Any mother can look away for a split second and her child can get away from her. Here is my story.
I haven’t commented at all about the recent mom whose child wandered away at the Cincinnati zoo and fell into the gorilla exhibit last weekend.
There are enough commentators who are criticizing this mother and the zoo for allowing her “neglect” (or so they call it) to result in the death of the animal.
I haven’t thought long and hard about this incident because I simply don’t have the margin or mental energy to get up in arms about something that is none of my business.
But one thing I do know is this: What happened with this mom could happen to any of us.
If we say it couldn’t, we are being prideful and fooling ourselves.
Anything can happen in a split second, friends.
I know this because I’ve lived this.
I have lost a child at a public place before.
Back in 2013, my then 2-year-old wandered out of our hotel room at Great Wolf Lodge.
It wasn’t that I had simply looked away either. I had been asleep.
After a fun morning of enjoying the pools and water slides–all compliments of good friends of ours since back then we had no extra money to spare–I put our 2-year-old and infant down for a nap while my husband took our 4-year-old downstairs to the craft table.
Being the exhausted, postpartum, nursing mother that I was, I decided to take a nap myself.
Checking on the 2-year-old all tucked into her bunk in the room beside me, I pulled down the covers, crawled underneath them, and dozed off myself.
A little while later, I woke to the phone ringing. It was my husband.
“Where is your middle child?” he asked.
My heart began to race.
Just why was he asking me this?!
I jumped from the bed to check on our daughter.
She wasn’t in her bed. She wasn’t in the bathroom. She wasn’t in the room at all.
The door to our hotel room was unlocked, and it was cracked open.
This all unfolded in seconds, although it seemed like an eternity.
“She’s not here!” I began to scream. “She’s not here! Where is she?!
It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. (Another would come a few years later, when my third-born nearly choked on a quarter while sitting right beside me.)
“She’s with me,” my husband calmly, although slightly agitated, responded. “She’s with me.”
You see, the lock to our hotel room door was right at her height.
She had so desperately wanted to go make crafts with her daddy and big sister that she had waited until I was asleep to unlock the door and slip out of the room.
I had not heard a thing.
Thankfully, a kind stranger found her wandering the hallway and took her to the front desk.
There, my husband found a hotel worker holding her.
This could have ended badly–very, very badly.
Anyone could have taken her. She could have found her way to the pool area. She could have even made her way out to the parking lot.
All while I lay sleeping in the hotel room.
The ironic thing in all of this was that I am the one who tends to operate on a more helicopter-ish side of parenting when comparing me and my husband.
Especially out in big public areas and in the water, I am the one who hovers. My husband is the one who says: “Let them be kids. Let them explore.”
I was so protective, I thought, that something like this could never happen to me.
Even earlier that day, I had chided my husband for letting the girls get too far away from him in the water.
Yet I was the one who fell asleep and didn’t realize our 2-year-old was escaping from our hotel room, right under my nose.
What can we learn in all this?
Just because I’m right there with my children, it doesn’t mean they won’t slip away from me.
Even the best mothers (which I don’t claim to be!) make mistakes.
And you better believe we now talk to our children more about not wandering off and check the hotel room locks when we stay somewhere! We had no idea they were low enough to the ground that our 2-year-old would be able to reach and unlock the door.
We cannot judge other mothers when things like this happen because we do not know all of the circumstances, nor have we been in their exact situation.
Other moms need our grace, our understanding, our prayers, our compassion, our empathy.
They could be us, dear friends. They could be us.
I have! I was at a garden center with my two children (2 and 6 months old at the time) and my parents. I thought for sure my 2-year-old son was looking at plants with my dad. My dad was sure my 2-year-old was with me.
When I discovered he was missing, my heart stopped … and felt like it would explode. I ran out of the greenhouse, panicked that my son had wandered into the busy road or parking lot. All the workers in the greenhouse helped me and my parents frantically search for my son.
I screamed for my son, prayed, cried … and just when I was giving up hope, I happened to catch sight of him hiding under one of the plant table/platforms.
I will never forget how terrifying those moments were. And I can only look at other moms with grace, because you never know what might happen with your children.
That is so scary, Hilary! I am so glad you found him! Stores are hard; there are so many nooks and crannies where they can hide! I think it’s even easier to lose track of kids when there are multiple adults around because it’s easy to think the other adult is watching them. Thanks so much for sharing your story!
I haven’t lost a kid. But I have looked at my kid standing 3 feet away from me, looked down then RIGHT back up again – to find that he somehow got a hold of a knife and it’s now in his mouth. I have seen him quietly playing, walked into the next room and back again and in just those few seconds he had leapt up and climbed to the top of a dresser. I have stood next to him by a pond, bent down to set down my bag only to stand right back up just as he fell into the water.
Kids move lightening fast – even when you are right by their side or a heartbeat away from them. You can coach your child about not talking to strangers or looking both ways or say “be careful!!” until you’re blue in the face and they’ll still get excited and forget those rules from time to time.
