It has happened. And it was just as terrifying as I imagined it to be.
Ainsley was missing for about 15 minutes yesterday. She didn't get off the bus here at my school in the afternoon. I knew of no reason why she would be staying late at her school. I am fairly sure that those 15 minutes of terror and panic will shave a year or two off of my natural life; seeing as how my heart dropped to somewhere in the vicinity of my lower colon, I don't see how I didn't suffer some kind of long-term health effect.
An angel helped me get through it. One of our school secretaries holds on to Ains for me in her office for the five minutes between when Ains gets off the bus and when our final bell frees me. This same woman has the coolest head in a crisis I've ever seen; any time trouble goes down in our school, she's the voice of reason who knows who to call and where to go for help. So this saint of a woman told me to sit down and breathe while she called the bus garage, radioed the driver of Ainsley's bus, and tried again and again to reach Ainsley's school's front office. When no one picked up there, she called to the church next door and when the receptionist there wasn't willing to offer help, told her in her best "Don't you dare b.s. me" tone that she had a frantic mom on her hands who needed to know where her child was and the least the receptionist could do was walk over to the school and relay a message since no one was picking up in the office.
Turns out Ainsley's teacher knew where she was: she had drama practice for a play she's in. Didn't I get that schedule?
No. No, I did not.
By the time the secretary got an answer, a couple of teachers who had overheard what was going on were hanging close by in the office to keep me calm and I guess to be there for me if I got worse news. I am pretty reserved and cool, professionally; I don't like to get worked up or get too personal around my co-workers. But when I knew Ains had been found, and was safe and sound in a classroom, I took off my glasses, put my head in my hands, and bawled. I didn't care who saw me. I felt people collectively sigh around me, and some patted my back as they went on with their own dramas. Releasing pent-up adrenaline never felt so good.
It wasn't long, though, before relief turned to anger. How could Ainsley not get the schedule home to me? And how can an elementary school teacher trust that a six-year-old will get such an important paper home and not follow through with parents in the form of a signature sheet or email or SOMETHING?!
I found that I couldn't wait until practice was over to see her. I went up to her school and crept into drama practice. I happened to catch Ainsley going up the stairs to the bathroom.
There were a lot of things I thought I would say. Things like, "Why can't you be more responsible?" and "If you can't let me know what's going on better than this, then you just won't do drama anymore." But what came out instead was a classic mom-ism:
"Do you know that you almost gave me a heart attack?"
And as I looked into her little face, complete with an expression that read, "Duh, mom, I was here at school just like I'm supposed to be," I melted. I just wanted to hug her.
Because the reality is, a story that starts with a kid not getting off a school bus doesn't always have a happy ending.