Guilt, Fear, and the Day I Lost My Daughter
The house was too quiet. The clock on the microwave said 5:00. I hadn’t seen her for 45 minutes. She’d spent the previous two hours coming to visit me every 15 minutes, instead of resting. Thank God she is finally having a bit of a rest. 5:15 rolled around. It was getting close to dinner and I don’t want them to nap too late. I feel bad when I just feed them, bathe them, and send them back to bed. I needed to get her up.
I opened her door expecting to find her sweaty and twisted at an odd angle on the bed. There is no cuddling in with Willa, she just plays until she drops, I find her asleep in the strangest positions. Her bed was empty. Her Kindle Fire was still on the bed, playing. Weird. I looked under the bed. I looked between the bed and the wall where she stashes all her stuffies and extra blankies. I called her name. Nothing. My heart beat faster. I opened her closet doors. I called her name louder.
I’d spent the last few hours just outside her room, there was no where she could go without me knowing, and yet, her room was empty. I was sweating. I checked the master bedroom, bathroom, shower and closet. I looked in the hall closets, bathroom, and her brother’s room. I couldn’t get enough air in my chest. I’m screaming now. “Willa! Willa!” I’m running to the exterior doors, they are still locked, and dead bolted.
I go back to her room. My mind is a flipping Rolodex of images I can’t bear. I tear all the blankets off her bed. I rip everything out of the closets and get on my back on the floor under her bed to check that she hasn’t climbed up into her bed somehow.
Standing in the middle of her room, screaming, I’m shaking. I can’t breathe. It feels like I’m spinning although I’m standing still. Fear has nailed me to the floor. I’m trying to remember where my phone is to call Josh. Her dresser waves at me out of the corner of my eye. I open the bottom drawer. She is in there, asleep.
I pull her out and she wakes up in my arms. We cry together for 10, 20 minutes.
“Mommy, I called you and you didn’t come.”
My heart breaks.
She says she was finding a dress when the drawer closed with her inside it. She says it was dark and hard to breathe. She says that she called and called for me, but I didn’t come. Then she fell asleep.
I’ve been too busy worrying about parking lots and strangers; about choking hazards, door hinges and red food coloring; about pools and snakes, to be worried about self closing drawers and whether my four year old would ever try to make a fort in one.
How long did she have before she ran out of air?
All of this comes two days after our dear friends lost their nephew to a tragic accident.
I had nightmares for a week. I moved every Rubbermaid tote, every bin, every large blanket, every suffocation hazard to a kid free zone. I obsessively searched the internet for articles about accidents in the home. I made sure that I saw her face every half hour during rest.
I saw danger everywhere. I forgot to see life.
I’m on my way back.
Willa and I have had long talks about how scary it was to be in the drawer. Both how afraid she was, and about how terrified I was. We talked about how I couldn’t hear her calling for me, and she couldn’t hear me calling for her, and how dangerous that was.
I’m almost confident that she won’t do it again.
I have come (mostly) to a point where I know I can only do my best. I won’t be able to see every hazard coming. God knows that soon enough I won’t even be able to keep my eye on her all the time. (I don’t want to: I don’t want to be that parent, I don’t want her to be that kid.) I have to trust myself, and I have to trust her. I have to trust that I’ve taught her and will continue to teach her well. I have to trust her that she’s listened to the rules, and to my lectures about safety. I have to trust that the next time she’s tempted to close herself in a drawer, or crawl in a hole, or get in a car with a stranger, that she will remember something I’ve said, and she won’t.
I can’t tell you that I’m not still pretty screwed up about it. I still have dreams. I still can’t do anything during nap that takes me outside of earshot. I still nearly drown in guilt when I think about all the “could have’s.”
But I can’t enjoy what I have, if all I ever do is think about losing it.
Please, talk to your kids about self closing drawers. Talk about how the risk is not just pinched fingers. About how they will close faster than you think, and then with the extra weight, will be impossible for a little one to open from the inside. Talk about how they will be stuck and you won’t be able to hear them through the dresser, or cupboard from another room. Talk about how it will be hard to breathe.