Hopefully, this story of days long ago won't have you losing faith in my parenting abilities. Or, maybe this will give you support when you are struggling, knowing that others are feeling your pain/stress.
When my youngest was born, we let the elder two (very strongly steered by myself) choose him a 'welcome home' gift: a stuffed new friend. When we brought Smiley home, the two very generously presented him with his new soon-to-be favorite friend, dubbed Red Puppy. Red Puppy stayed in Smiley's crib for the most part, but as the child grew, so did the wandering adventures of Red Puppy. Where Smiley went, Red Puppy went. This was easy while Smiley was little because, frankly, he didn't go very far. His adventures pretty much took place at home, or on our 4-house compound. I read a few horror stories, though, about loved stuffed animals being lost, and children becoming broken-hearted, so I went online and searched and searched and finally found a second red puppy. You know, just in case Red Puppy wandered too far. Much to my chagrin, this second puppy was also given to Smiley, instead of saved in a safe spot, the argument being that it would also have to look 'loved' otherwise it would very clearly be a replacement should the original Red Puppy be misplaced. So now, we had two red puppies: Red Puppy, and Fake Red Puppy (FRP). Yes, very creative names.
FRP was not as loved as Red Puppy. In fact, FRP pretty much just sat in the boy's bed, maintaining its brand new plushness. Red Puppy remained very securely 'the favorite' which was both what we wanted and the worst sort of situation; FRP remained very new looking, like he was fresh off the store shelf. Our plan was not exactly working.
Two years, a crazy medevac situation, an international move and two apartments plus a house later, the boys are I are stateside, and hubby is in Afghanistan. I am on full-time parenting duty. We had our routine, we had our friends, we knew our 'hood, we had a yard, we spoke the language; we were golden.
Hubby and I chatted every night (his morning) via skype. Boys regularly chatted with him too. Not to say it was easy, but we had regular communication, and he was very much a part of life, if a bit on the fringe. In the year that he was there, hubby never managed to align any of his leaves with any significant school breaks or holidays but when he did come home, he fell into our routine and it was all good.
The boys were 2, 4, and 6 at the time. The elder one attended a Spanish-immersion elementary school; the younger two an amazing community-minded preschool. We were in a part of the world that we consider 'home' though we can't afford to buy any properties, but we love love love this city. Playgrounds galore, amazing services, great places to walk, easy access to pretty much anything, free museums, and beautiful green spaces. Most places are kid-friendly so super great for a geo-single mom. Some of my dearest friends are from this period in our lives.
One day, the eldest had an after-school activity, and so Smiley and I picked up Middle brother from preschool, and we headed to the playground outside the elementary school to hang out and play. We were excited to get some wiggles out; it had been raining for a few days in a row; mud was everywhere. The younger two were slide-obsessed so as long as I could see the bottom and be ready to react to the bajillion 'Mommy, watch me!'s I could take a little mental break. After a bit, we collected the eldest at the end of his class, ran around a bit more, then headed home in the dusky light to get baths and dinner.
As the boys were gearing down, getting ready to climb into bed, Smiley looked at me and asked if I knew where Red Puppy was. Alarm bells ringing in my ears, I calmly said, I did indeed know, and he could go ahead and close his eyes to go to sleep, and I would go get him, and bring him. Indeed, he did, believing that his mommy would never tell him an untruth, and off he drifted to sleep. I put the other two to bed, distributed goodnight kisses, and mostly closed each door.
Time for the nightly call with hubby. 'You are not going to believe this,' I told him. 'I've lost Red Puppy!' Equally alarmed, he agreed that we had to do something. I had already searched the house, searched the yard. The last time I remembered seeing Red Puppy was in the car on the way to pick up middle brother, and again on the way to the elementary school for play time and picking up big brother. We had a conversation, Smiley and I, that we weren't supposed to bring Red Puppy, right, because he didn't really like cars; he liked staying at home (read: Mom didn't want to lose the dog, drag it through who-knows-what germs and piles of filth; it needed to stay home to avoid EXACTLY this sort of situation). Smiley said 'Just this once.' And proceeded to lose the damn dog.
