I lost Joel yesterday.
It was only for about two minutes, but it was, by far, the worst two minutes of my life (including the minutes, many years ago, when a sociopath held a loaded gun to my head). We went to the children's museum to play, like we do about twice a month. While I was checking us in and getting change for a locker, I thought both kids were playing at the statue in the entryway. But when I turned around to get them, I only found Sophie. I checked the entry and the two open anterooms. He wasn't there. I told the woman in the gift shop, panic straining my voice, and I described him as I was running back and forth, frantic, calling his name.
The staff are experienced in this kind of thing, of course, and they found him pretty quickly, gave him to me, and took us off to a private room to recover. I cried and held him, cried while they played, cried into Sophie's hair at naptime later.
Here's my problem, though: Our story has a happy ending. As awful as those two minutes were, we were in a relatively safe place, prepared for and experienced in wandering-child recovery, and the only person who ever knew anything was wrong was me. But what about the stories that don't end like this one?