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Lessons Learned from Losing My Child in a Crowd

It happened yesterday. The moment we all fear as parents. The sense of absolute terror to look around and find… your child is missing.

It was a gorgeous day in Honolulu. We headed to Kapiolani Park for the Lei Day celebration (“May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii” the saying goes”) – hula dancing and live Hawaiian music on stage, vendors selling food and handicrafts.

We were having a terrific time playing with trucks in the duck pond and listening to the music. A bunch of tiny hula dancers — couldn’t have been older than 5 years old — went up on stage, so I took the stroller with T and Z following around to the front side, where there was a crowd of a few hundred people watching.

T and I walked to the front and sat. He was in my lap. Z was about 10 feet away. I thought he was coming to join us, but suddenly he seemed unable to find us and wandered off the other direction. I scooped T up in my arms and went to fetch Z.

But in that 10 seconds, Z disappeared.

I scanned the crowd. People were sitting, wandering about. Z was in a bright turquoise t-shirt, so easy to spot. I thought I’d find him immediately.

I didn’t.

I started to panic. My heart raced. I grabbed the double stroller, strapped T in, and found a cop standing nearby. I gave him a description of Z, all the while trying to find my son, whom I was sure must be nearby.

A woman ran up to me and said, “Are yo looking for your son? He’s down by the pond playing with his truck.”

“Blue shirt? Curly hair?” I asked. She nodded yes.

I sprinted with the stroller down to the pond. It wasn’t Z. It was some other child.

Now I was really in full-blown anxiety mode. I ran back the other direction, to where the music was playing. Surely, Z must be right there somewhere? Several moms kindly offered to help. They spread out in multiple directions calling his name.

Then one of the women suggested I make an announcement. I walked up on-stage mid-song and dance and asked to use to PA system. I said, “I’m looking for my son, 2 years old, dark curly hair, wearing a bright turquoise shirt.”

I ran back down off the stage and began fanning out in a wider circle. Already my mind was racing with worst-case scenarios. A Missing Child poster with Z’s face on it. A kidnapping. Running into the street and getting hit by a car. I tried not to. I made myself breathe. I returned to the thought, “He must be around here somewhere.”

I was about to call Kiran to race over from home to help me when a woman pointed far off toward the tennis courts and said, “He’s over there.”

I took off at breakneck speed with the stroller and T, thankfully cooperating without any fuss. “Where? Where? Has anyone seen a child in a blue shirt, 2 years old?”

One person after another pointed me further down the park. I was now a quarter mile away from the stage where I had lost him.

And there he was. I spied his little floppy-haired head and blue shirt and burst into tears. A young family with two kids was stooping to speak with him. I called his name and he came running. He seemed quite calm about the whole thing.

“Papa,” he said. And I realized that he had been walking home. He’d made it about 1/3 of the way and was on the right track. I held him tight.

Then buckled him into the stroller. Safe and secure alongside his brother, who sweetly offered him a truck to play with.

I had to walk back to the stage to tell everyone¬†who had helped us thank you and that I’d found my child. The cop, the ladies who’d been searching — all were so kind. They said, “It happens to everyone.” “It’s the worst feeling in the world.” And “You need a stiff drink.” They even gave me hugs.

It took me all night to calm down. I didn’t have a drink, but I did take a lot of deep breaths. Last night I had nightmares.

Here are the lessons I learned from the awful experience.

  1. Keep your head. You really are better served by staying calm and logical then spinning out to a wildly emotional state. When the evil thoughts intruded, I replaced them with more positive ones. “He is here.” “I will find him.” This helped me think through next steps and what I could best do to solve the problem.
  2. People are helpful – enlist them in your search. Don’t be shy about asking for help! “It takes a village,” as they say. You just have to reach out and let others know what is going on, and many will jump on board to help you out.
  3. Be vigilant – especially in a crowd. Wow. What a lesson for me. That happened so fast. So darned fast. It was no joke less than 10 seconds from when I saw Z wander in the wrong direction until I realized he was lost. Just like that. I don’t think I’ll use a leash or anything — it was clear Z just lost us, he wasn’t trying to escape. But I am going to have new rules about staying close, holding hands, or being strapped in from this point forward.
  4. Be grateful. For every single day you have with your children. Life is so precious!
2 Comments
  • Allison Scuriatti
    May 3, 2017

    MeiMei what a frightful story. Glad it came out right.

    We used to always designate meeting points etc but as the kids grew I got less vigilant. Then, I had that terrible experience in Rome with my 12-year-old, at night. He just disappeared after saying he was going out on the restaurant terrace for some cooler air. Without a trace, for a few hours in a crowded city center. We fanned out and looked, enlisted people in other restaurants, the Carabinieri, the guys selling trinkets in the squares – nothing. But some did help. In the end, he found us. He had decided (for once) to explore a bit and got himself lost. Since he never usually wandered alone, I had not set a meeting point that night or rules, and had not pointed out landmarks. he did not even have our phone number with him.

    New family rules and prep for foreign cities – even with big kids!

    • meimeifox
      May 18, 2017

      Thank you for sharing that story, Allison. How terrifying!

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