Hubby and I both agreed the likelihood of Red Puppy being not in the house was pretty high, as was the possibility of him being on the playground. Naturally it was raining again. Naturally it was dark outside. And, with hubby being an ocean and two continents away, he wasn't going to be much help looking. I also knew that if the bright red and adorable stuffed puppy was on the playground, it would be found and adopted by the first child at school in the morning. I had to figure out a way to get to the school asap; what about the sleeping kids upstairs?!
So, you may not know this already, but moving into a new community state-side is actually really easy; being accepted by the community, not so easy. Especially because the boys did not attend the neighborhood school (they were in the Spanish-immersion school for the area), we did not meet many of our neighbors. Certainly, there were only one or two that I might have been able to call to ask them to watch the boys for the 45 minute trip to the school to search the playground. But I didn't want to drag this out even longer. Hubby couldn't be much help looking for the dog, but he could be helpful in other ways. He suggested 'What if I watch the house from here? If something happens, I can call 911.' The way the computer screen sat, no one could get down the stairs (where the bedrooms were all located) without him seeing. No one could get in the front door ... it was a good if slightly insane and probably illegal suggestion. But what choice did we have? Freaking Red Puppy HAD to be found. So. Hubby made himself his cup of coffee, and I hopped in the car, and drove as fast as was legal to the school. Thankfully, I figured since the boys were slide-obsessed, I only had to check around the slides. No Red Puppy. I widened my search. No Red Puppy. I thought of one other possible location: in the downstairs hallway where we picked up the eldest after his ASA. I couldn't get in there, though, as the school was locked up tight.
I wrote a quick email to the school secretary, who was an amazing and loving woman, and I knew if the puppy were in the hallway or the lost and found, she'd grab it and let me know. And I drove home, puppy-less. Shoot! I was absolutely certain Smiley had him in the car this afternoon. 100%. I pulled into the parking spot in front of the house, and sat for a minute, frustrated. I looked in the rearview mirror, at the car seat. Shoot! Where could Red Puppy be?!
At the time, we had a minivan. Little gold, we called her. Typical mom-car, best way to get little kids and all of their various bits and bobs to and fro. Sliding doors and auto-rear door so you can get everything in and buckled even with your hands full. The last place I saw Red Puppy was here. What if it was still in the car? I searched in and around the middle row, where the car seat sat. I looked behind it, because little boys and toys and gravity and all that. Nope. Hm. I hit the button for the rear door, and walked around the car to peek in. There lay Red Puppy, right on top of the space organizer we had back there. Right on top of the soccer ball and frisbee I suddenly remembered Smiley had asked to bring to the schoolyard. The darn dog had been here all along! Silver lining: Red Puppy was not wet and muddy, removing 'wash the stuffed animal' from the list before I got to go to bed myself.
Laughing at myself for not having checked the most logical place first, prior to driving to the school, wandering around on the dark school playground at night, I went in the house. I showed the dog to Hubby as I walked by the computer, and then went up directly to Smiley's room, and tucked Red Puppy in his proper sleeping spot: beside the sleeping boy.
Hubby and I laughed about it. How could we (I) not have checked the way back, as it was known? I should have thought of that!
The things we do to keep our kids safe. The things we do to keep our kids happy. If I were to tell you this story, and you were not a parent, you might shake your head at me, tsk-ing me about leaving the kids sleeping peacefully in their beds while under the watch of a person continents away. If you are a parent, you probably have a similar story, am I right? Seemingly small acts, making a big difference. Could Smiley have lived a full and happy life without Red Puppy? Absolutely. I stand by my decision to go out hunting for him, though, because it was the least I could do. A hard enough year, without dad there. Finding Red Puppy was a no-brainer.
We make decisions to do these tasks every day. We keep their happiness and peace of mind forefront with every action and decision. You also know your kids best, and can and will know what is the best decision for them. Sometimes it is an action they will approve of (yay, Red Puppy!); sometimes your action will not be quite so popular. Sometimes - most of the time - the best action to take is the one that will teach a lesson to your kids that will make a difference in the long run. What did my run out for Red Puppy teach them? That doing a kind act sometimes takes effort, sometimes takes guts, and sometimes is not actually necessary. And, in this case, the recipient was blissfully unaware. Parenting is not always about getting a 'thank you', you know. But you know they mean to say it. It's just one of the things they do