I am a mother and I thought I felt the pain of mums with missing children. I have sobbed for Madeleine, I have shed countless tears for hundreds of children that have simply vanished on the Cape Flats – never to be seen or heard of again. While I empathized with those mothers and their pain I only really understood a small fraction of what they went through when we lost a child a couple of weeks back. It wasn’t a little “I turned around and she had vanished” kind of disappearance at the store… it was worse than that… more like forty five minutes of blind panic, while I discovered that Cape Town doesn’t actually have very much of a “missing-child-policy” in play in their shopping centers, let alone their parking garages.
Let me just say that I am all for free-range parenting… while I hear an audible gasp and “What about the crime in our country” I believe that by locking ourselves in our homes and letting criminals walk the streets we are giving criminals a piece of paradise while we sit in prison. That just doesn’t work for me!!! When our children are old enough to drive we cannot suddenly present them with a driver’s license and send them out into the world… there has to be some sort of training.
Obviously using caution, we have trained our children to run errands, progressing from easy ones like dropping the ironing off at the laundry; to grocery shopping across town. Most children in the world run errands, in fact it is only a very elite few that are driven from their home to their school to their extra-murals and home again. With a number of kids we have the added bonus of safety in numbers and my kids never go anywhere on their own. Our older kids are dying to go to the library and exchange their books on their own, but fear the librarians and their “No Unattended Children” sign… that keeps them away.
Of course I don’t leave them unattended at the mall or tell them to walk home from friends after dark… but reasonable errands in a reasonable world. Of course we live in a world where crime is a factor and of course we are South African and have experienced real and alarming crime first hand. But statistically speaking the threat to our children comes from folks that are closer to home. It is not the passing stranger that is going to suddenly and spontaneously grab our children… more like a close friend or a relative, that you would never in a million years have suspected. And, while we have experienced heinous crimes against best friends and family members, the worst personal crime for us has been washing taken off the wash line… again and again. I reckon that kids that take my boys sweaters off the wash line, or the elderly lady trying to sell me our own garden cushions at the gate, probably have bigger needs than I do.
All that being said – we lost a child. We had spent a lovely morning on an outing and we headed for the parking garage afterwards. My kids were jovial after an outing well done. Between the parking pay machine and the car we were in were two rows of cars… possibly twenty meters away. We left the pay machine, walked down the path towards the elevator and stairs… everyone was together. At the bottom of the stairs my kids were playing at not stepping on the lines. They were not holding hands as usual, but they were all together. I was carrying a toddler with a freshly broken leg and happy that my kids were together and a cohesive group. We got into the car and a carseat was empty. Turnaround time about fifteen seconds. I didn’t panic, I knew she was lost and would stand where I had left her. Left se7en kids in the car and walked to the last spot we had seen her. Calling her for reassurance, all the way. I was totally wrong.
No sign of her. Each of my kids has a special whistle that they respond to immediately, without fail. There was no response. I started shouting, screaming, calling… as soon as I realized she wasn’t where we had last seen her. The security guards ambled off. I called out that my child was missing… they kept ambling… away. Families took one look at this screaming woman and took a wide birth. One woman stopped to help me. She got in her car and drove around slowly, calling for my child. After twenty minutes… TWENTY minutes she came back to me and suggested that I stand at the exit and checked the cars leaving the garage. At that moment my child became not just lost but for me something extremely sinister could have happened. I knew she wasn’t in the parking garage anymore, but I didn’t know where to look.
When I started stopping cars as they left the garage to ask if they had seen her… then the security guards ambled over and asked what she was wearing. Remember this folks, if your child goes missing… hold up the traffic. It was now about forty minutes since she had vanished – she could already be out of the city by then. The security guards still looked at me like I was mad, and I could see them wondering how to get me to stop interfering with the exit traffic… I told them to radio for help. They have radios for crying out loud… they are chatting on them all the time, could they not use them as a tool. A child matching my child’s description had been seen at the information desk.
