Sunday, January 29, 2012

When your child goes missing from a sleepover

I think we can all agree - I am paranoid. Uptight. A control freak. We don't do sleepovers much, nor do I like to let other people drive my kids. I have issues. But the kids are growing up, and sleepovers are becoming harder to avoid. Yesterday Lucy's friend from school had invited her over for a playdate, which turned into an invite for a sleepover with two little girls from her class which I reluctantly agreed to. I was feeling very unsure of the whole thing, but Sam said it would be fine, that she would be safe, that kids had sleepovers all the time. So I tried to loosen up. She was going to have fun. She would be fine. I was being ridiculous.

At about 5:30 I texted the mom to check in and see how everything was going. "Having fun!" she responded.

And that was the last we heard from her. I assumed that they would call if Lucy had trouble falling asleep or wanted to come home. I was relieved that I didn't hear from them, actually. That Lucy was having fun and had fallen asleep. She wouldn't have fallen asleep if she was upset or worried. They would have called if there was a problem.

I needed to relax.

I went out with a girlfriend and sang karaoke. I snuggled up on the sofa with Sam and the baby for a late night feeding.

This morning, I went to pick Lucy up.

I had called and texted the parents several times earlier in the morning asking them when I could come get her, and they hadn't responded. With 5 little girls running around, odds were they either couldn't hear their phones, or the girls were carrying them around in purses playing dress up. So I finally just climbed in the car and drove the two miles to their house, hoping the baby might fall asleep on the ride.

It was just before noon, and I was annoyed that they hadn't called to tell me that the girls were awake and fed and ready to go as we had discussed the day before. We had agreed: "Mid-morning, not too early." And now here it was almost noon. This sleepover had gone on way too long, in my opinion. "But maybe," I thought to myself "maybe I misunderstood. Maybe I was supposed to just come over mid-morning and get her at my convenience?" I was embarrassed at the thought that I had been so rude as to just leave my kid there all morning, and frustrated that they hadn't responded to any of my attempts at contact.

As I pulled into the driveway, my frustration turned to fear.
The house was locked up tight, and the car was gone.
I hadn't heard from the parents in 18 hours.

I had no idea where my kid was.

I panicked. Maybe I had missed a call? I backed out of the driveway and raced down the road toward the neighborhood playground, hoping desperately that they would be there.

They weren't.

I called Sam, asked if they had dropped Lucy off yet. He was confused. "I thought you went to get her?"

"I did." I gasped through tears. "She's not there. No one is there. They're not at the playground. I don't know where she is."

"Come home."

I walked in the door trying to compose myself. Sami was making Max a sandwich and I went through my texts from the day before, looking for a hint of where they might be.

"Playdate after ballet."
"I forgot to ask if Lucy could sleepover."
"Is it okay if we go to a beach on the West Side for a while?"

The beach. Maybe they went back to the beach? Why would they go back to the beach without checking in with us first? Sami was already headed for the car. He and Max drove down the mountain to look for Lucy at the beach parks. I sat on the couch and tried to call the other parents who had their kid sleeping over too. No answer at home. No answer on cell. No answer at home, No answer on cell.


It had now been two hours since I started trying to get in touch with the hosts.

Suddenly, my phone rang. It was the mother who was hosting the sleepover. It was confusing. She was vaguely apologetic. They had spent the night at a hotel. They were still on the West Side. They would be home later. Did I want to talk to Lucy?

Yes, of course I did. She was fine, a little confused. She handed the phone back to the mother. They were going to eat lunch and then head home.

Okay. Deep breaths.
A hotel? Coming home later? How did a playdate turn into a weekend at a hotel? I began to pace. Sam told me to go lie down and try to rest. I took a Xanax.

I texted them again a few hours later. No response. An hour after that they called, sounding slightly annoyed that I was calling them again. Did I have a "timeline" I needed her back by? Because they were still on the west side. Now I was scared AND angry. It was like "When Animals Attack" in my living room. Mama Bear was awake, and she was really pissed. I rocked the baby silently, trying to remain calm for him. At 5:30 they texted to say they were heading to our house.

Lucy arrived home at 7pm, 33 hours after I had dropped her off. "They're pretty tired." the dad told Sam with a grin. "They stayed up until past midnight." Sam's eyes were dark with anger when he came back inside.

