I looked up and realized the little girl in the red shirt I had been watching was not MY little girl. Another toddler with a red shirt, dark hair, and of similar height had taken the place where Gwen was just playing a second ago. I stood up; there were so many people at the library that day. Scanning the area once, twice. She was gone.
We were just talking about her hair. I was asking my best friend, mom of two girls, how she got them to let her do their hair. Gwen has no time, want, or desire for bows and clips.
Off I went, and my friend followed, looking for Gwen. I walked to the end of the room and back, twice? Three times? A quick pace turned into light jog. Maybe she went to the nursing room; they had a toy in there earlier she liked. I rush there already feeling relief she would be in there. Nope, empty. Maybe the computers? Across the library I go again. No. Train table, no. Slide, no. I pass the children’s area staff desk, and I say it:
“I can’t find my kid.”
“Gwen. Red shirt, dark hair,” I say to the concerned library staff asking me for more information on her. Out I go, to the main lobby, to the doors to the outside. I tell the staff there too, I can’t find her. He says no child has left, alone. My cheeks get warm, my breath gets faster. This library is so big, I move quickly, looking behind bookcases, behind the DVD’s. Back and forth. Her brother thinks it’s a game. “Nope, she’s not here. Not in this room. Let’s go look here, Mom!” My friend’s husband takes him with his girls so I can look for her. Over the loud speaker I hear a call for all staff to help locate a missing child. I cross paths with my friend; her face tells me we will find her.
“Gwen? Gwen?” I have no idea if I was whispering or screaming. Again, circling the library. Back and forth, I move. I feel sweat dripping down my neck, my heart is racing.
I think I need to call my husband who is at work. No, not yet.
I can find her.
Back to the kids room. “Gwen? Gwen?” Another mom asks me which child I am looking for, “Boy or girl?” I say, “ Girl, red shirt, dark hair, Gwen.” She had seen my son playing and hoped it was him I was searching for. I check the bathroom, no. I again check the music room, computers, toys, trains, no, no, no. “Gwen? Gwen?” A staff member grabs my arm, and points to the little girl with dark hair and a red shirt. “No, that’s not Gwen.” She too had seen that little girl and was tricked.
I go back up front again; I see my friend, and her face now tells me what I already know.
It has been too long.
I tell the library staff to call the police. I ask my friend to go look upstairs. I check the elevator, not there. “Gwen? Gwen?”
Finally, I hear, someone, I don’t know who, says they found her. The tears start to build; I hold my breath. I turn and see the librarian walking towards me, carrying my Gwen.
She is safe. My heart is safe.
She had gotten into the staff lounge, normally only accessible by card access, but it was open while they were cleaning up. “Mama!” My girl says, not even knowing she was missing, that we were all looking for her. I take her in, take a deep breath, and try to pull myself together. In a blur I walk over and get my son, and gather our things to go home. Other moms start coming over, sharing their relief she had been found. I see a lot of people leaving, wondering if they were waiting for her to be found before they were allowed to go. As they walk past me they half smile, sympathetically. They were scared, too.
As I walk to leave I tell myself to keep it together so I don’t scare them. We go outside, to the parking garage, up the elevator, to the van. I load them in their car seats. The guilt sets in as I walk to my door. Later I spoke with my friend, sharing my guilt, my fear. She reassures me she was just there; she had wandered within a minute. My husband tells me it happens–kids wander, mistakes happen. Other parents share their stories with me too, when they lost their child.
I still choke up even weeks later. Honestly, I am still not sleeping the best.
The U.S Department of Justice states that over 340,000 children every year become temporarily separated from a parent. Most children are quickly reunited, usually within that hour, but it is important to teach your kid and for you to be prepared on what to do if they go missing.
If your child goes missing
– Don’t panic. Look around the immediate area. If you are near water, always check there first.
– Call out their name. They are most likely to be within earshot.
– Get help right away. Tell everyone you have a missing child. Look for a staff member. Most businesses have a protocol in place for a missing child. Tell them the child’s name, what they were wearing, hair color, and any other identifying information.
– Don’t be afraid to call the police. Listen to your gut.
Before going places–especially if there is a crowd
– Take a picture or remember what your child is wearing.
– Write your phone number on their shoe or put your contact information where a helper can find it.
– Teach your older kids your name and phone number so they can tell someone to call you.
– Pick a meeting place to go if you get separated and tell them to wait there until you get them.