children of the corn

children in the corn

Far bigger than my balls, I have an enormous set of lungs. I can belt it out with the best of ’em. That’s right, while other women might go sans bra or honest best friend (who lets you just chafe out in public with an eyeful of camel toe?), I can go sans microphone on an impulsive night of karaoke. Yes, my “I can hold any note longer than you” leaves the beloved Bernadette Peters feeling weak in her strong parts. So, use those lungs, I did when I lost Abigail in the corn maze.

I was not, at the time, drinking. I was at a pumpkin patch with Abigail. Phil and Lucas were at a birthday party. That’s beginning to happen now, invitations with a single name, where you can no longer bring an accompanying twin. Abigail and I were dressed in matching colors. I distinguish the word colors just so we’re clear that I never have, nor will I, dress in the identical outfit as my daughter. I plan to embarrass us both in far more creative ways.

A pregnant woman with an adorable mop of curls, bright eyes, and dimples remarked how much she loved Abigail’s dress, asking where I got it.

“Janie & Jack, sale rack.”

And from there a new friendship was born. Her daughter Gray and Abigail were also instant friends, arm in arm, weaving through pumpkins, running up through the aisles. They’re the same age, though Gray towers over Abigail. Luke, Gray’s younger brother, also a Kind Sir, raced to keep up with the girls. The woman’s husband, a teacher at an elite private school, was keeping up with the kids as my newest friend and I traded “just moved here” stories. Her, from Orange County, CA, originally from outside Chicago—some “M” city, though, technically, Milwaukee is in Wisconsin. I know this because for a while, I was thinking she might be from Cincinnati (they somehow sound the same to me). I also know this because I use Google Maps in lieu of a brain.

pumpkins 02

The woman hates warm weather and lives for mountains and skiing. I’m a fair-skinned redhead, so I’m with her on the anti-heat movement but for different reasons. I, for example, could be perfectly happy living in Seattle. RAINY DAYS are my 100% favorite days. I love them more than any other day and welcome weeks of it! It’s why I’ve enjoyed the Florida weather this summer. While hot, but nothing like Texas hot which is similar to walking behind a bus, each day around 3:00pm, the skies would darken and thunder, then a mini storm would grab hold for twenty minutes before losing its grip, the windshields the only telltale.

After choosing pumpkins we threaded our way to the corn maze, making mention of the woman on the news recently, the one who’d called 911 to report her family missing in the fields. ”How totally Halloween,” we agreed. Our girls were still racing, and while we tried to carry on more get-to-know-you conversation, we’d get off in fits and starts, forgetting where we were before we’d interrupted to lean toward the children, to correct them, to tell them to stay closer.

“Wait for Luke, he’s younger and can’t keep up.”
“Abigail, you must stay where you can always see me.”

But they were little darting firecrackers, bundles of energy and laughter and flight. We finally agreed they could run, but only in circles around us. They circled us, then careered out of the maze, emptying out to the dirt path where we’d begun.

We followed after and looked to hold their hands now that we were out near the creek where a 10-foot alligator was sunning himself. The backyards of Manhattan have rats. Texas has rattlesnakes. Florida gets ALLIGATORS. With each move, the natives get increasingly menacing.

Not a plastic climbing toy for posed photographs and unruly play, it’s a live Floridian gator in the creek just outside the maze.

There was Gray and Luke, but where was my royal blue one?

I might shit myself over meaningless things—like when Abigail cut her own bangs at the root—but when the really big stuff happens, I’m remarkably calm… for a psycho.

I didn’t “scream.” Screaming is a throttled shriek. But shouting, calling out for someone, utilizes a different part of the throat. Shouting can come with a cupped hand, megaphone style. But with a scream, the deep of your throat opens, like the lid of a whistling kettle.

I called out her name over and again, pacing the fields quickly. Then, with a calm that seems to take over, I turn on my camera and flip through the digital photos to zoom in on a photo taken earlier in the day. “Here she is,” I tell strangers entering the maze with their own young ones. “This is what she’s wearing.”

