I take all the precautions with my children. I’ve even been labeled a helicopter mom, even though I call it cautious. My anxiety becomes overwhelming when I think about this scary world we’re raising our children in. I’m terrified that someone will try to take one of my kids, so I’m constantly doing “all the right things” to keep them safe.

We went to the zoo with our sons preschool class today, and I even brought my mom as a reinforcement to help wrangle the one-, three-, and five-year-olds. I was on my A-game and feeling good about the day. All day we made jokes about my middle child. My wild child. We said that before the day was over we’d be lucky if he didn’t land us on the news. When we were at the leopard exhibit he matter-of-factly stated he was going to climb in and pet the leopard. I watched him like a hawk all day.

The day was winding down and the playground was lined with moms watching their children play. My eyes darted back and forth between my two boys, and I knew my mom had the baby. I watched our oldest go down the slide and then my eyes darted back to where his younger brother had been. He wasn’t there.

My eyes instantly started scanning the jungle gym, searching for his outfit. Surely he was just in a slide or something I thought—but he wasn’t. I tried to keep my voice calm as I started to call his name and ask the other moms if they’d seen him. He had JUST been right there, so I knew he couldn’t have left the playground. But with multiple moms now on alert and searching, he was nowhere to be found. We started spreading out and I couldn’t keep my heart from racing. My mind was picturing the worst, and I couldn’t even begin to reign in the graphic, terrifying thoughts racing through my mind.

A zoo employee caught on that something wasn’t right and started searching with us. I heard him say something on his radio, but by now a few minutes had ticked by and all I could hear was my ears ringing and the vague sound of other moms yelling my baby’s name. All the moms were saying they had JUST seen him. I mean, how did this happen? We were all right there, and there had been several of us watching them.

It felt like time was standing still and I was beginning to no longer hide my panic. I ran around the side of a building and into our preschool teacher who was yelling “found him!” He needed to potty and decided that he would just go by himself. I scooped him up in my arms and buried my face in his neck. I cried and I yelled and I scared him. He said “Momma, I just had to go to the bathroom.”

We read stories on the news about true accidents that happen, or children getting lost, and we point our perfect fingers at those moms who are just like me. They’re good moms and they love their babies more than life itself, but these babies can be sneaky and fast and sometimes things happen even when we are on guard. I kept thinking what if it hadn’t ended up that he was just in the bathroom? What would those people say about me and the mother I am? They would judge me without knowing the facts. They would say horrible things without knowing how careful I am and how much I try to keep them safe. They would condemn me in a heartbeat.

Tonight, I’m thanking God for how this story ended, but I’m also reflecting on the thoughts I’ve had when I’ve read those other moms’ stories. I hope the next time I hear of a story like this, instead of judging that mom, I will pray for her and give her grace, knowing things happen in the blink of an eye. No matter how much we love our kids or how many steps we take to keep them safe, accidents still happen sometimes.

Caitlin Henderson

Caitlin Henderson is a small town girl from Kansas who fell in love with a farmer. They have three kids who keep her on her toes and always clinging to coffee. She is passionate about showing people Jesus, and telling the story of agriculture. She loves writing about their life full of grace, craziness, love, dirt, and cows.