I am sitting here thinking about what happened yesterday, when Vivian and Jia Heng disappeared.
It was 9 am on Halloween morning, and the kids, already dressed in their Halloween costumes, were playing in the bushes in the back garden. One moment they were there playing happily in "the clubhouse." The next moment, poof, they were gone.
No big deal, I think. Those two are constantly running between houses, they must have gone to Jia Heng's house. But they are not there, and I spend the next half an hour in growing distress, running through the list of places they "must have" gone to. I am on my bike, riding around the neighborhood looking for them. Bruce is on foot and is starting to mobilize the neighbors to help look for her. I am asking everyone I recognize in the neighborhood if they have seen my kid and her chum.
Nobody has seen her. She has never run off before.
I am wondering if this is the morning that my life changes forever, again. I am remembering with acid clarity that last terrible morning when I thought those same words, the last silent morning when the screaming in my head started and didn't rest for days. I am trying to calm myself. I speak soothing words.
This is China, not America.
Kids don't get snatched in China.
Especially not blonde, blue-eyed kids in witch costumes.
I am hoping I am right.
Most times, I am not a worrier. Despite my first disastrous experience in parenthood, or perhaps because of it, I don't let worry rule my life or my parenting. I could have chosen to raise Vivian as if she was breakable, checking her breathing while she sleeps, not letting her out of my sight, hovering, smothering. It would have been so easy, so falsely reassuring, to slip into an overprotective, controlling way of being, in a misguided attempt to keep my daughter safe from things I can neither predict nor prevent. But take my daughter away from me, and let me not find her, and I quickly slip into old ways and old habits, chewing that bit of panic in my head until it inflates into a barely containable force.
My panic was barely contained when an old Chinese lady yelled "Dao le!". They are here.
I ran to Vivian with tears in a torrent down my cheeks, grabbing her, hugging her. She was completely stricken by my emotional state because she didn't know anything was wrong. She was shocked into a frightened, incomprehending silence born of complete innocence. The poor girl didn't do anything wrong. She and Jia Heng had gone on a walk with Jia Heng's dad. Like she has done a dozen times before, only this time she forgot to tell me she was going.
Later that day, in a quieter moment, she came to me, unbidden, and said "Mama, I am sorry for running off. I will never do it again." She understands how frightened I was that she was lost. She does not yet know what it means to be lost, but maybe she understood, just for a moment, what it means for me to lose her.