Recently, I was reminiscing over our days in England. One memory came to mind that I really must share even though I've told the story several times. Just deal, OK?
We had recently made friends with the neighbors across the close (that's "cul de sac" to us Yankees). Their little girl Louise and our Hannah were spending every free moment together; this particular time, they were over at ours. It was winter, so it got dark pretty early, about 10 seconds after we got home from school, if I remember correctly. Since everyone was playing nicely, I thought it might be a good idea to sneak into the bathroom for some personal pursuits. Just as I'm getting, er, situated, Hannah calls up that Louise was going home. Normally, this event would have acted as a catalyst, starting with a phone call across the street to let the neighbors know she was on her way, followed by standing at my door and watching as she walked the 18 steps across the close into her home, where HER mom would be waiting at their open door. Yes, we are over protective mothers, but it was DARK and she was only six years old. However, since I was rather indisposed at the time, I asked Hannah to watch her friend cross the road for me. Situation handled, but I still felt a twinge of guilt for dispensing with protocol.
Maybe some 10 minutes later, an amiable fellow came to the house. He introduced himself as Louise's father so we stood chit chatting just inside the door. We're in England, and he's English, so I figured he was just being polite and had come to say "hello" or whatever genteel thing the British do when they come over to one's home for no apparent reason. Of course, the awkward pause eventually ensued as our conversation skittered slowly to a halt. We stood for a moment, blinking at each other; I waiting for him to either state his business or make a gracious exit, he wondering why I was being obtuse and forcing him to be direct. "I've come for Louise," he finally says since I was obviously not going to offer to return his first born. Baby panic started fluttering in my stomach as guilt for not having watched Louise cross the street nibbled at my heart. I informed my newly met neighbor that she had gone home some 10-15 minutes ago. He stood smiling congenially at me, thinking I was joking. When I told him she SERIOUSLY had gone home, he politely excused himself, saying perhaps she was at home but that somehow they had overlooked her. He crossed the street and I stood watching, hoping that I would see an "all clear" sign from the neighbor, indicating that she was indeed home. Instead, I hear Louise's mom call her daughters name, the sound of panic and fear audible clear over to my house. Of course, that kicked my panic into sheer terror as I started imagining what horrible thing must have occurred when Louise had gone home alone, in the dark, unsupervised while I selfishly tended to my own needs. Neighbor Man came back over and I told him I would search upstairs if he would search down...remember we have JUST met and I'm asking him to be totally unBritish and snoop around my home.
I didn't find Louise upstairs, but Neighbor Man found her downstairs. Apparently, Louise had hidden herself in the closet under the stairs. Hannah had covered her with coats and the two of them were playing a fine joke on us! I was SO relieved that Louise wasn't kidnapped and really impressed with her tenacity at staying quietly hidden for so long. As they went home, he looking a bit grim, I was resigned to being viewed as the inept mother and neighbor. My only consolation was that being American, they probably hadn't expected too much to begin with.