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By Jay Williams
Here’s a question for all of you parents out there. Have you ever lost track of one of your children in a public place? Don’t be embarrassed if the answer is yes. It has happened to almost all of us. The wave of panic that sweeps over you when it happens is difficult to describe. And if you are not a parent, it is impossible to understand.
Last weekend in the grocery store, I turned a corner and pushed my shopping cart onto the cereal aisle just as a “misplaced child incident” was unfolding. A woman with a toddler sitting in her shopping cart turned around and said, “David? David, where are you?”
As I approached her, she said it again…only this time louder. And the second time she said it, I could hear that wave of panic in her voice.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” I asked.
“I can’t find my son. He was right beside me a few seconds ago.”
“Alright,” I said. “We’ll find him. His name is David? How old is he?”
“He’s four,” she nervously replied as she was already turning the corner to the next aisle.
I told her, “You go that way, and I’ll go this way. What color shirt is he wearing?”
“Blue…I think.” It was obvious that she was too upset to remember exactly.
As she turned right, I turned left and scanned the length of the next aisle. No kids in sight. I pushed on and looked down the next aisle. Again, no kids.
As I reached the next aisle…jackpot. A small boy in a blue shirt was standing in the middle of the aisle all alone. It was the school supplies/toys/miscellaneous aisle that all grocery stores seem to have. I approached him and said, “Is your name David?” He nodded yes.
I’m not normally one to yell in the middle of a crowded grocery store, but this seemed like a good time to make an exception. “Ma’am, I found David! We’re on aisle eight.”
Five seconds later David’s mom and little sister flew around the corner onto aisle eight. Her cart wasn’t quite on two wheels as she made the turn, but it was close.
She scooped him up, gave him a hug, and then launched into the “Don’t EVER walk away from me like that!” speech that all of us have delivered to our children at one time or another.
“Thank you,” she said to me. “Thank you so much!”
“You’re more than welcome,” I replied. “I lost one of my twins in a Chuck E. Cheese pizza place one time. I know exactly how you are feeling. Glad we found him.”
As I resumed shopping, my mind raced back in time about 14 years. My wife and I had taken our three kids to Chuck E. Cheese in Arlington. Daughter…age five. Twin boys…age two and a half. My wife and I…aging and stressing out exponentially by the minute like all parents at Chuck E. Cheese.
I will argue that you are in the minority if you DON’T lose a kid in that environment. Even if you make every effort to keep an eye on them, the deck is stacked against you. And that is in no way a shot at Chuck E. Cheese. It’s just the truth.
Sure enough, all three of our kids went up into that maze of tubes and ladders and ball pits. A couple of minutes later, only two of them came around the corner from the other side.
“Where’s Ian?” my wife asked our daughter, Alexis.
“I don’t know. I thought he already climbed down.”
I told Lisa to stay with Alexis and Jarren as I quickly walked to the other side of the maze. No Ian. When I returned, he still wasn’t with them. At this point, he has only been “missing” for a minute or two. But it quickly starts feeling like forever.
I scooped up Jarren and found the nearest employee. “I need to talk to a manager, please. I can’t find one of my sons.”
I will give Chuck E. Cheese a lot of credit…they sprang into action immediately. A manager materialized in front of me. As Lisa and Alexis continued the search, the manager got on a walkie talkie to someone and said, “Missing kid. Close the front door. No one leaves until we find him.”
He sent two employees to search the restrooms. He asked me, “What does he look like?”
Jarren was in my arms. I said, “He looks exactly like this one. Only he’s wearing a red shirt.”
About that time, we hear Alexis, “I found him!”
She had climbed back up into the maze. There was Ian, sitting in a corner. He had never climbed down. Apparently some older kids crawled over the top of him, and he just froze. Probably not a bad move on his part. But not a good move for our blood pressure.
I thanked the manager for his help in acting so quickly. He radioed that it was okay to open the front door.
We repaid Chuck E. Cheese by not returning to their fine establishment again until my twins were probably 12. Old enough by then to find their way back to our table.
Watch your kids closely. Ask for help if they wander away. There are plenty of good people out there who know exactly what you’re going through. And don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all been there.
You can reach Jay Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.