We are at the Rec Center park, Dan and I facilitating games for a group of Col and Rose’s friends. The Colorado sun pours from the cloudless sky and barefoot children run through the grass, tagging each other, giggling and falling to the ground as if starring in the live performance of their own wholesome childhoods.
Earlier, we led a game called “concentric circles,” in which two circles of kids and their parents, rotating like gears into changing pairs, took turns answering questions and listening to each other. To the question, “What scares you?” Dan replied to me, “Something awful happening to one of our children.” A bolt of palpable fear struck my heart while a ticker of unspeakable events scrolled across my mind.
Col and his friend Cedar take a break to peruse the playgroup equipment, swaggering tweens on the brightly colored slides, while Dan explains the next game.
Cedar’s mom calls out goodbye from the parking lot, and I wave while trying to keep from being tagged. A bit later I scan the playground equipment, looking for Col because his friend has left. The jungle gym is empty. Like a bird, my eyes take in a 180-degree view in a single frame. The rock wall is vacant. There is no blond boy on the grass. Col is not on the concrete paths encircling the park. He doesn’t answer to me calling his name.
An impromptu search party is organized. One parent heads down to the river. The river! I picture a small, limp body carried down the cold current. I imagine him snatched by a malevolent stranger. I hear Dan asking people if they’ve seen a blond boy, dark blue shirt, this tall. The “worst case scenario” file in my mind has been opened. Suddenly, danger feels very close by.
Twenty minutes have passed, or maybe 20 seconds. I am impotently circling the same area, chest thumping with dread, panic taking hold like a fast-moving virus, trying to puzzle out a logical explanation for Col’s disappearance.
My mind rehearses grief, preparing for this new, stunted and dimmed life without my son, and then is jolted back to the shaky present, Rosie standing in front of me, seeking answers that I don’t have.
This crazy love and attachment we have to our children, I know it’s evolutionary, so that when they leave wet clothes in the washing machine and dent our cars, we’ll still adore and protect them, because really, evolution could have stopped at the teenager. But this biological pull toward our children that’s as immutable as gravity, informing all our choices and actions? It’s so fraught with risk and suffering! Wouldn’t it be easier if we had more of a business relationship, uncomplicated and practical? “I’ll buy your school supplies, you make dinner three times a week.”
Even with the daily workout this heart muscle receives, it’s still unprepared for any real tragedy. I imagine that losing a child is the event that would mute life forever, diminishing everything, even as your heart would callously beat on like “the willful jerks that hearts can be,” says writer Catherine Newman.
Someone asks, “Did you check inside the Rec Center?”
We did, but we send Rosie to check again. And there he is, playing pool with Cedar, both boys having vowed to Cedar’s mom to inform us they were going inside. Both of whom forgot this vow somewhere in the 40 yards between the park and the building.
I am flooded with fury and relief. But even to be angry at my child is a privilege in this moment. I decide to save the lectures for later. Right now, the sun shines bright on our family and it’s time to go home and have a beer.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.