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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be grateful. For every single day you have with your children. Life is so precious!