“I confess. Last year, something traumatic happened to me, and I felt like such a failure that I kept it to myself for a lot longer than I should have: I lost track of one of my kids.
My three boys and I were with a big group of people from our school, picking up garbage on the beach for a classmate’s service project on the windiest day I can remember. We walked a long way up the beach, trying to fill our garbage bags, then back down, past our home base. Nine, then 8, was walking with an enthusiastic group of his second-grade buddies.
When it was time to head back and see who had collected the most garbage, the huge pack of boys swarmed back to our meeting place. I didn’t realize Nine wasn’t in that running, jumping group.
As the crowd dispersed after the garbage was weighed, two of my boys walked over to me, but Nine was nowhere to be seen. I looked around and called his name. I hadn’t laid eyes on him for at least 10 minutes — or had it been 20? Almost immediately, everything around me swirled and blurred. The only thing in focus was the bright red flag flapping violently above the lifeguard station. The white-capped waves were deafening.
Horrible scenarios flooded my mind as parents formed impromptu search parties.
‘What if he went down to the water? What if there’s a rip current?? What if he asks the wrong stranger for help and they know he’s all alone… don’t let your mind go there, just keep looking around. Stay put. Pray,’ I repeated to myself.
One dad told to me to give the lifeguards a description of him and stay put so they would know where to find me. They soon jumped onto their four-wheelers looking for my son.
Our PE teacher asked where I last saw him. I gestured in the direction where his group had been collecting trash by the dunes. She took off running.
I stood alone with my fear and helplessness. Then, a short time later, I saw her walking back toward me, hand-in-hand with my son.
I ran to him, Lifetime movie–style.
Nine had gone over a dune chasing a piece of trash blowing along the sand, then on down the beach — in the wrong direction — looking for us. He told me how scared he was when he couldn’t find everyone and didn’t know what to do, so he just kept walking and looking.
I cried to myself the whole car ride home, imagining what could have happened if the wrong person approached him or if he’d gone down to the water. But out loud I said, ‘We’ll make a plan so that never happens again. I’m so glad everyone is safe.’
I didn’t want to relive that day. But parents offered hugs and comforting words at school Monday morning, and I quickly learned that EVERYONE had a lost-kid story: malls, sporting events, Toucha Truck … Name a place, their kid had gotten lost there.
Maybe it doesn’t occur to us because no one is posting about it — it’s not pretty, it’s not funny, and there’s no corresponding reaction button. I’m sharing this with you now because (a) You’re awesome, and (b) My kids and I have a pretty solid plan if — nay, WHEN — this happens again.
Every time we pull into a place with crowds, we have the ‘What if we get separated?’ conversation. Before I’ll unlock the doors, everyone has to respond (with a sigh and an eye roll), ‘I will stay put and look around. If I don’t see you, I will find a trusted adult and tell them my I can’t find my mom, her name is Lindsay, and her number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. Will you please call her?’
Yes, I make them say the WHOLE phone number to make sure everyone’s got it right. And a ‘trusted adult’ to my kids is either a uniformed employee or a mom with a stroller. This quick conversation gives me the same peace of mind as handing my kid a bike helmet, and it will hopefully give them confidence in a scary and confusing situation.”
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