My new friend and her husband search, too. I continue to call for her, then listen, but I cannot hear Abigail, any of her. I’m going to play the mother card now. The language that says, I win at this. Even when I’m losing in the parenting game, I win at knowing the flesh that was cleaved from me. A fitting Halloween description, no?

I know Abigail. I am her mother. I know her laugh. And while Phil never could distinguish between Lucas and Abigail’s cries over a baby monitor or otherwise, I know each intimately. I don’t just know their cries, voices, and laughs; I know their sighs. I hear nothing of Abigail’s right now.

My friend’s husband bolts off to fetch… the ladder. As I take this in, that they even have a ladder at the ready, I think, “there should be children in the corn lifeguards on duty,” especially with this gator situation.

Here’s what’s running through my head: nothing. I’m still in this paralyzed state of confusion, where I’ve at once forgotten how to wheel through the photos of my camera. I’ve forgotten how to zoom. It is the feeling you get when you forget in which row it was you parked, or when you enter your bedroom but can’t remember why you’re there. Obviously, you’re not there for sex, which never happens. So why? Then it hits you—you came to charge your phone, or to grab a receipt from your side table. Is a “stuck” moment, a brain fart, an Aldercocker Moment where everything becomes nothing. That’s how it felt. Suspended in time, empty.

I showed strangers what I could of her photo, “Can you see what she’s wearing?” I ask, still unsure how to zoom. I’m frozen nerves, except I’m also calm; it is true. Because who comes to a pumpkin patch wanting to kidnap an over-sugared wild child? No one. So, I’m not scared that she’ll be kidnapped. I’m sure it will be sorted out and that we’ll of course find her. I’m sure of it. How far could she have gone?

The maze has its own zip code, and I have no idea if there are other entranceways, but I doubt it. My only fear is that she’ll realize she’s lost, then scramble through stalks, recognize the pumpkins in the distance, then head toward them. Imagine we’re all combing stalks, arms distance apart, and she’s lost in a knot of people, in an entirely different section of the fair? Also, between the corn field and the pumpkins is another creek, possibly populated with other Floridian natives. If she’s focused on getting out to the patch, she’s not going to notice where she’s stepping, and she could stumble and fall in.

My friend touches me on the arm and tells me her husband has found her. “Abigail’s not even scared, I swear. The two of you are the coolest, calmest, people I know.” She doesn’t know us.

I crouch to Abigail’s level. She’s giving me the scared face she gives when she feels bad about something she’s done, when she knows I’m reeling. I open my arms, and she leaps into them. I hug her and hold her. Neither of us cries. But the rest of the day, we cling to each other, like a stick sweet mother-daughter combo that wears matching catalog clothing. I can live with this.



  1. Great writing, Stephanie. Amazing calm. I lost my son once in a mall when he was two and in 2.2 I was frantic- screaming and crying and instantly a mass of people assisting in the search. We found him…where else, but lost and found.

  2. Glad all turned out okay. “remarkably calm… for a psycho”. If that’s not a song lyric, it should be.

  3. On my daughters first day of first grade, her teacher put her on the wrong bus. In the first grade here (in MA) you don’t have to have a grownup waiting for you to get off the bus, you just get off at your stop. Well, Julia stayed on the bus until the last stop, at which point the bus driver told her that she had to get off. So she did, in a neighborhood not far from our own, but still unfamiliar to her. Meanwhile, I had a wedding rehearsal dinner to go to, and her grampy was getting her off the bus. When I got the call that she didn’t get off the bus at her stop, I immediately assumed that she must have mistakenly gone to the afterschool program, and sent him to get her at school. When I got the call that she wasn’t there either, I raced to the school where I was told by the principal “don’t worry, we haven’t lost one yet!”. When I say that I wanted to punch her square in the face I’m not exaggerating. She was finally found, 30 minutes later, by the mom of boy who’d been on the bus with her. He looked out the window to see her crying in front of his house, and told his mom. She came outside and starting walking around with her, thinking that someone was out looking for her.

