It has finally happened to me hasn’t it? You know, the inevitable yet terrifying moment all parents experience at some point. Yes, you’ve probably guessed it; I briefly lost my children while out shopping the other day.
In many respects I’m quite surprised it’s taken this long. I’ve been doing this parenting thing for seven years now and it was the first time it had happened. I know my mother lost me numerous times by the time I’d reached the age of seven so all things considered, I think I’m doing quite well (aren’t I? Please, someone reassure me).
The circumstances were a little odd, truth be told. I always knew this moment would come but thought it might happen on some busy London street or packed visitor attraction on a Bank Holiday weekend.
Oh no, this happened on a lightening raid to a DIY store where I was buying some paint to finish off a couple of walls in our kitchen. It was one of those big, out of town outlets that’s about the same size as the Roman Empire in its heyday. I forget what you call it, a massive-huge-o-mega-plex outlet or something.
I would normally try to avoid taking the kids to such a place. After all, DIY stores by their very nature are not exactly child friendly, but I was sprinting in to get one thing and I knew exactly where it was on the shelves near the entrance. What could possibly go wrong?
The trip was without incident until I was in the line waiting to pay. My two daughters were with me and right next to me. For some unfathomable reason, Elizabeth, the younger one, suddenly lurched to the right and then sprinted off, up one of the aisles.
This being a massive-huge-o-mega-plex outlet, the aisles were so big you could land a Boeing 747 on one. With much British-awkwardness, I shouted after her. She didn’t come back. She’d been gone now for, ooo, what maybe five seconds?
I then did the worst thing I possibly could have done. I asked Helen, my oldest child, to dash after her. As she sprinted off I realized how totally moronic this was. I now had two children tearing round a massive-huge-o-mega-plex surround by power tools, heavy objects and bewildered DIY enthusiasts pushing trolleys the size of oil tankers that could easily take out a three-year-old.
You may be judging me here, but please bear in mind I’d never been in this situation before. Sending my sensible, older, daughter after the more unpredictable, younger one seemed to make sense in that brief second.
When they’d both been gone for all of, oh I don’t know, 20 or 30 seconds (although it seemed like much, much longer) I knew I had to go after them. I discarded my trolley down an aisle packed with electric drills and went off on a mission to retrieve my children.
If sending my eldest daughter off after my youngest daughter was the worst thing I could have done, this action was the absolute worst thing I could have done. With the benefit of hindsight, it was utterly stupid.
It didn’t occur to me until I was in a completely different aisle, staring at bathroom lighting or trunking or some such, but I now had two lost children in a massive-huge-o-mega-plex outlet store. At some point they would come looking for me and I wouldn’t be next to the self-service tills where they’d last seen me. This could lead to complications, major complications.
Having sprinted past door handles, doors, paint and laminate flooring with no sign of my kids, I knew the time had come to speak to a staff member and call in reinforcements. I ran up to a guy in uniform and told him what had happened. Just as I’d finished speaking, I noticed Helen at the self-service tills.
Please remember this was a massive-huge-o-mega-plex and so I could see her, but she was about four miles away. I broke off my chat with the staff member and sprinted after Helen shouting her name before she could disappear off looking for me again.
The worrying thing was, I could see Helen, but not her younger sister. As I got to Helen, Elizabeth also turned up, looking completely unbothered, as if nothing had ever happened.
Words were had with Elizabeth. I explained, firmly but fairly, that you do not run off like that, especially in a massive-huge-o-mega-plex. I had been very worried about her and it was very important you stay with a grown up when in a busy shop.
At the end of the day, no damage was done, apart from my general health. I now had experience of lost children and it wasn’t pleasant, especially as my own stupid actions had made it worse.
If my wife and I go somewhere busy with the kids, we always put a Tyvek wristband on the children with our mobile numbers written on them. On one memorable occasion, a visit to the beach one horrendously busy Bank Holiday weekend, we found we didn’t have any wrist bands and so I wrote on their shoulder blades in felt tip (much to the disapproval of a Daily Mail-reading couple sitting nearby. Based on their choice of reading material, I took this to be a ringing endorsement of my actions).
All things considered, this was an educational experience for me. If this ever happened to me again, I wouldn’t send one of the kids after their sibling and I’d call in reinforcements much sooner. I’m a firm believer that very little of this parenting thing is instinct. You live and you learn through experience. I just hope I never experience it again and if you never have done, I hope you never will.
Have you experience of losing a child? What happened? Did you age one year for every minute they were missing? More to the point, how would you handle the situation if it ever happened to you?