"The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears." --Ellen Goodman
Twice this week, I lost Funny Girl. Both times she just walked away from me, and both times it was incredibly crowded.
Here was my thought process both times. First I was pretty calm. I realized she was missing, I did a full 360 search for her a couple of times and called out her name. After about a minute, I realized this was a little more serious. I walked around a bit, still calling her name but never really leaving the place I saw her last in case she came back. Luckily, both times I was with other adults, so I then enlisted their help and Robotson's, in finding her. Another minute goes by and I find the nearest person who is working and can potentially call in additional help. Unfortunately, both times I got very little help on that front. The woman at the aquarium asked me how long she'd been missing first, then said she's help me but after I gave her a very accurate description of FG, she proceeded to point out several children that were obviously not lost. The woman at the mall food court didn't even speak English, so that was a problem. Simultaneously as I am talking to this third party, I begin to worry about how easy it would be to just scoop her up and walk out the nearest exit with her. The good news is I'm pretty sure she would scream and her high-pitch would definitely bring attention. And both times, no more than four or five minutes passes before she turns up again. At the aquarium, she wandered into a boat and sat down on the floor in protest because she was upset with me. Robotson found her. At the mall, she had gone around a toy machine and then the carousel caught her eye, so she headed for that. She was walking back up an aisle, crying because she realized she was lost, when we found her.
Up to this point, the girls have never left my side, but FG is gaining independence. It seems to be the right time to start talking about what to do when lost, or when someone you don't know asks you to come with them. It's also the time to start talking about secrets--the kinds you do and don't keep. I've been dreading this conversation for a while, but I knew it was coming. She's too young to understand all the details now, but both of my girls will have to be a little more vigilant about safety because there is a predator in our family. He's been cut off from us, but it's always possible we'll see him somewhere. He knows enough about us that it would be easy to convince an unsuspecting child to go with him. Too early, I'm going to have to show them a picture of this man and explain that they can't trust him for any reason. Ever.
These two incidents have been pretty minor, but I've been evaluating my responses. I'm pretty proud of myself for not losing my head. Realistically, it's not that likely that someone will grab her. Then it's just a matter of staying visible, calling out, and enlisting help in finding her. Something else I've been thinking about doing is snapping a quick picture when we are going to be out in a crowd. I've got a camera phone. It only takes a second, just in case.
So here are some questions. Have you ever lost track of your child? How long were they missing and how did you find them? Got any tips for keeping up with them better or finding them again after they slip away? At what age do you think little ones are able to understand how to handle being lost? Around what age do you think you can give kids more freedom to be out of sight?
I started to let Robotson have more freedom at seven. He has proven several times he knows what to do when we are separated. Last year, we lost him at the aquarium. He made his way to someone who worked there and they took him to the information desk where they called our cell phones. I've lost him in stores and crowds too. He gets worried, but always keeps his head and asks the appropriate person for help.