It is one of every mother’s worst fears, a child being separated from her in a crowded public place.
Imagine taking your children out to enjoy a pleasant afternoon together and what had the potential of becoming a memorable afternoon turns into a horrible nightmare. You and your children are together and then suddenly you aren’t. Your heart begins to race; you can hear it beating in your head. The sweat begins to pour down your face. It is as if everything is going in slow motion and yet it feels like it is taking a lifetime to scan the room in hopes of an inkling of familiarity. But your brain gets its wires crossed and you struggle to remember what your child was wearing. Was it a red shirt or did he wear the blue? Did he grab his new shoes or was he wearing his old ones? You think so hard it hurts. Then the guilt hits you like a freight train. You are the mother, you are supposed to watch over and protect your children, and here you are searching for your child, how did you let this happen? You try so hard to hold it together, to maintain composure for the outside world while inside you are crumbling fast.
Unfortunately I am able to express these feelings and emotions so candidly because it happened to me. I hate to admit it. I wish I didn’t have to but something in me tells me that I need to be honest and share my story no matter how embarrassing. And yes, I do realize this will leave me vulnerable to ridicule and judgment by others but perhaps this story will resonate in another mother’s mind and she will learn from my experience.
My toddler, preschooler, and I met up with two other moms and their toddlers at the Toledo Zoo yesterday. It has been gorgeous here, definitely unseasonal weather temperatures, the past few days have been in the high 70s – low 80s. So we figured what a wonderful day for a visit to the zoo. We met at the Polar Bear exhibit. My toddler unlike their sweet baby girls was out of her stroller, running around, and simply curious about the world and everything the zoo had to offer.
We slowly made our way to Natures Neighborhood, the area dedicated to the children. It is a really cool space for children to explore and play. There is an area where they can do face painting, there are large honey combs’ to climb in and bee costumes they can play with, a climbable spider web located next to real live spiders, a forest with hidden wonders, and so much more inside. Outside, in a fenced in area there is a playground, small wading stream, small animal petting area, and much more.
My children always look forward to going to Nature’s Neighborhood. My sons favorite part of Nature’s Neighborhood are the hidden passageway between the face painting area and the large room and the smaller kiddo sized doors to the outside (similar to a doggy door but for children).
We arrive in Natures Neighborhood and it is pretty empty but within minutes a school group enters followed by a mommy brigade. It is getting too crowded inside so we decide to head outside for more fun in Natures Neighborhood but first I need to bypass the mommy brigades to get to my stroller. I have my toddler and preschooler stay in the corner together while I get the stroller. I arrived back in the corner with the stroller and my curious little Toddler took off outside while my preschooler went running over to the secret passageway. I had assumed her was going through the passage in order to go through the fun kiddos door on the other side. I figured we would just meet him outside. Once outside my toddler, being the brave little kiddo that she is took off up the stair that led to a hidden slide. This space is a danger zone for toddlers due to a drop offs. So I was watching her like a hawk, actually more like her shadow, I was right behind her waiting to grab her before she got to close to the edge. After a couple of minutes I realized I had not seen my preschooler on the playground equipment and began searching for him while standing on top of a manmade cliff, at least it was the perfect lookout.
After scanning the ground below a few times I grabbed my toddler who began kicking and screaming and headed down the ramp, off the cliff, to locate my preschooler. At this point my heart started pounding; it was like it was in my head. The sweat began rolling down my face, time stood still yet it seemed like an eternity.
I have always explained to my children what to do if we get separated.
- First, and foremost, do not panic; when you panic you cannot think clearly.
- Second, do not leave the area or the space that we were in to go find me, stay where we were at, I will come back to that space to find you.
- Third, find a mommy or someone who works wherever we are at and tell them that we have been separated.
- Lastly, never, I repeat, NEVER leave with another person! I don’t care what they tell you, they may say they saw me outside somewhere and to follow them, they could say they will give you a ride home, or that they may have candy, whatever they say don’t go with them, NEVER leave with another person!! Then I explain that there are some sick people out there that want to hurt children, sometimes so badly that they will never see their mommies and daddies again. I realize it might be a little scary but if it keeps my child from going with a stranger or even an acquaintance, no matter what that individual says to them then I have done my job. As our children get older we will address issues of sexual predators, human trafficking, etc. in more detail but at the age of my kiddos not seeing mommy or daddy ever again is scary enough.
As I walked through the kitchen area of Natures Neighborhood I could see a little boy in the distance sitting on a bench with one of the young zoo volunteers just looking around. There he was, my precious boy. He came running over to me giving me a huge hug and began crying. I held onto him so tight, gave him a kiss, and exhaled. As I stood there holding him I could not recall a prouder moment, he listen to me. All those times I explained what to do in a situation like this one he actually listened. I had thought for sure it was going in one ear and out the other but he was actually listening. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to relish our reunited moment because our little toddler was off and running again.
We managed to stay together for the remainder of our zoo visit but yesterday will go down as one of the most terrifying and satisfying day of my life. For it was the day I lost my son, the day I found him, and realized all my labors, words, and lessons proved valid in a true life experience.
Have you ever been separated from your child in a public space? Or maybe when you were a child you were separated from your mom? What happened? How did you feel? How did the experience change you?