I almost collapsed at the mixture of relief and horror at the idea of her crossing a major road, at least four lanes of hectic traffic. I dashed over the road, right across the center to the information desk. She was not there… Yes a small girl had been there, they could tell me her name and age, they could tell me that she was with her “mam.” They could tell me that two men had taken her for ice-cream. Wh-a-at… I was in such shock at this stage, beside myself doesn’t begin to describe it. It was school holidays and outside in the open there was a fair-like atmosphere, kids and people everywhere. Chaos. I couldn’t see her anywhere. And continued to shout… seriously couldn’t whistle her whistle, what if there was no reply. Frantically praying, she had to be close. I eventually saw her at the end table happily eating ice-cream with two fellows. I swooped in like an eagle-mother… smooshed that little body close to mine, ice cream and all… and took her home.
To this day I don’t know exactly what happened, small children only say so much. Who were those guys and why were they waiting on the stairs, did they not see all of us, did they scoop her up and take her to information? Why did the information desk let her go with them rather than announcing on the public address that that they had a small lost child with them. They can announce a sale on socks for crying out-loud. I never got to thank the lady in the parking lot for trying to find my child. I can say I was left fairly traumatized, I did go to bed for about a week with a stress headache and the sorest throat on earth.
I can say it happens in a flash. I can say I am so grateful to God for watching over my child and bringing her back to me. And yes when we go to bed at night I hold this one just a little bit closer. If you see a mom, who has lost her child don’t walk away, don’t think: “How could she.” Rather ask how you can help, you really can intervene. To all the mothers in the world who have lost a small child, I don’t know how you do it. Today I am thinking especially of you and your grieving hearts.
Have I taken my kids on an outing near a parking garage or even a mall since? Not actually. Have we spoken about it with our kids… yes, a lot. Of course my children know not to wander off with strangers and eat ice-cream, and yes of course they all say in a horrified voice that they would never, EVER do that. But when it comes down to it… I have a feeling that whatever our children say they are soft targets, easy to lure away. For some great tips on how to talk to your kids and keep them safe, have a look at this fabulous post by Jennifer Margulis.
27 Replies to “Today is “World Missing Child Day…””
What a horribly frightening experience! Praise be to God that she is safe. Give your little Hood a hug for me. With love, Lillian
That is so scary. My heart still pounds when I think of the time we lost my oldest (age 3) in Walmart way back when – she’s 17 now. Nobody would help me, I kept trying to ask workers for help and such …. finally somebody found her and took her to the front of the store and they announced a found child. I think she was only missing for 10 minutes – but it felt like forever.
Hay Lillian, All’s well. but it was quite a scare and I just don’t know how mom’s who have been through worse cope. A really really awful experience. Lots of love and treasure those little ones…
Yes Rachel R… It is definitely one of those time bending moments, when you just can’t believe how forever it feels and yet how time also flies past!!! I have turned around and missed a child momentarily before but never anything on this grand scale. Hope you have a great weekend!!!
I lost my oldest (now 14) when she was three at Disneyland near an area where you can go off in at least five different directions. I still remember the terror I felt when I realized she was gone; made even worse as she has special needs and couldn’t talk very much at the time. Thankfully, Disneyland has an amazing lost child system and she was found within minutes. Good lessons here and I will be reminding both my girls of basic safety.
I wanted to just cry whilst reading your blog. It is all our worst fear. Praise the Lord she is safe. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.
Sleep well with all your Hoods.
I’m guessing that you will get lots of stories from Mommas who have had similar experiences. My little guy wandered off in a Home Depot. I’d been telling him to stay with me about every 30 seconds during the trip- he just wanted to lollygag, linger and explore. I turned a corner and he didn’t. We were apart for maybe 5 minutes- we ended up on opposite ends of the same department, but boy did he stay right with me for many weeks after that, and he developed a slight fear of Home Depot. He’s over that now, it was about 4 years ago when he was about 3. I’m trying to let him go on short errands away from me, but it isn’t easy to let go.
