A month or two after we started trying to conceive, Josh and I found a lost child at the beach. It was late afternoon though the beach was still crowded. A little boy came right up to our blanket, screaming, "mommy!", startled when he saw my face, and continued to run. A man was tentatively jogging behind the child and I asked if he knew the boy and when he said no, I instinctively jumped up too and started following too.
The little boy moved in and out of the water, running towards the waves as he cried and then allowing us to guide him out of the water. We moved with him for over a 1/2 mile down the beach. As we ran past people, still chasing him, I would call out to them to telephone the police. And people just stared at us, their cell phones in hand. The boy's face was every parent's worst nightmare.
He could tell us that his name was Patrick and his father's name was Don. He told us his mother's name was "Mommy." He didn't know his last name. He didn't know whether he was visiting Cape May or lived there year round. He knew that his mother had a blue-and-white umbrella. We kept trying to get him to run back the way he came--there was no way his parents were a half mile down the beach--but he wouldn't turn so we jogged alongside him, asking the same questions, calling out to people to help us.
Someone must have dialed the police because after a half-mile chase, they drove onto the sand, following the wave of people who were all standing, watching our trio veer in and out of the water. One officer held the little boy, trying to calm him down, promising to help him find his parents. They got in the vehicle and drove back down the beach.
The whole incident probably took fifteen minutes. It has stayed with me for over seven years, informing the way I parent.
When Her Able Hands wrote about her child disappearing at the beach a few weeks ago, I thought about Patrick. I have never had my child disappear, but I have seen it from the opposite side--from the child's point-of-view. We all know that it can happen too easily. I was at the beach last week with the twins and while I never took my eyes off of them, I could see sometimes that they had their eyes off of me and that confusion on their face as they scanned the identical beach blankets and umbrellas to find our own again until I'd call out their name.
The Mommy Diary recently had a great post on kids getting lost at the beach. The most interesting point is that "Kids go with the wind, they are most often found down wind from their starting location." Strollerderby covered the topic this past spring including tips on what to do if parents and children get separated.
We know friends and family members don't understand why we do the things we do. We've been told that we're overprotective, too worried, that we need to chill. We quiz the twins on our full names and telephone number and always memorize what they are wearing. We expect that if someone says they are watching our children in a crowded place that they are watching our children in a crowded place, and we are not shy at pointing out when someone is slacking on the job. I think people misunderstand and think that our fear is abduction. But it is something much more commonplace. We are not worried about all the what ifs that could happen when a parent and child get separated; we are worried about what our kids would go through emotionally if they couldn't find the adult watching them.
Others may think that we worry too much, but at the end of the day, they are not their children to parent. And I need to be able to go to sleep at night know that I did my best to ensure that they never have to go through what Patrick or Her Able Hand's daughter experienced at the beach, knowing full well that it can happen all too easily.
Have you ever been separated from a child or found a lost child? What was your experience and what do you do to help ensure that separation does not occur especially in crowded places such as a beach or mall?
Melissa is the author of the infertility and pregnancy loss blog, Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters. She keeps a categorized blogroll of 1900 infertility blogs and writes the daily Lost and Found and Connections Abound, a news source for the infertility blogosphere. Her infertility book, Navigating the Land of If, is currently on bookshelves (May, 2009). She is the keeper of the IComLeavWe (International Comment Leaving Week) list which is currently open for August.
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