You know that heart-stopping, sinking feeling you get when you scan a room full of toddlers and momentarily you can't see your child? Try to imagine that feeling lasting for a bit longer, for a few minutes perhaps. Feel sick yet?
This afternoon I gathered up Cash at the end of Playgroup. Presley was riding round on a toy tractor. I told him that I was putting Cash in the pushchair and I would come back for him. I put Cash's coat on and started fastening the pushchair straps. I looked round to see where Presley was.
I could see the abandoned tractor, but no Presley. The church hall was emptying. I had the heart-stopping, sinking feeling. I scanned the hall again. I looked into the empty Wendy House.
'Where's Presley?', I asked. The few people around didn't know who I meant. I knew I wouldn't be able to spot him with his new short hair, so how would they? We haven't been coming for that long.
'Presley', I called. Nothing.
'PRESLEY...PRESLEY'. Still nothing.
'I can't find my little boy'.
I asked the Playgroup leader, Lisa, to watch Cash. I felt an awful rising panic. I ran outside.
'Is there a little boy out here?'. The other mothers deigned to stop their chatting to look at me like I was a bit simple. 'I can't find my little boy, have you seen a boy, running around?'. They hadn't.
I ran back in. I think the others were looking for Presley and discussing where he could be, but I couldn't hear properly. I felt like I was under water. Sound was muffled. Above the sound of rushing water I heard Lisa say 'he could be out the back'.
I ran to the first door. Beyond this door were three closed doors. What if he was stuck in a cupboard? 'PRESLEY'. I tried the first door, it was locked. I thought I'm not going to find him.
I opened the second door. He wasn't in the kitchen, but Maggie, who was washing up, hadn't seen him. She came out with me and we tried the third door. This led out to the church entrance. He wasn't there. She assured me the external doors were locked. She showed me the doors were locked. She said 'he can't get out'.
But what if he had? The church is at a busy junction. If he had got out, he could have gone in any direction. He could have tried to cross the road. I'm not going to find him. 'PRESLEY'.
I thought I heard a child crying, faraway. The sound was being carried on the wind. Would I always hear this child crying and never be able to reach him? 'PRESLEY'.
The world was closing in on me, swallowing me up, ready to spit me out. 'PRESLEY'.
I went back into the main hall, ready to try the other door to the toilets. Someone had left the door open.
Presley sauntered out through the open door.
I ran and scooped him up in my arms. I held him tight. I told him that he knows he has to stay where mummy can see him and where he can see mummy. My voice sounded strange to me, like it sounds on tape or video. The water was still whooshing around me.
Presley sank into me. I think he knew something had happened, but wasn't sure so he clung on to me.
Lisa brought a chair for us to sit on (this must have happened before).
I sobbed into my baby's T-shirt.
I pulled myself together, dried my eyes and got Presley's coat. My hands were shaking so much it took me a while to fasten the zip. It took me even longer to strap him into the pushchair.
I mustered a weak smile and thanked Lisa. I cried all the way home. I cried when I told Andy. I cried as I drank my cup of tea. I cried with relief.