A few minutes ago I had the bizarre experience of losing my children. Noel was going on his evening walk, and the kids dashed outside to play in the front yard. "I'll go sit in the front yard and keep an eye on them," I told Noel. I settled down on the couch and glanced out the window. They must be on the other side of the garage; they'll come back into view in a moment. I kept glancing for the next minute or two. No sign of them.
Now, I admit that I'm a little paranoid about having my kids play in the front yard. I want to visually or aurally verify that they're still there every couple of minutes. People driving on our street don't always slow down enough for the residential setting, and they don't always obey the stop sign right by our house. And with construction on the main road paralleling ours for the last several months, a lot more cars are coming by, in a lot bigger hurry, as they seek to bypass the construction zone or follow the posted detours when the road is closed.
I went outside and looked everywhere, front and back. I yelled. I went inside and checked everywhere in case they'd snuck back in somehow. I yelled. They were gone.
What had happened was that they tagged along with their dad on his walk. Noel tried to wave at me as they walked off, but I didn't see him. Ted minutes after I first started panicking, they walked up the street all together, safe and sound.
No, that's not quite right. I didn't panic. I called the police because, if they had been snatched somehow, I didn't want to waste a second. But I couldn't quite believe that anything like that had happened. I wasn't as upset as I felt like I needed to be, not knowing where my kids were. I was certain, somewhere underneath the uncertainty, that it wasn't the emergency it seemed to be. And I was right, but it wasn't intuition. It was just the lack of ability to push myself mentally into the situation that, by all indications, I was in. I've put myself in that role in my imagination many times; all parents have, surely. How would we react? Would we be able to function? But when it seemed to be coming true, I stayed in what my kids would call "what the ...?" mode. It was more befuddling than terrifying.
It's been an unseasonably warm winter here so far, as it has in most of the country. This bothers me. I stubbornly put on a coat even when I don't need one, and I resist turning the dials from heat to A/C, as if my unwillingness to acknowledge the weird weather will somehow fix it. I'm comforted by routine, and disturbed when the world refuses to follow its own established habits. Every day I scan the long-range forecast in the hopes that the cold will return to its rightful place. Every night I walk by my kids' bedroom doors and briefly think about peeking in to be sure they're actually there. It's not fear, exactly. It's just the need for reassurance that the things that are supposed to make sense, continue to do so.