Friday, 14 September 2007

When children go AWOL

I post this with my blood pressure so high that I’m surprised red stuff isn’t spurting out my ears.

I arranged to meet my 16-year-old daughter in a neighbouring town (which is also where she goes to school) at 2.30pm today. She is going away for the weekend with friends, so the plan was that we’d connect so she could give me her school bag, and I’d hand over her pre-packed overnight bag.

I arrived at our agreed-on meeting place at 2.25pm. At 2.30 I phoned my daughter’s cellphone. It rang for an eternity then went to her voicemail – which, incidentally, is a long, asinine rambling message from her, designed no doubt to thrill and delight her friends. But I’m her mother, and all it did was annoy me.

I left a message asking where she was.

At 2.40, with still no sign of her, I rang her cellphone again. And repeated the exercise.

At 2.50 I went officially into panic mode. Perhaps I am a product of the media blitz about kidnapped kids – but kids do get kidnapped in South Africa, all the time.

I began asking random passers-by if they’d seen my daughter. ‘She’s 16, fairly tall, very pretty, and wearing a SH uniform,’ I told them – describing about 500 young women who go to school in the same town.

Amazingly, only one person – another mother! – took my panic seriously. ‘What’s her name?’ she asked. ‘Have you tried her cellphone? Do you know any of her friends in town? Have you called in at the school?’ She and I quartered the area, calling my daughter’s name.

By 3pm I had chewed my fingernails down to the bone. Horrendous images were whirling through my mind: my daughter in the hands of slave traders; my daughter dead in a ditch; my daughter snatched by a pervert; my daughter injured and helpless… I know it was only half an hour, but do you have any idea how long it takes to count to 1 800-crocodile when you think your child’s safety may be endangered, how slowly those seconds tick by?

So when my daughter finally strolled into view at a few minutes past 3, chewing a big fat wad of gum and swinging her schoolbag in an insouciant manner, I wanted to kill her.

‘Jumping jiminy! Where have you been, you silly girl? I’ve been so terribly worried’ I said, give or take a few expletives.

She snapped her gum at me. ‘Ah, ma,’ she said. ‘Don’t be so paranoid.’

Instead of abusing my daughter – which I dearly wished to do but my desire to stay out of the clutches of Child Services overrode it; and anyway my sole helper was staring at my daughter in disbelief, which was embarrassment enough – I abused my car. Once I’d tossed my daughter’s schoolbag into the boot and hurled her overnight bag at her, I slammed my door so hard I’m surprised it stayed attached.

‘Cheesh,’ said my daughter. ‘Touchy, touchy.’ And she strolled off, overnight bag over her shoulder, snapping her gum.

‘Are you alright?’ asked my helper. ‘You look like you need to sit down for a bit.’

We stared at each other for a few moments, then she said, ‘I’ve only got littlies myself, but I think I’m going to give them away when they reach puberty.’

Hah! Who would take them?

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2 comments:

angel said...

oh boy do i know how that feels... damien's done it to me a coupla times!
that whole "should-i-call-the-cops-i-should-have-been-here-earlier-who-can-i-call-isn't-my-heart-supposed-to-be-beating-don'tpanicdon'tpanic-i'm-going-to-kill-the-little-shit-when-i-find-him-answer-your-effing-fone-don'tpanicdon'tpanic-oh-lord-please-let-him-be-okay" feeling...
you have ALL my sympathy!!!

meggie said...

So much recognition here it is damn scary!!
And, for better or worse, & I'm not sure which it is, we didn't have mobile phones in my day!