We were in a big group with several friends gathered around the stage in the center of Marion Square. The weather was perfect. A band was playing and the children were all running around and dancing. Our youngest was about seven months old and napped most of the time we were there. It was after he woke up, after I struggled getting him into the Bjorn, that I looked around and realized that our almost three-year-old was not there anymore.
I immediately told my husband and our friends, and we started walking laps around the stage, widening our circles. I think I handed the baby off at some point, but honestly I don’t remember. I was scanning the crowd over and over, becoming more and more panicked with every pass until I spotted her high in the crowd.
A couple of college students had found her. She was in the area with the tents, standing still, knowing that she had lost us but not sure what to do about it. They hoisted her on their shoulders, hoping we would see her as they made their way to the police officers near the north end of the event.
We did see her, thankfully. And thanked the young women profusely, though I’m fairly certain they had no idea how very grateful we were.
And just like that it was over.
If I had felt that feeling before having children, I’m not sure I would have had them. It is that terrible. And right now, writing about it, it is nearly impossible to describe the weight and the specific hurt of the pit that forms within you when you fear something bad has happened to your child. I suppose paralyzing comes closer than anything else, but even that doesn’t speak to the emotional anguish. Because even though nothing happened, even though it all ended harmlessly, you were still there. Your mind went there and lived in that what-if reality for six long minutes.
Parenting is mostly joyful. Long days filled with ups and downs, but typically ending with your head hitting the pillow feeling a radiating sense of love for the little people in your home. But eventually you have to leave your home and go into the world which can seem unsafe and under-supervised. And there really isn’t anything we can do about it other than to prepare ourselves as best we can. So, in this somewhat Debbie Downer but hopefully useful post, I’m going to go over a guide for what to do in the event your child has wandered away from you. It’s mostly pieced together from Google searches and Wikipedia, but it covers the stuff we forget to think about when we are panicked and maybe gives you a few tips before your big summer vacation at Disney:
Before the fact:
- Talk to your kids NOW about crowd safety and develop a family plan that involves staying where you are and notifying an adult (preferably a police officer or another mom) that you need help. Teach them to call out your names (as opposed to mom and dad which won’t be as helpful) if they are separated from you in a large crowd, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to start singing your phone numbers during long car rides.
- Have a good picture of your kids on your person. This isn’t so hard to manage these days as most of us have a thousand pics of our kids easily accessible on our phones, but just make sure you have at least one good current one where it is easy to tell what they look like (read: not in Halloween costumes), or better yet, snap one as you are loading up the car for your adventure.
- Know who you are watching and communicate it frequently. We often go places and say things like: “I’ve got the baby, you take the girls.” This is great, but confirm you are both on the same page before you part ways outside of Epcot or before hitting the bathrooms.
- And speaking of bathrooms: go in with your children. Bathrooms in high traffic areas frequently have more than one exit, and sometimes that exit is in a completely different area. Lots of places have family bathrooms, so it is a good idea to use those when you can, especially if you have more than one child with you.
- Consider a dress code: brightly colored clothing, matching clothes if you have two or more, and, if possible (and definitely if you are going to a theme park or somewhere similarly enormous like that): bracelets, stickers, cards, etc- something with your contact information on it that you can put in your child’s pocket, backpack, or on them somehow. There are options from GPS clip-ons to these waterproof bracelets you can write on, all offering peace of mind: http://www.amazon.com/Neon-Green-Tyvek-Wristbands-Events/dp/B015T84ZF8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1462057089&sr=8-1&keywords=adhesive+bracelets+waterproof
If you are separated from a child:
- Don’t panic. Try not to panic. I realize this is next to impossible, but the most frightening possibilities are surprisingly unlikely. Remind yourself that you are most capable when you are calm and thinking clearly. Before tearing through the crowd stop and look around to make sure your child is not visible. Oftentimes your child is out of sight but still within earshot so start by calling his or her name. If that doesn’t work…
- Ask for help sooner than later and don’t be shy about giving assignments. If you have other children with you, have your spouse or another parent stay put and watch them. Find employees, park officials, police officers, and/or other concerned bystanders (other moms in particular) and explain the situation as quickly as you can. Show them the photo of your child that you took earlier in the day. The more people you have aware and helping you, the faster you are likely to be reunited.
Hopefully none of us will need any of this information this summer (or ever!), but we’ve all run out of wipes at an inopportune time and know that being prepared is never a bad idea.