    This happened when Julia was six, and next week she’ll be 14. Even now, every time I think of that day I get choked up. I’d never been so scared in my life, and I’ve never been that scared since. It’s the worst feeling in the world when you don’t know where your baby is.

    1. Author

      Okay, for that, I would not be calm. I would be beside myself, as in, out of my mind, out of my body. I don’t know how you made it through that. I know what you mean about reliving it when you think about. I still get upset when I think of going into preterm labor. That really is some story.

  4. Why oh why is it important to you that he is “a teacher at an elite private school”? Why do I think that if it was a public school you would not have been so interested in making friends?

    And for the record, I am glad Abigail was fine.

    1. Author

      Oh, anon, you have to know I put that in there especially for you. Figured you’d bitch about something, so why not give you that. Next time I’ll drop more brand names. Also, I made friends with them long before I learned what either of them did for a living, so cool it.

      1. I, for one, LOVE the details you put in your posts. You are a storyteller. You weave pictures with your words. If Anon wants to read dry stories, he/she can go read The Economist.

        1. Author

          This is actually why I choose to include the paragraph (The woman hates warm weather…), which had nothing to do with anything. It’s useless information in terms of moving the story along. For a blog, I’ll keep it in, unedited. For other publication I’d lose it.

          I had a writing teacher once who told me my tangents were interesting, so to write, write, write, tangents and all. Because he wanted to know that stuff. But to copy and paste those tangents and use them elsewhere, on their own, so they don’t disrupt the flow of a story. See, when it comes to writing, I feel confident that I know what I’m doing. I can obviously always improve. And feedback does help. Because as much as I write for myself, I also realize that people read it… and they might, from time to time, want to be entertained. If I’m getting in the way of that, I want to know. Make sense?

  5. Yikes, what a story and stories. I, too, have lost children stories with happy endings. Strange the thoughts that cloud your mind when you are frantically trying to find them. And then you can always conjur up those feelings again when your rerun them through your mind. Glad all is well.

  6. A nightmare. Read this in children’s hospital…my 2yr old daughter lost in metaphoric maze. We found her. Cried when I read ‘clinging’. That’s what we are doing here in this hospital bed. And after 6 days of terror, we are going home today! I’m awash with relief for both of us.

  7. So scary. My heart’s racing just thinking about it. It happened to me in Toys R Us when my son was younger. Just one of the joys of parenting, I guess!

  8. If you’ve got the lungs, use em! I lost my redhead at a JC Penneys before. Kid was just hiding under a rack, but I about tore that store apart!

    PS – we are not cut out for sun or heat either. All 4 of us are so fair we’re almost transparent.

  9. In a fit of “I CAN DO THIS” motherhood, I took my son, his friend and my 6 year old twins to “Boo at the Zoo” in the dark. They were costumed. I was nearly 8 months pregnant. Husband out of town. One twin zigged when everyone else zagged after retrieving candy near the elephant area and was GONE in a sea of people. It was horrifying. I was doing that deep, guttural scream/shout and commanding that someone find my baby. It was about 5 minutes before someone grabbed my arm and directed me toward the crying little witch, asking if this could be her. It was, thank GOD. There is nothing more scary.

  10. Yes, I liked the “a teacher at an elite private school”…it’s the kind of details about a person that are interesting. And, I laughed out loud (well internally, actually) at I use Google Maps in lieu of a brain.” LOVED it. Actually, I borrowed it, and used it as part of my FB status update!

  11. So glad you found each other. I lost my friend’s daughter in a Whole Foods once when she was six (they are very good about it, in case you ever need to lose a kid again). Scariest thing ever. We had a communication snafu regarding cheese samples. I found her still in the store, telling a dad she was lost. I think it was worse for you, since you had to worry about her being eaten by an alligator.

  12. Whew….I read that so fast! Thank goodness your daughter was found and OK.

    For those who dare question the alligator, it is a very real fear. I grew up in Florida, and have witnessed first hand when they cut a gator open and find a body inside it. Freaky!

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