I lost my son a few days ago.
We were walking into the children’s museum for a birthday party. It was early evening in the winter, where it gets dark so damn early. I had both kids — my baby in a stroller and my toddler holding my hand beside me through the parking lot.
If you’re anything like me, getting to and from anywhere with young kids is stressful. You have to get both kids out of the car, get on their jackets, buckle at least one in a stroller, and remember the purse, the diaper bag, and in this case, the birthday present, all without one kid bolting through the parking lot.
For me, making it all the way to the museum’s entrance with both kids in tow felt pretty damn good. I may have even sighed in relief as began to walk through the entryway doors.
I shouldn’t have.
As we walked through the double doors, a wave of families were simultaneously leaving. I pushed through with the stroller, trying to hold doors open for people, and trying to keep my bags from falling. I got through the doors and looked around.
My two-year-old son was gone.
He was fucking gone. No trace. I didn’t know if he was inside or outside. I called out for him. Nothing. I started screaming his name. Silence. People began to look at me. Mothers grabbed for their child’s hands. The museum staff looked confused as to why I was making a scene, and then slightly anxious realizing they might need to step up and help out.
I ran outside and started calling out for him. It was dark now. He could be anywhere. People outside on the street stopped in their tracks. The severity of the situation was clear in my voice.
Was he inside or outside? Did he leave and run across the street? Did someone snatch him as we walked through the doors and run? Oh my God. Would I ever see my son again?
Time stood still. Everything started moving in slow motion. I felt dizzy and focused at the same time. I wanted to cry. I wanted to fall on the floor and bawl, but I was in GO mode. I found the strength and resilience to stay strong and empowered because this was completely on me.
Suddenly, people started to help. People started asking me what he was wearing, what he looked like, how old he was. The staff started talking to each other on walkie talkies to spread the word. One lady offered to watch my baby in the stroller. “Go find your son,” she said compassionately and with encouragement.
At this point, my husband had arrived to meet me at the birthday party. We split up and he focused on looking outside while I went inside. I went through the ticketing area and up the ramp to the museum. I started looking in his favorite spots: the infant playroom, the cloud structure… Where was he? How could this be happening to me? Please let me wake up from this nightmare now!!
After several minutes, but what felt like hours, a staffer holding her walkie talkie firmly approached me. “We think we found him,” she said. I followed her steadily, wanting to run but trying to maintain composure as we walked down the stairs. As we turned the corner, I saw him holding hands with another staffer, wiggling to release from his grasp.
The tears started pouring. All my strength and my energy just dumped out of me and I began to bawl as I ran to him and grabbed him and squeezed him with my everything. He tried to wiggle out of my embrace. He was completely unphased by the last 10 minutes. The longest 10 minutes of my life.
As my heart started to settle, and as the reality of the situation emerged — he was back, he was safe, everything was going to be ok — an ominous force began to fill my stomach. I can’t do this life without my boys. I can’t be here if they’re not here with me. They are my everything and more. My life’s meaning is completely lost without them.
It’s been a few days since that horrible event. I still feel completely haunted by those minutes, those feelings, that alternate reality that tried to coerce its way into my imagination. I hope no mother has to go through that kind of horror, and yet I know so many of us do.
I feel angry that I lost him. And guilty. Oh, that guilt. I also am enraged that no one noticed a two year old sprint through a ticketing area and up a ramp without an adult or a ticket. But mostly, and truly, I’m grateful. So grateful that my kids are safe, and no one was hurt, and everything is back to normal.
And I’m thankful for all the helpers. Thank you to the beautiful souls who helped that evening. The lady who watched my baby so I could run in and out of the museum searching for my toddler. The strangers who helped me search. My husband who stayed calm and jumped right in. The museum staff who took control and communicated with each other as a team. There are good people out there. Caring people.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Mr. Rogers