It all happened in a matter of 10 seconds. Like so many unforgettable moments, it was over before I could even process what had just happened, but the experience left me forever changed.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were packing up to leave for dinner at my brother’s house. I had just returned from Target a few minutes earlier, and I left the garage door open after pulling in my car, knowing we’d be leaving again soon. Our 16-month-old daughter, Lyra, was quietly playing in her bedroom, flipping through each of her books to “read” the pages as we do each night.
As my husband and I ran around grabbing Lyra’s sippy cup, diapers, sleeper, and other essentials, I realized the house was eerily silent. It reverberated with Lyra’s absence.
“Jeff, do you have Lyra?” I called.
“No, I thought she was with you!” he responded.
Instantly, I knew she had escaped.
Dread more visceral and potent than anything I’ve ever experienced immediately lit a fire of panic within me. My body coursed with adrenaline, heart thudding heavily in my throat as I sprinted outside.
I flung open the door and tore through the garage, and there she was: running circles on the driveway and laughing hysterically, reveling in her own mischievousness. I scooped her onto my hip as Jeff joined us, right behind me and breathless. We locked our wide eyes, wordlessly communicating, our mouths twisted into inappropriate smiles of bewilderment and terror. How did this happen? We can never let this happen again! That was scary. Really, really scary.
The incident was over in a matter of 15 seconds, but the overwhelming feeling of panic took much longer to process. It was hours before I fully stopped shaking, and I couldn’t sleep that night, my stomach knotted with anxiety as my mind constantly replayed what had happened, imagining all the terrible outcomes that could have been.
In May, a three-year-old boy fell into the Cincinnati Zoo’s gorilla enclosure, and many people on the Internet reamed his parents for what happened, calling them inattentive and negligent. Let me tell you something: Kids are strong willed, independent, and extremely curious. They are not our little minions; they are people with their own thoughts, ideas, and agendas. No matter how hard you try, it’s not possible to keep them contained every single second. You can’t anticipate every possible dangerous scenario that could befall your child each passing moment.
As with everything else in parenting, it’s all about doing the best you can with the information you have. And once you know better, you can do better. We didn’t realize that Lyra has learned how to open the door, or that leaving the garage door open was such a bad idea. When these two lapses came together to create a crisis, we responded as quickly as possible to restore our daughter’s safety. We reacted the best we could.
We have corrected our security protocols to ensure that this scenario doesn’t happen again, and we will be even more vigilant about watching her. But to be a parent is to accept that your child is never really safe and could be taken from you at any moment.
For me, fully loving people I can easily lose is my heart’s hardest and most important work. Every single day, at least once, my mind wanders to the dark place of losing my child or husband. I try to imagine how it would feel, like some masochistic form of mental self-mutilation. Would I curl up into a ball for the rest of my life? Would I want to kill myself immediately? Would I feel strangely numb? How in the world could I ever go on? And yet, people do. People lose children and spouses and siblings and parents and friends every single day. In many parts of the world, this type of loss is an everyday occurrence.
It’s an act of bravery to love someone with your whole heart. To invest 100 percent of yourself. To go all in with acute awareness of just how much is at stake. I had to make a conscious choice to acknowledge my fear, making enough space for it to keep it under control. But I can’t let it win. I have to love my people like there’s no tomorrow, staying present in the joy of this very moment. I would be ruined if anything happened to this little girl, but I can’t let my fear of that outcome destroy my life. My daughter deserves much better than that.