When I was three years old I got lost.
My entire family was at the beach in Milford, CT visiting my Grandmother who had a house that sat right up against the shore. On the morning of "the incident" my brother and sister and I were making sand castles under the watchful eye of our babysitter LeAnn until I decided that I was ready to head back to the house. LeAnn watched as I walked across the beach and onto the front lawn of my Grandma's house, and then went back to supervising the other kids.
At that point, for reasons unknown, I abruptly decided to pull a u-turn and managed to walk off down the seawall that ran the mile-long stretch of beach.
Off I roamed. The beachfront at that time was almost entirely undeveloped and so I was able to wander away without anyone taking notice. I only remember flashes of the day, but I distinctly recall turning around to look for the house and then, not seeing it, I turned again and again until I'd completely lost my orientation as to which way was home.
I chose a path and marched off in the exact opposite direction of the house. Confident that my Grandmother's blue house would surely appear around the next bend, it never occurred to me to stop and ask the few people I passed for assistance.
Meanwhile, back at home my mother had come home from a game of tennis to discover that she was, most certainly, a child short.
She immediately called the police who arrived and set a search into motion. As my grandmother high-tailed it to church to make some fervent appeals to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, my description went out on the radio and my parents' friends and neighbors began to comb the beach (and the water) in search of me.
It wasn't until several hours that later that my walk of doom finally ceased when the seawall hit a dead end at a small marina. Finally accepting that I must have chosen the wrong direction and that my Grandma's house was nowhere to be found, I sat down on the dock and started to cry.
Luckily a couple sunning themselves on the deck of their boat spotted me and came over. The husband picked me up, smiled, and said,
"I think you must be the little girl that everyone is looking for."
He and his wife called the police and then waited with me until they came to take me home to my overjoyed parents.
Last week my own three-year-old got lost.
He was due home on a bus home from school between 1:20 and 1:40. Because school was just back in session and there had already been some confusion with the buses I wasn't that surprised at 1:50 when there was no sign of him. But then I called his teacher who informed me that his bus had left on time at 1:15.
The school is less than a mile away and our house is the first stop. I couldn't figure out where he could be. By 2:10 I called the transportation supervisor who said she would try to call the driver and call me back. By 2:20 no phone call and I was pacing on my front porch craning my neck for any hint of a yellow school bus headed my way. By 2:35 I was back on the phone with transportation, screaming about my missing toddler and vowing to call the LAPD if I didn't have him in my hands by 2:40.
Two minutes later the bus arrived. The very apologetic substitute driver explained that he'd accidentally driven the route in reverse and then he'd gotten lost. My son was happy as could be, thrilled to have gotten extra time on the bus. I brought him in for his nap and made myself a nerve-calming afternoon cocktail.
And I understood the "Time You Went Missing" story from my childhood in a different way for the first time. From the Mom's side.
And I called my Mom and told her for the first time that I was very, very sorry for wandering off.
She said it was alright.