Fortunately all of the malls and most of the big stores have great missing child policies here- we found that out when my little cousin wandered off at a mall about 19 years ago. They locked that place down tight in less than 2 minutes. It was impressive. She was found in less than 10 minutes.
I’m glad your girl is safe!
Hay Cindy, Wow, now Disneyland is a really busy place!!! So glad they at least have a missing child strategy, there is definitely nothing like that in play here – at all!!! There is a lot we can teach our kids… they and we just can’t believe it will ever happen to us…You are so right… lots of lessons!!! Hope you have a great weekend…
Thank you Lesley… You are so right, our worst fear in real life. A really frightening situation, and I’m so grateful that they are all safe and sleeping in their beds right now… Hope you have a good weekend.
Hay Rikki, You are so right we all have stories of close calls. your shut-down does sound impressive!!! Cape Town definitely has nothing like that on offer and could do with a little bit of training in that regard. We were thrilled our little one was safe, but it has left us somewhat overwhelmed!!! Thanks so much for stopping by again!!!
Oh my word I am so sorry! And SO grateful all is well! It could happen to anyone, and I am going off to read that link – thank you for being brave and sharing with us. It is a sobering reminder. Lots and lots of love.
Hay Corli!!! It did take a few weeks to get that post out, I t really was one I had to dig for!!! The link of tips is a really great one, especially for some middle-schoolers I know that can get quite over-confidant about their skills and abilities. Hope you are warming up over there… we have definitely turned to cold over here!!! Have a great week!!!
how terrifying for you, so good that the story had a happy ending, the alternatives don’t bear thinking about.
Thanks Jojoebi, indeed a happy ending. Though it has left me somewhat subdued. We went on our first outing in a crowded place today and I spent the whole time telling my kids to “buddy up,” while counting heads… Not to relaxing!!! I know it will get better with time, we are talking about a healing process here!!!
Wow what an awful experience – it can happen so quickly! Praise God that she is safe, and I pray God will comfort your heart! Thanks for sharing!
My heart lurched at this story! We, too, lost a 3 year old for a few minutes which felt like hours. Hours, I tell you! As I was thanking the Lord for keeping your little one safe, for the way you found her, for the obedient ones awaiting you in the car, etc, it occurred to me that whether they were people or guardian angels, the Lord had His servants in place to protect your baby girl. Maybe those two guys who got her ice cream were angels! Maybe that “mam” was a bad lady and the guys rescued your girl, or maybe she was part of God’s team and was another angel. At any rate, all glory to our loving Father!
Thank you Shells!!! The support from our blog readers has been phenomenal, I have been so encouraged by the comments on this post!!! Hope you have a good week!!!
Hi Suzanne, Absolutely God does watch over His little ones. And it certainly helps to know who we belong to and that He is in control. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, I hope you have a good week!!!
Oh I am just out of breath with tears running down my face reading your post! You must have been in blind terror. Panic mode. I am so sorry and so thankful God protected your child. Amazing story. Thank you. I’m nursing my little one to sleep right now and I’m so thankful my children are under one roof tonight!
Hay Jaime, Thank you, it was definitely one of my hardest parenting days… ever… I know there is something so comforting about having our little ones safe in their beds and fast asleep. Thank you so much for your special comment.
oh my word, I can’t even imagine! Was this hood 6 or 7?
Hay Marcia, It was Hood #7, who is now older and slightly wiser… but the blessing of vigilant older siblings, who got the biggest fright, can not be treasured enough. The reality of losing a little person hit them hard and they all became a whole lot more aware of the big bad world that day. Not a bad thing, per se, they are all a lot more empowered and able to stand up for themselves and each other. But no I wouldn’t recommend this lesson to anyone… Gasp, I am still reeling from it.