We spent the Fourth of July in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle listening to some good local music, then went down the sculpture gardens to watch the Elliot Bay fireworks with some friends. It was the first time we had taken the kids to one of the major fireworks shows, and I knew it was going to be a long day surrounded by hundreds of people.
Earlier in the week I’d lost Thomas at an open air produce stand. He wandered off while I was paying the cashier, and as I waited for her to return my debit card I casually looked around for him, fully expecting him to be just a few feet off. I couldn’t see him, and started sweeping in wider circles with my eyes, and when I still couldn’t see him I told the cashier I’d lost my son. She paged him and called someone to help me while Ruthie and I trotted around the produce tables, hearing murmurs of a lost boy among the other customers.
Finally the cashier flagged me down and shouted, “He’s down there!” and pointed to the gardening end of the store. I ran down there and found him immediately. He had a shopping basket in the crook of his elbow and was smelling flowers.
I think he may have only been separated from me five minutes – perhaps a little longer – but it was just enough time for me to imagine he was gone forever. When Ruthie run off there is usually somewhere she wants to be, and she goes with gusto. If I can figure out where that is, I can find her. But Thomas? He’s a wanderer. He just wanders. With no direction, purpose, or destination. When he wanders off I have no idea where to look.
So in preparation of spending the entire day surrounded by a mob of people, I laid down the ground rules for my three and five year old. First, stay within site. Second, don’t go anywhere – even to the other parent across the lot – without first asking the parent you’re with.
We then talked about what to do if they did get lost. I gave them each one of my blog cards which has my cell phone number on it, and stuck it in their pockets. I said if they couldn’t find me or Bryan, they should find a police officer or another mommy with kids, give them the card in their pocket, and ask them to call me. We went over it many times. We talked about what a police officer is wearing. We talked about the definition of “mommy with kids,” and why they were safer to approach than a different person.
It’s not a foolproof plan, and it didn’t make me any less alert. But teaching my kids how to protect and take care of themselves? That works for me.
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