I need to slow my breathing and get my heart to stop racing. Late afternoon, at work, I received a frantic phone call from the mom of JR's best friend. Z, who transferred to the local public school this year, did not come home from school. Usually, he walks home with his older brother (5th grade) but the older brother decided to stay for Homework Club. Since they live a mere 4 blocks from school, Z is allowed to walk home and has a key for his front door. Z's mom is home within 20-30 minutes of the boys' arrival home. This has worked well since September.
When she called me, the police had already been summoned and the parents were working their network of friends. I knew he couldn't be with JR because JR is at his school today until 6 (Drama Club and tutoring). She had called JR's babysitter, because she does sometimes do afternoon playdates with the 2 boys (but never without arranging it with the parents in advance). One of the problems is that because this is a new school for Z, the mom does not have the same contacts she had at our old school. It also doubled the number of possible places that Z could be, since he has friends from both schools.
So I started calling the folks I know whose kids go to the public school with Z (there's lots of overlap in our social networks because of sports and church and preschool). My second phone call led to a lead. The mom had seen Z and another public school 3rd grader in the drug store across the street from school. This other kid is unsupervised quite a bit, so my friend wasn't surprised to see him, but did think it unusual to see Z with him. She also knew that this other kid often goes to a local playground after school. So I called the lead into Z's mom, who told the police, who immediately sent an officer to the playground - and there was Z!
I was terrified and ultimately relieved for Z's parents.
It's odd. We live in the middle of a large city, but our own little neighborhood seems so tight and safe that we must project that feeling of security to our kids - so that it never occurs to them that just leaving school and not letting a responsible adult know where they are going and what they are doing.
You can bet I had a long talk with JR tonight.
I'm really glad Z is okay. His mom and I have already started brainstorming other supervised after school options for the days when his big brother has homework club. I am thankful for the prompt, caring response of our big city police officers. I am thankful for the seriousness with which Z's school also addressed the situation (the vice principal returned to school and started calling 3rd grade families). But I'm also very sad for Z's afternoon companion - because no one was looking for him, no one was worried about him. I know that to the extent it is within our power, we will always keep JR and Z safe. But who is watching out for the other little boy?