"I can't find Mary Mac".
And with that simple sentence, the chaos began.
The words were spoken by my husband, one who does not get alarmed about much unless the word "code" is somehow involved. I was on the phone, and he had been looking for our four year old for about 15 minutes. All of the obvious places - outside, inside, EVERYWHERE. While none of the events that took place over the next hour were funny, I can finally look back at this day in absolute astonishment that I am not rocking in the corner somewhere, in some room with padded walls,wearing tennis shoes with the laces removed.
See, I reacted like a MANIAC. A crazy, maniacal, lunatic mom, with unfocused eyes and drool hanging from her mouth. Not only was my behavior completely out of control and for all to witness, but I didn't even try to reel in my emotions or my response to the situation.
We knew pretty quickly that she was not in our house or anywhere in our yard. We live on three acres, in a friendly and welcoming neighborhood, and I decided to cover the acreage in its entirety by SPRINTING back and forth across the grass like the energizer bunny with wiring gone bad. Running as fast as I could while screaming her name in a manner that would cause hoarseness in speech for days. The pure, unfiltered terror I felt sparked a neuron in my brain that caused an immediate reaction of despair in my gut . In between my sprints, I would stop and wretch, and then begin running again.Our good-hearted neighbors who helped in the search recognized immediately that I was a mom gone mad and gave me a wide circle of space as we looked for my daughter over the next 50 minutes.
My husband circled the neighborhood, my neighbors searched the inside of our home and I was, well, I was still running laps in my yard like the track star I am not. After twenty minutes of futile searching, I called the 911 operator to summon help. I implored her to warm up the helicopter, leash up the dogs, implement a city-wide alert - whatever type of assistance they could offer I would shamelessly accept.
The operator asked a number of reasonable questions that I had difficulty answering in my state of desperation. I found that I could recite her name and my address, but became stumped when asked to describe Mary Mac's attire. I had been with her all day and could not remember one single item she was wearing. I could feel my frustration mounting when the operator asked the question again followed by, "Well, ma'am, what does she look like?" Blank again, even though I birthed this child and have every part of her memorized. What does she look like? My hysteria burst through in my response,
The operator paused, mainly out of recognition that I was not going to be a useful source of information, and asked me to stay on the line until the police arrived. So she sat in silence. And I continued to cry and run around my yard with the phone, while I'm sure the operator hand motioned the sign of cuckoo to her headset wearing colleagues.
We found Mary Mac 30 minutes later, inside the house, sound asleep behind sofa cushions. She was completely covered, sleeping soundly,and innocently unaware of the anguish we had experienced over the last hour.We sent the police, neighbors, and family members home, and John and I both collapsed on the couch with a relief that was almost debilitating.Plus, my legs were really tired.
I tell you that story so I can tell you this story.
Just a mere month later, the 911 operator was called again.
Mary Mac attempted a flip on the trampoline, landing awkwardly on her neck, and was unable to move the left side of her head. She was in pain and we were afraid to move her, particularly not knowing the extent of her injury, so again we called for assistance.
I won the emergency assistance lottery, dialing the three numbers that triumphed the attention of the same operator as before. This was confirmed when I said my name and address, heard a "you gotta be kidding me" pause, and then put on speaker phone. Remembering my past behavior, I did not repeat my performance of crazed, incoherent parent, pridefully not wanting to be added to the operator's list of stories to tell at future dinner parties: "This one time, I listened to this woman rant and rave and spit and wretch for 45 minutes. She didn't even know what her child looked like. And - you're not going to believe this - she called me again!" So in a very controlled and mature manner I gave the necessary details,quickly hung up the phone and briefly congratulated myself on evolving into a responsible adult. I do exercise restraint on occasion, especially after acknowledgement of "those things not helpful in emergent situations."
Because I did not add fodder to the operator's foolhardy stories, she, instead, sent the entire brigade of rescue vehicles available in our small town. One ambulance, one rescue squad, one firetruck, and one police car. (The fuel alone for such a gathering is going to force us into securing a second mortgage on our home.) There were a total of 10 life-sized Rescue Heroes to retrieve my four year old child laying listlessly on the trampoline, all in full armor and uniform minus the Dalmatian and pick ax. Mary Mac was very calm, clearly demonstrating DNA from her father's side of the family, only becoming concerned when she was told about the firetruck. With a sweet cheek laying flat against the trampoline, she asked, "Why are the firefighters here? I'm not on fire."
Adding to the rescue folks were our kind neighbors who literally followed the flashing lights and sirens into our driveway. Sadly, they accurately predicted the destination of all the noise as our previous distress call and dramatics preceded us.
My child was secured to a board, with neck brace in place, and loaded into the back of the ambulance. The crowd of neighbors watched us leave in silent support, and I wondered to myself what crack I had stepped on or mirror I had broken to find myself in such a surreal situation again.
After a cat scan, X-ray and doctor consultation it was determined that Mary Mac had injured a muscle in her neck which caused a spasm that induced temporary paralysis in one side of her neck. We felt enormous gratitude to God for sparing her from serious consequences and were overcome with joy that she was going to be fine.
Her parents, however, were not fine. That night we aged another 5 years, and the gray hair that popped out on my head overnight was enough to make my colorist beg for mercy. The new wrinkle that materialized in the middle of my forehead cannot be tamed by any amount of Estee Lauder make-up, and resembles the permanent crease usually made by snorkeling goggles fastened too tight.
I continue to be amazed at the wide, sometimes unrecognizable, range of emotions my children evoke in me. Not always appropriate, or as lovely looking as I would like, but as authentic as it can come. Luckily, though, the feelings that supercede all others experienced, the ones that continue to be worth any heartache or worry felt, is the love and all-consuming joy I get to embrace on a daily basis as the crazy, half-witted mommy of three.