I lost a child yesterday. Yep! Absolutely, totally, completely forgot about him.

I know what you as the reader are thinking. “Crazy mom! How un-attentive! How could you do such a thing!?! You have too many children!!!”

Now, just slow down and let me defend myself. I DO have quite a few children. Nine little people is a lot to keep track of. But in my own defense, the older ones don’t need as much watching, and generally even contribute to keeping tabs on the younger folks. So, as my first “lost child” offense in 17 years, I think I have a pretty good record. Here’s how my day went:

It was one of those Sunday mornings, the kind where I beg for just 10 more minutes of sleep, shut the alarm off, and then burst out of bed realizing how wrong my extra napping was. I jumped into the shower, jumped out of the shower, jumped into a dress (it was Sunday, remember?) and then tried to walk calmly into the children’s bedrooms.

Opening curtains on the already sun-filled windows and singing something sweet, I finally told them it was TIME TO GET UP! Although my insides were churning with the late hour, I put on a serene face and began dressing the smallest children. Still feigning complete control (although glancing at the clock made my blood pressure rise), I force-fed cold cereal to the starving munchkins, skipped breakfast myself, and without a moment to spare had all of us (including my husband, just returned from an early-morning meeting) into the family bus, and headed to church in record time.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I could tell by the gathering church-goers that we were barely in time.

“Time to peel,” I told the kiddles in my most urgent voice. My husband put the car into park and all six van doors were flung open, with children bailing out on all sides. Grabbing my own scriptures, I hurried with our small brood up the church steps, into the foyer, took a breath, and walked serenely down the aisle to the last long, vacant bench at the front of the chapel. We slid into our seats and even had three minutes to spare before the service started.

“Whoosh …” The air came audibly from my mouth as I heaved a sigh of relief and prepared for prayer. “We made it!” I thought inwardly, congratulating myself on my well-honed mothering skills.

The man at the podium began speaking, we sang a congregational hymn, we prayed and heard a few opening remarks. The stress continued to ooze out of me, and I listened intently to the service. It was time to sing again.

Opening the hymnbook, I reached over to put my hand into my husband’s. Smiling at him, I couldn’t help but feel happy and slightly proud of our well-behaved children. The song was about peace and reverence, and I could feel it today.

“They’re all sitting so quietly,” I thought, glancing down the row to where several of the older children were likewise singing from their hymnbooks. I smiled inside. Turning back to the words of the hymn I suddenly stopped.

“Wait!” my brain said. “Your children are all quiet? Your children are all sitting reverently? Something is wrong.” “Yes, it is odd …” I answered my brain. “Someone is usually wiggly … ELI!”

My inward voice caught in my throat as I glanced frantically up and down the aisle again. “Eli!” I irreverently grabbed my husband’s sleeve. “Where’s Eli?” Forgetting our dignified church faces we scanned our row again, craning our necks to see if our antsy four-year-old might be tucked in between his taller sisters. No. He wasn’t. He wasn’t anywhere. My husband and I looked at each other for a split moment, our eyes frozen wide-open, and then, with no regard for the quiet church-goers around us, my husband bolted from the bench and ran-walked to the back exit of the chapel.

I watched him go, panic growing inside of me. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t feel anything. “Where did I last see Eli?” I thought. Did he get out of bed this morning? Yes! Did he get dressed? Yes! Did he eat cereal? Yes! Did he climb into the van? I thought so … The moments dragged on as I waited in agony.

The singing around me went on and on and on …

And then my husband was there, scooting into the pew again, holding little Eli. Our four-year-old smiled and hugged me. I scanned his face. Was he traumatized? Did he seem bewildered? Nope — just his usual happy self. His little Sunday tie askew, his white Sunday shirt untucked, his mismatched socks (it had been a crazy morning) tucked into his black shoes.

My husband leaned over and whispered into my ear. “He was playing in the car, happy as a clam.”

“Ohhhhh …” I sat in shock for a moment, and then a giggle started to erupt from my throat. I coughed. My husband coughed. We tried to sing, but coughed again. Eli smiled at both of us. We hugged him.

Suddenly, the bench was a little noisier, the children a little more wiggly. But I didn’t mind. We were all there — Sunday hair askew and all. I breathed another audible sigh of relief. “Next Sunday I won’t sleep in,” I resolved inside. But next Sunday didn’t matter yet. Today, little boy lost had been found.

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