Through a haze, she heard the bell ring. Expecting a parcel, she figured they'd just leave it on the step and rolled back over. A second ticked by, then two. Sleep was now elusive. Easing out of the bed so as not to wake the sleeping three year old, she tiptoed to the window. No delivery truck in sight. The laughter of children floated up from the street, a warm breeze fluttered the curtains.
The clock showed that less than 45 minutes had passed. She heard a voice from downstairs - had the 5 year old opened the door? The door alarm hadn't beeped, the screen door hadn't shrieked. Why was he down there, anyway? He was to be colouring or reading in his room. It was quiet time, that was the rule. Walking quickly, but clumsily, brushing sleep from her eyes, she pulled open the unlocked baby gate at the top of the stairs and went down.
He had let someone in! And they'd gotten so far as the kitchen, with the dirty dishes everywhere. How had that happened. A woman was calling hello. Rubber boots and a pair of natty old mittens on a string were cast off in the middle of the floor, amidst dish towels and scraps of paper.
"My name is Michelle. I live on the next street. I found this little boy walking by my house."
She sat down with a hard thump onto the kitchen stool and hugged him tightly, eyes wide. There were several conversations happening at once but the main focus was there, in her arms. Words were exchanged, images painted, exclamations made. Complete disbelief.
Michelle let herself out of the back door, through the gate, into the driveway and on with her day.
Alternating between a crushing hug, tears and admonishments, the story came out. He was bored reading. He didn't know where she was. At yoga? Had he gone looking for her? Maybe. He just wanted to go for a walk around the block. (Again) In costume. The front door was locked and so was the back door, but he opened it. But don't worry, he hadn't crossed any streets. He stopped when the lady backed out of her driveway. He led her back to his house, the long way around. He wouldn't do it again, not until he was at least 8 or 9.
There was praise for being smart enough to find his way home, to be safe, to stay on the sidewalk. And wetly whispered fears that she might have lost him forever. Reminders of never, ever going out without a parent, not even to the backyard without telling a parent.
And once alone, she shuddered and sobbed, breath coming in tight bursts, because it really can be that quick, that easy, that fragile.
She will never nap again.