This afternoon I experienced the worst fifteen minutes of my life.
I knew India was mad at me. She often is. Today’s rage was over the fact that I refused to buy her a dollhouse at a nearby garage sale (since she already has one), and the fact that I added a few kernels of rice to her black beans, when she specifically ordered “beans only”. She was giving me the stinkeye after lunch, and threatened to run away several times. She threatens to run away quite frequently. When pressed about her plan, she usually doesn’t seem to have a clear method or means. It’s usually something she just says in anger.
I was giving Karis a bottle, and India went outside to go play in the playroom (our garage, the side door of which is set off from the street and behind a latched gate). After a couple minutes, I went to lay Karis down for a nap. Just then, Mark and the boys came home from the barbershop. Mark had a new baseball glove for her, and asked where she was. Didn’t you see her in the playroom on your way in?
No. He hadn’t.
We both got a little serious, and started searching the house for her. She wasn’t in any of the bedrooms. She wasn’t in the playroom. She wasn’t in the backyard. At first, I thought maybe she was hiding – something she does when she’s mad. We started calling her name. And then yelling her name. We tore through the house several times.
We realized: she was not home.
This is when I completely panicked. Mark sent Jafta to check at a neighbor’s house. She wasn’t there. I picked up the phone to call the police, trying to think of any suspicious activity if they asked. Our neighborhood had a community garage sale today. Our street normally gets little through-traffic, but today our loop had countless cards driving by slowly and staring out the windows. By noon, there were many trucks and vans coming through, looking to scavenge the stuff that didn’t sell. I couldn’t even remember all the cars that passed by today.
Mark started running up the block. I felt completely paralyzed. All I could think of were the news stories I’ve seen of mothers pleading with the camera for their children to be returned. I thought of my beautiful 3-year-old daughter, being driven in the car of a stranger, headed God-knows-where for God-knows-what. I thought of the novel The Shack. I pleaded with God to not let the loss of a child be a part of our life story.
At that point, I started making a gutteral cry that I’ve only heard come out of my throat on one other occasion – the day I found Mark after he’d been hit by a car. I was screaming from some kind of primal place. I was scared to death. It had been about fifteen minutes now. We had asked several neighbors. No one had seen her. My body was starting to go into shock. My teeth were chattering – another physical experience I’ve only had under a few other circumstances.
I had to run. I started running up the block where I’d seen Mark. Several neighbors were now out and looking. They seemed panicked, too.
Suddenly we saw India being carried down the street by a friend.
Apparently, India had walked out of our house, crossed the street, and walked to a friend’s house, where she quietly entered their house and snuck into their backyard. The father discovered her jumping on their trampoline alone. When she saw us, she started crying.
We took her back to our house and she knew she was in trouble. We calmly sat her down and told her how scared we were. And then we did something I’ve never done (and never thought I would do). We spanked her. I think it was warranted.
Then I squeezed her tight and told her how much I loved her.
When I asked her later why she had done it, she answered simply. I was mad. I wanted to run away from home.
I supposed some day we may look back on this episode and laugh – the day that she ran away from home because I added some rice to her meal. Maybe someday this will be an anecdote of her strong will and fierce independence. But today . . . I’m not laughing.