and struggle to say anything at all. Then out of the corner of my eye I see her. Wandering out of the toy store just next to the playground. Jo rushes over and scoops her up. I run over to both of them and wrap my arms around them both. I feel Jo go a little week at the knees and start to cry. I fight back the tears myself. BB is happy as normal and is too young to realise what has happened.
I feel week myself but I hold onto BB, Jo and Jade and squeeze them tight. There we stand as a family for what feels like an eternity. I don’t want to move and I don’t care if people are watching. Finally Jo breaks free and says “come on lets head back to the playground” I start talking to BB now that lump in my throat has gone. She has no idea. That she just aged her mum and I five years in three mins. I carry her back to the playground but I am reluctant to let her down. As I do she runs off again to play in the park. A nice young couple tell Jo that she followed them into the store thinking that they were her parents. When BB realised they weren’t she turned around and headed back out. This was when we saw her. In those 3 mins a million things ran through my mind. A million horrible dreadful things that I never thought I would think or feel. As a Dad it is my job to protect the family and for those 3 minutes I was lost. This is not something new. Children have been doing it for years to parents and will continue to long after I am gone.
I have heard stories in the past about how a child has wandered off; my parents have similar war stories to tell about me as a toddler. I have never really paid attention or realised the pain in the voice of the parents telling the story. But nothing makes it more real than when your own child wanders off………………
Even if only for a few seconds.