She was sunburned, her eyes swollen and running. Her nose stuffy. Her hair in dreads. She informed me that she had not had a bath in several days, and she was wearing the clothes I had dropped her off in the day before. My heart sank. Her friend was dropped off with her, wrapped in a blanket, shivering and sleepy. Her eyes were red too. They both looked exhausted. Tremulous with fatigue, they hadn't eaten dinner. I called the friend's mom, and she was akready pulling into my neighborhood, as upset as I was. Sam bundled her daughter out to the car.

Lucy was sitting at the dining room table trying to take a few bites of hamburger before she fell asleep, as the story came out. There had been a party at the hotel room. The grownups had watched a movie, "It was a grown up movie, because it was so late at night there weren't any kid's movies on! People were getting arrested and stuff!" When it had gotten too scary, the girls had gone into a closet to tell stories. "But it was a big closet, mama!" she said cheerfully. "And there were lots of grownup friends there!" She had wanted to call when she discovered that the parents had left her bedding at their house with her blanky in it. When she asked to call me, the parents had gone out to the car to "get their phones" and she said that when they returned, they had forgotten to bring the phone back with them. The kids had been left in the hotel room with the grownup friends.

None of this makes sense.

I dropped her off at a friend's house, 2 miles from home. They were going to go to the beach for a few hours and then have a sleepover. I would pick her up in the morning at their house, not too early.

How had this gone so wrong?

I am livid. I am shaking. I am scared for what she saw, and sad that she spent the night with a bunch of strangers, without her blanky or the cozy bedding we had packed so carefully. Mostly, I am angry at myself. I am angry for having such faith. I am angry for not trusting my (admittedly very paranoid) instincts. I am angry that I put my daughter in the care of people who clearly do not have respect for others.

I am angry that I didn't call and check in at bedtime.

She is here with me now, safe in her warm bed with her blanky and her humidifier and Vicks Vaporub on her feet. And we sure as hell won't be sending her off to any sleepovers again anytime soon. I am writing this mostly because I needed to get it off my chest, but also as a reminder to all of us that having a child sleep over at your house is a huge leap of faith for their parents.

Don't make them regret it.


STATJR said...

Holy FUCK! I don't have kids but that pisses me off! You have every right to be livid!

Judy said...

Oh man, I think I must be almost as mad as you are!! That is horrible! I would be at those parents' house in a flash to give them a piece of my mind. I would have been just as scared/mad/freaking out as you were.

I do know, however, that there ARE really good people who I would be very comfortable leaving my children with over night. Good people exist. Sometimes they just get outshined by the mean stupid people.

wakefield said...

I really hope you talk to those parents. I think I would die. It was clearly an adult party. WOW. There are about three people who my children can have sleep overs with. And I know their parents and families very well. I don't even let my daughter stay the night at friends houses with teen age brothers. Sometimes I feel guilty about being so over protective as my daughter is 11 now but this just reminds me why I should be. I don't know how old your daughter is but my daughter has had a cell phone since she was 8. So many people judged me for it but the only time I let her have it was for sleep overs or other things I was a little paranoid about. You have every right to be paranoid and I hope this comment didn't sound judgy as I have been pressured many times and almost given in many times on things i thought I was just being paranoid about. I'm so sorry this happened to you.

Anne said...

Holy shit. HOLY SHIT!!!! Not okay. Those people kidnapped your kid. I'm so glad she is okay. I hope you will be, too.

The818 said...

Okay, I just stumbled here through another post but I have to say THAT IS SO NOT OKAY.

My mind is reeling for you. I hope you have a word with those crazy irresponsible parents!

Leslie said...

Can you file a police report or something? It sounds totally negligent and I think I would probably get legal council on this. They put your child in danger, and more that just not letting her sleep over again, I would worry for other children who may be placed in their care. I'm so sorry this happened, it sounds like a parent's worst nightmare. I would be livid.

Stef Ryan said...

That is my worst nightmare and the reason why my kids won't be doing casual sleepovers anytime soon.

Rita Arens said...

OMG, I am dying at this story.

Michelle said...

This is almost my worst nightmare. I think I would have screamed at them. Blood is boiling right now.

Alexandra said...

Followed you here from household words. I hope you never talk to this family again. This is awful, terrible, irresponsible of them. WIth young girls, I am so sorry this happened. BUT YES to listening to our gift of intuition.

Never again. I am so angry right along with you.