It’s 8:45 a.m. and I pull up to my neighbor’s house for our morning carpool.
My daughter hops out of the car and runs to the porch to get her friend, like usual.
A few minutes pass, then instead of her and her friend *Sophie coming back out, Sophie’s mom hurries over, a worried look on her face.
“Is she not coming to school?” I ask, thinking Sophie might be sick.
“I can’t find her,” she says. “She went outside to look for the cat and hasn’t come back… and that was over twenty minutes ago.“
I’m immediately concerned. Just a few days before, one of our other neighbor’s houses was robbed in the morning, which never happens in our neighborhood. Visions of Sophie chasing the cat around the corner and then encountering…
I won’t let my mind go there.
“Do you want me to drive around and look for her?”
“That’s okay. I was just going to do that,” she says.
“I’ll go to school and do drop-off, then I’ll come back and help you.”
“Okay. Thanks.” Then, shaking her head, “I’m worried.”
“Me too, but I’m sure she’s alright.” My daughter gets back in the car and I drive to school, a pit in my stomach.
Please let Sophie be okay, I pray the whole drive. Please let her be okay.
I remember how I felt one time when my son was about two and had wandered around the corner at a neighborhood BBQ. I thought he might be lost… forever.
I remember that sickening feeling of not knowing where your child is… and I feel that for Sophie now. She’s not family, but she’s my daughter’s close friend, and I feel that.
After dropping my daughter off, I race back to Sophie’s house, gripping the steering wheel and scanning the sidewalks.
Please let her be okay, please let her be okay, please let her be okay.
When I pull into her court, her garage door is open and her mom is standing in the driveway. I open the car window, my heart beating fast. “Did you find her?”
And then, the sweetest word…
Thank God. The weight lifts from my heart.
“She was in the backyard,” she says, still shaken. (Evidently, their cat had gotten out and climbed over the fence and Sophie had been back there trying to get him. She hadn’t heard her mom calling.)
“Do you want me to take her to school?” I offer. “I’m heading back that way anyway.”
“Would you?” She runs her hand through her hair. “My gas tank is on empty.”
Sophie comes out of their garage and gets in my car, crying. We drive away and head toward school. “Are you okay, Hon?” I ask.
She nods in between tears.
“Are you crying because you were scared?”
“No,” she sobs.
“Are you crying because you think your mom is mad at you?”
“Uh-huh,” she says, sniffling.
I imagine the reaction I would have had with my twelve-year-old if I’d been calling her, looking for her, driving around the neighborhood… and she was in the backyard the whole time. I would’ve been overwhelmed with relief, but I probably would have had a few words about answering me when I call and being ready for school when it was time to get picked up.
“Your mom’s not mad at you,” I promise. “She’s just glad you’re safe. We moms get a little frantic when we think our kids might be missing.”
“Uh-huh,” she says again. The sniffles start to slow.
“Everyone’s just glad you’re okay,” I tell her, swallowing the lump in my throat.
By the time we get to school, she stops crying. And the minute she gets out and closes the car door, I start. I cry and cry – not just out of relief that Sophie is safe, but for all the girls out there who aren’t, for all the girls out there–11, 12, 13… younger and older–who don’t have a mom frantically looking for them, who don’t have neighbors or others in their lives who care about where they are.
For all the girls out there who run away or are taken away… and nobody goes to find them.
Through my involvement with Courage to Be You (a non-profit that is building homes for children rescued out of trafficking), I’ve learned the truth – that there are countless girls (and boys) out there—even in our own communities—who don’t have someone looking for them, who don’t have someone who cares about them who don’t have someone who misses them.
It’s a fact that pierced my heart over a year ago, and a fact that stays with me daily.
The exact number of kids being trafficked is unknown because the crime is so hidden, but a University of Pennsylvania study estimated nearly 300,000 youth in the United States were at risk of being exploited for commercial uses. The Justice Department’s National Incidence Study reported that 1.7 million children run away or are thrown away each year, with just 357,600 reported as missing to the police. In addition, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that at least 100,000 children are enslaved in the insidious world of child prostitution each year.
If this grips you like it did me, there are ways you can get involved. We moms can make a difference. Stop by C2BU.org and find out how.
Because every child deserves to have someone looking for them.
*names have been changed.
Hero image cc by estebanutz on Flickr.