Let me be clear: my children are both still alive and kicking.
What I lost was my friend's daughter, or my daughter's friend, whichever way you look at it.
My friend is a lollipop lady. Her daughter goes to a different school and starts back tomorrow, so was spending an hour this morning sitting beside a busy road, watching her mother herd schoolchildren across. Not the most exciting way to spend your holiday, me thinks. So, being kind and generous and thinking this would be no bother, I suggest that she walks with my children to school and then I bring her back again. Just five, maybe ten minutes: a change of scenery, a chance to chat with my daughter and have a bit of fun.
All is fine, until we cross the bridge over the railway. I am walking ahead with my son, daughter and friend in fluffy pink coat behind. I hear them stop to watch a train go past underneath but walk on, waiting at the foot of the bridge for them to catch up.
But when I turn round, only my daughter is there.
"Where's A?" I ask.
Daughter sort of shrugs, points up the bridge, mumbles something.
I'm scanning all the children coming down, but no sign of the big pink coat.
"Wait here," I say fiercely to my daughter, and run back up the bridge.
First hope: she was still at the top of the bridge watching the trains. Hope dashed.
Second hope: she was back the other side, down the steps or walking along the road. Hope dashed further.
I call her name. No response. Not even from all the other mums and dads walking their children to school, interestingly, but I'll try not to dwell on that.
Now I am in a quandary. I have lost my friend's daughter. This is not a good thing to do. Losing your own is bad enough, but another person's is a whole different ball game. Yet, on the other side of the bridge are my own children, and I also have to get them to school.
I decide to run back to my daughter (my son has taken it upon himself to get to class: he is that bit older and quite capable, thankfully). I find her being spoken to by another mum, clearly asking if she is ok. Here I am Bad Mum 2: I have not only lost a child, I have abandoned my own. Other Mum is a friend. She takes my daughter to class. I run back over the bridge to retrace all steps and hunt for lost child.
My mind is wondering what on earth to say to her mother, the lollipop lady. How do you tell someone you've lost their daughter? In the space of five minutes? When we'd been together, A had been talking about a new playground - maybe she was there? I take a quick detour to double-check, but the place is deserted.
It isn't, physically, a long walk back up the road to the lollipop lady, but with my mind a whirlwind of possibilities (mostly bad), I don't know whether to run or crawl. I want to hide, go a different route, but A's safety is uppermost and I realise I have to face the music. The journey is too long: I want to be sure all is ok; and too short: I haven't planned what to say.
As I reach the corner, I spot the pink coat and a furious looking lollipop lady.
On the one hand there is relief: A is there, totally safe. I may have messed up, but my worst fears have not been realised.
On the other, I can see the look of thunder on my friend's face. I can't bear to look my friend in the eyes. I have let her down completely. I was responsible for her daughter and I lost her. The traffic is against me. I watch all the cars go past and eventually there is a gap. I dash across (not waiting for my lollipop assistance) and brace myself.
"I'm sorry, Catharine," says A.
"That's ok," I respond automatically. I raise my head to look at my friend. I take a deep breath, but she speaks first.
"She's been told off. She should never have left you and come back on her own. She just got it into her head to come back and ... well, I'm so sorry. You must have been so worried."
I have a lovely friend. She has a lovely daughter.
We are all ok.