I often joke to my mom friends that, like the United States
Department of Education, I too have a "No Child Left Behind"
initiative, which involves me mentally taking inventory every time
we leave a place.
By birth order, I check to make sure all my offspring are duly
noted and accounted for, in addition to any accessories we have
dragged along. If we don't stay vigilant, we leave a trail, much
like Hansel and Gretel, consisting of cracker crumbs, LEGOs and, in
the case of my youngest child, glitter.
But until recently, I'd only joked about leaving a kid behind. I
once left my purse on top of the car and drove nearly a mile before
a fellow driver flagged me down and pointed out my mistake.
But as embarrassing as that was, leaving a child behind is
something I'll never live down.
I can't even offer an excuse-it was a devastatingly gorgeous day
and I had walked to our elementary school to pick up two of my boys
from school. Eva, my 4-year-old, glittered and sparkled next to me
as she skipped along. Once we reached the school yard, she broke
out into a run to join the other kids at the playground while I
waited for the bell to ring.
By the time I'd found my boys, asked them about their day,
looked at a permission slip I needed to sign and high-fived my
second-grader for his great spelling test, we were walking back
home along the tree-lined streets with some neighbors. Starved for
adult interaction, I was mid-sentence in the midst of an animated
conversation about a shoe sale when my cell phone vibrated in my
"Where are you?" said the exasperated voice on the other
"Oh hi, Chris," I answered, recognizing my neighbor's voice.
"Are you OK?"
But as soon as the words left my lips, my mind's eye took off,
like a helicopter, up over the leafy treetops and back to the
schoolyard, where it zoomed in on the terrified image of my
daughter, who I suddenly realized was not with us.
Like a shot, we ran back as quickly as we could, my heart
beating through my chest.
What kind of a mother leaves her child behind?
Now I'm one of those kinds of mothers.
There she was, understandably terrified, with tears streaming
down her face. But I sighed with relief when I saw another mother,
who had stayed with her until I returned. I grabbed my daughter in
my arms and breathed in the sweet smell of her hair, and squeezed
her a little too tightly.
"Mommy's sorry," I uttered over and over. "Mommy's so
I look at her, and try not to let my mind go there: something
awful could've happened. This could've been the "oops" moment that
turned into an "uh-oh" moment that spiraled into a pivotal moment
that changed everything.
But it didn't.
I hung my head at the schoolyard the day after it happened. I
was sure the other mothers would be whispering behind my back,
shaking their head in disbelief at my stupidity.
Instead, I got hugs and sympathetic smiles.
A few moms, in hushed tones, told me stories of when they lost
their kid, or left them behind.
"It happens to all of us," said one mom, as she patted my arm. I
searched her face to see if she was patronizing me. I felt certain
she was lying, but I could find no evidence of it on her face.
By now, the memory of being left behind is something that's
become part of Eva's chirpy repertoire. In true 4-year-old fashion,
she doesn't seem to hold a grudge. Instead, she recalls it with the
kind of attention to detail as if she's retelling an episode of her
favorite show, with an emotional detachment usually assigned to an
anecdote about someone else.
For me, I suffer a fresh stab through my heart each time she
brings it up.
"Mommy!" she shouts, her eyes sparkling as she points her finger
towards the slides. "Remember that park? That's the park where you
I will remember. Always. I just hope she doesn't.
Carol Pavlik is a freelance writer from Elmhurst and the mother of four children. She blogs at distractedmommy.blogspot.com.
Let us plan your weekend with the best family events and activities in Chicagoland.
Start the week right with deals, prizes, parent life hacks and more delivered straight to your inbox.
Need last-minute ideas for a weekend of family fun? No worries. We've got you.
Get the inside scoop on the people, places and things we are loving right now.
Resources, tips, inspiration and more for parents of children with special needs.
Score exclusive offers from our fabulous advertisers.