When you start out your shopping trip, you don’t think you’re going to end up calling security or having a panic attack or wanting to throttle other customers, but I had all these reactions and more on what started out as an ordinary trip thanks to my mischievous two-year-old.
She had been fussing and trying to climb out of the cart, so I took her out and let her “help” me push. (I’m sure you’ve never given in, either.) As we were passing the women’s clothing, she darted away and started playing hide-and-seek in the clothing racks. I’d find her, she’d giggle, then run to hide again. Then, a skirt caught my eye, and I stopped to look for a brief second. I looked up and expected my daughter to be in the rack next to me, the rack where all the clothes were still moving from her hide-and-seek game. But, like a bad TV movie, the clothes were moving but my daughter wasn’t there.
I started to call out her name. No response. I abandoned the cart and began to search the racks in earnest. Still no luck. After about three minutes and no sign of her in the immediate area, I went to the fitting room and told them, “I need help. My daughter is missing. Seal off the exits now.”
The lady at the fitting room said, “I just need to ask you a few questions, first.”
“No, seal off the exits and then I’ll give you a description,” I practically screamed at her. Not wanting her to call security for me instead of my daughter, I hurriedly added a, “please.”
She called over the intercom and gave the employees the code for a missing child then started to give the description I was feeding her, “two-years-old, curly brown hair, blue eyes, wearing a white t-shirt.” Instead of waiting there, I went back out to look for my daughter myself. I was running around, eyes filled with tears darting to every possible hiding place, my voice climbing higher each time I called her name, my heart beating faster than it does after my best run.
Some other customers heard me and said, “I think you should go to the customer service booth. They said they had a lost child there. I just heard it over the intercom.”
I wanted to scream at them, “No they didn’t; I gave the information and she’s still missing!” But I didn’t want to lose precious time explaining when I could be searching. I just stared at them for a second and moved on, continuing to call her name.
After another two or three minutes–the longest in my life–an employee came up to me carrying my beautiful little girl. “Is this your daughter?”she asked. “Yes,” I breathed, taking her in my arms, though part of my mind was thinking, “How many toddlers do you think are wandering around this store anyway?”
I stroked her hair, nuzzled her neck and breathed in the perfect smell that is my daughter. I reveled in such simple things–seeing her face, kissing her cheek– things I was so worried I might never get to do again. I wouldn’t let her out of my arms for the rest of the shortened trip, preferring to push the cart one-handed while she stayed safe and secure. I must have said two dozen earnest prayers of thanks.
What can you learn from my experience?
1. Don’t let your attention wander for even a second when you’re in a public place with your kids. I did, and I could have permanently lost my beautiful child because of it. She was found clear on the other side of the store. Their stubby little legs are faster than you think.
2. Get help sooner than I did. If your child is out of your sight, get help. She could have easily been gone in the time I took to look for her myself.
3. Always make a mental note of what your child is wearing before you go to a public place. Luckily, I remembered. I have a friend who always snaps a picture on her phone of each child before she goes to the zoo or an amusement park so she’ll have those “just in case”. That way you know what they’re wearing and have a photograph to show what they look like. It’s not a bad idea to do it before you go to the store too. If I’d been thinking, I could have pulled out my ancient flip phone to show an older photograph of her, too.
4. Stay where you are after getting help. I didn’t stay put and should have, but I just wanted to find her myself. The employee who found her then had to track me down before we could be reunited.
It took almost an hour for my pulse to slow. I only let go of my daughter to strap her into her carseat for that entire time, too. And I gave her an extra big hug and kiss as I tucked her in that night. The ending of my story is happy. But, it might not have been. Learn from what I did wrong, and what I did right, so your lost story will have a found ending.