Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Knot in the Pit of My Stomach

We hear about Ayla, Lisa, and now Isabel, say a prayer for their safe return, and thank the Lord our children are not missing like these little girls. We can't imagine being one of the parents of Madeleine McCann or Etan Patz -- cold cases coincidentally making the news in the last week. British police have asked Portugal to open the former, and the latter was reopened and days later closed following a futile search of a New York City basement.

However, six days ago another such real-life nightmare hit very close to home for those of us living on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. The child's name is Caleigh Harrison, and she is from Gloucester, the city next door to my town. She was out for a walk along the shore in neighboring Rockport with her mother, four-year-old sister, and dog when their ball sailed over a wall in front of some summer cottages, and the mother went to retrieve it. When she returned, two-and-a-half-year-old Caleigh was nowhere to be found.

Was she a victim of foul play or abduction? Did she fall off a footbridge between two beaches into a creek whose strong current leads out to sea? Thus far, none of these scenarios has been ruled out.

As soon as the story went public, my Facebook friends and I started posting articles about it, comments, and requests for prayer. One such friend even works with the girl's grandmother! I discussed the situation with two mothers during a playdate not long after. One used to live in the area of the beaches and knows them well. She talked about the footbridge and demonstrated with her hands the pulling motion of the Atlantic Ocean as the tide at that location went out, as it reportedly was doing at midday last Thursday when the incident occurred. She used phrases such as "wanting to throw up" and "a knot in the pit of my stomach" to describe her feelings upon hearing the news.

I nodded because I got the exact same sensation. It is absolutely horrible to think about that poor innocent toddler's fate.

As a beachgoing single mother by choice of two sons, the ordeal also felt incredibly and personally scary to me. An old boyfriend of mine once said, "When you have more children than there are parents in the family, you are outnumbered." I am outnumbered every day -- a fact that really comes into play at the beach.

Singlehandedly managing young children at a beach can be one of the most difficult tasks of any parent. Indeed, it has been for me.

First off, neither of my sons are what you'd call "fish." Though he's taken many swimming courses at two YMCAs and one aquatic center, my eight year old is still reluctant to stick his face in the water (or most bodies of water, I should say), making for a serious aquatic impediment. Incongruously, the ocean -- with its waves, undertow, and current -- is the body of water in which Christopher performs best. Don't get me wrong: He doesn't swim in the ocean. He merely jumps through the waves and gets knocked down and tossed by them. He has never gotten in trouble in the ocean, though I watch him vigilantly as he plays in the water with his excellent swimmer friends. (As for myself, I am grateful to be a strong swimmer and former lifeguard, albeit never an ocean guard.) Then there's my younger son who stays away from the ocean altogether except perhaps to cool off his lower body, rinse off sand, or fill up his bucket.

Nonetheless, he presents a huge challenge on the beach because he is A Wanderer. Dare I say he's gotten a little better since getting older? I'm not sure. Naturally, at six years of age, he no longer absentmindedly toddles off or runs away willfully to exert his independence. Instead, he wanders just as a course of being in his own world. He can be very good all day playing beside me alone or with friends then suddenly disappear into a crowd of sunbathers, umbrellas, and sand toys just before it's time to leave. Believe me, I have many war stories to tell. I will save them for another post. Still, praise the Lord, I have always managed to find him.

Having resided on a coast my whole life except my college years, I can't really image living inland for any substantial length of time. I expect that I would feel claustrophobic, needing to at least once in a while gaze out at the blue horizon.

The ocean is a place of beauty, recreation, relaxation, and renewal. It is an inspiration for great art and fine writing. Winslow Homer, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Philbrick. Yet, lest we forget, it is also a place of great danger from drownings, shark attacks, and boating or scuba diving accidents.

As I have since last Thursday, I will continue to pray and think positive thoughts for young Caleigh and her family. By some miracle, perhaps she will be found alive and unharmed. Anything is possible. Unfortunately, a tragic outcome is more likely, it seems. I hope her loved ones get the closure they need before too long.

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