We went to the Arboretum we frequent regularly, it was like any other morning. The boys were running from one tree to the next, large sticks in hand and exploring as much of this beautiful space as they could. L was talking to gardeners asking why they are working there and where is their yard waste, C is following as close on L’s heels as he can.
It was a beautiful morning, I was taking pictures, enjoying my boys and all the trees and lush plants. I checked the time and told the boys we were able to play at the Children’s garden for another 5 minutes and then we needed to start walking back to the car.
C was up on a rock (a favorite place to jump from) and I saw L out of the corner of my eye. I went to take C off the rock and said “okay, time to start to the car, ready L?” There was no response from L. I looked around and didn’t see his red shirt anywhere. I called out again “L?” and heard/saw nothing.
I waited a minute and called out again, thinking he was hiding (we play hide and seek often here) but he never made a sound.
A real sense of desperation washed over me when I walked over to the next area where I thought he might be or would have run past and asked the gardener if she saw a little 5-year-old boy in a red shirt run past here less than 5 minutes ago. When she said no my heart sank. I knew I was in real trouble.
I could feel tears welling up, C felt my body language totally change and jumped in my arms and stayed there while I desperately scanned the surroundings for my little boy in his red shirt. I think I probably just turned around and around in a circle for a few minutes trying to catch my breath and think of a plan. Do I run to the car? Do I stay in one place? Do I go back to the Children’s Garden? What do I do? WHAT DO I DO?
The Arboretum is not a small space. It is open, large and full of places to wander off into. This has never happened to me, I always have a sense of where my boys are. They do wander, I do give them the freedom to walk ahead and explore but they always come back to the path and are usually loudly singing, marching or talking and give away their location.
The gardener must have noticed the circle I was wearing into the ground and snapped me out of my thoughts. She told me there was an office close by where I could get word to workers throughout the Arboretum, they all carry radios. I decided to start walking back to our car, check in at the office and then I would retrace my steps back to the Children’s Garden and hope I found him…I had to keep moving. C realized very quickly this was an emergency. He fully cooperated.
About 5 minutes after I formed my plan I was walking into a large field just before the path to the main entrance to the Arboretum. A gardener that we were talking to earlier waved me down and asked if L was lost. When I told him YES he said someone found him and I needed to meet them at the office. An overwhelming sense of relief, love, confusion and then the realization that my arm was going to fall off…C is about 35 pounds and carrying him while running was really taking its toll, all washed over me immediately.
The amazing thing about this is I didn’t get an opportunity to talk to anyone with a radio yet. So, it surprised me to realize others were already looking for him and for me. I was beyond grateful.
I found the office and the receptionist was a very nice women who said someone was bringing L to the office now. I waited with C for what felt like 15 minutes but was probably only 5 minutes. All I could do was sit and hold back all the emotions of the situation. C was working hard to break their blinds, he wouldn’t sit down…it felt like forever. Where was he?
When L walked in through the doors to the office he grabbed me and hugged me over and over saying he was so sorry. I was so happy to hear/feel him breathing, talking and feel his warm little body in my arms.
Piecing all the stories together it sounds like L heard me say it was time to leave and started back for the car. He left from a random place in the Children’s Garden, not our usual exit. This random path took him to a part of the Arboretum he was less familiar with and walked a little too far away. He is usually really great with his sense of direction but for some reason didn’t know how to retrace his steps back to where C and I were.
A camp counselor (they have a lot of summer camps happening at the Arboretum now) saw him running/wandering and asked if he needed help. L told him he was with me but couldn’t find me now. The counselor told him to wait here and he would be right back and they would start looking for me. L told me he could heard me calling him but didn’t know how to get back to me. He thought I was going to leave without him so he went to the car and didn’t stay where the counselor told him to. This doesn’t surprise me at all, it sounds just like him.
Once the counselor realized L didn’t stay put he found someone with a radio and alerted the Arboretum Staff to keep a look out for L.
Even the director of the Arboretum left his office and went in search of L. The director found him at our car in the parking lot and walked him back to their office. L made sure I knew he looked both ways twice before walking across the parking area to our car.
I am so grateful and indebted to the thoughtful staff and visitors of the Arboretum who watched over my little boy while I was trying to find him. It was more than 20 minutes before we were reunited…it felt like an eternity.
We are talking a lot about what to do if you feel lost…stay in one place, yell back if you hear your name, ask for help if someone passes by. It reminds me I need to start assigning a “meeting place” at each new place we go.
It was a huge wake up call to me. This was not a significant moment with huge crowds, unfamiliar places or running away just because. This was him thinking he was being a good listener and starting back for the car when I said it was time. He just didn’t turn around soon enough to see if C and I were following behind him. Once he did, he was too far away from us to find us again…so scary.
I am really interested: What was one of your most pronounced wake-up calls as a parent? How do you talk to your kids about what to do when getting lost?