It’s normal. It’s real life. And to be so condemning and hateful (my gosh, they’ve investigated the Zoo story parents to see if they have a criminal past!!) is just awful and unfair. Let’s give each other some grace because scary things really can happen even to the most attentive, diligent parents!
Amen! Grace! We all need more grace! Sidenote: We moved our knives to the top of the fridge when our 2-year-old (she’s 8 now!) started climbing on top of the counter to play with them!
We lost our son Braden at the waterpark at Dollywood two years ago. Oh my goodness, it was so scary. He was wandering around the park alone for 30 or more minutes. We aren’t even sure how long he was gone. He tried to follow Austin to somewhere and Austin didn’t know it. He lost him in the crowd and I assumed Braden was with him. When he got back and didn’t have him, it was so scary. We immediately went to people with radios and found him within about 15 minutes, but it was so scary! I know I needed grace that day.
That sounds so terrifying, Keelie! I am so glad he is OK! Will got lost at Disney World when he was little, in a very similar way. Thanks so much for sharing your story!
While i was waiting in line for santa, my husband took my 11 yr old boy to shop for something. At the last minute, my 2 yr old asked if she could go with daddy. I thought daddy heard me say she was coming, but as she tried to catch up with him, i guess she lost sight of him since he didn’t hear me so didn’t wait for her. I waited happily in line with my baby and then a few minutes later looked up to see my 2 year old walking with a store employee towards us, fear and tears in her eyes. My husband reappeared about the same time and we looked accusingly at each other for a second, until we realized we both thought she was with the other. I didn’t have a chance to have that awful feeling of losing her, since i didn’t know i had lost her! But i know anything could have happened in those few minutes…talk about paying more attention now…ugh.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Kathryn! Sharing helps us build empathy and compassion for others. It was not easy to share mine either. It does scare me to think about how many times each parents thinks the child is with the other one. Anyone can make that mistake! I’m so glad your your daughter is ok!
How scary! We lost our six-year-old last Fourth of July at the fireworks and concert in a nearby town. One minute he was playing happily with a group of kids, catching fireflies, and running around. The next minute we couldn’t see him anywhere. My husband and I spent fifteen minutes frantically looking, to no avail. Then, just as I was walking up to a police officer, I spotted my son in a different part of the park. So scary!
Oh wow! That sounds terrifying, Sarah!! I’m so glad y’all found him! Thanks for sharing!
I was at the Columbia Riverbanks Zoo with my husband, 6 year old son and 3 year old daughter. My brothers were also there. We were in the food court area which is outside and my mom had my kids while I was getting food. My daughter disappeared in a split second and we found her walking toward a food place. Accident for sure but so scary. I did not blame my mom. I later bought her a monkey leash which I had no qualms using ❤️
We took our children to a fair once, my son was about 2 years old. He was standing right there beside me and my husband. Looked up, looked down and he was gone. My heart sank, what was only a few minutes felt like hours, as we frantically looked for him. Found him standing talking to a person manning a game in his 2 year old gibberish.
They can be gone in a blink of an eye.
My husband and I were outside in the yard with our 2 year old daughter. I went to talk to my dad, and left my daughter and husband playing. Two minutes later, my husband comes up to me and says he can’t find her. It felt like I’d had a bucket of ice dumped over my head. I felt like I could run miles searching for her, and my heart was pounding so hard. I looked everywhere, calling her name, running in circles. We live on 3 acres with a wooded area and a creek. I couldn’t find her.
After a while, my husband saw how distraught I was and ordered me to go home while he continued the search with my dad. I get inside to find my daughter curled up in her favorite seat with her blanket, watching Spongebob. The relief was unimagineable. My poor husband was beside himself. He said he turned around for three seconds and she was gone. Off across the field and into the house. Just that fast.
I lost my middle daughter in Nordstrom last Spring Break. I thought she had gone with my mother but she had followed me to the bathroom and sat down in the ladies lounge off to the side. I walked right out of the bathroom, past her and to another floor of the store. My mother looked at me and screamed that I didn’t have Ashley. I went straight back and there she sat completely annoyed that I had abandoned her in the bathroom. Thank goodness!
It happens to all of us at some point and if it hasn’t it will sooner or later. We all make mistakes and we need to remember that before attacking others.
We lost my then 2 year old daughter at the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Iowa. She was walking with me when I stopped to tie my shoes and adjust the walking boot I was in. She was standing next to me and then went by my husband. I saw her and my husband had her hand. In the 2 minutes it took me to situate myself, she walked away from my husband. He thought she let go of his hand to put back a stuffed toy she found on the shelf. I was screaming for her, I was terrified. It turned out she decided that she wanted to use the bathroom instead of diapers.
I haven’t yet lost one of my children in public (other than a few heart-stopping seconds when I lose sight of one at a park), but I wanted to comment on how difficult it is to keep children in hotel rooms. They are designed to be easy to escape and the locks only work from the outside. The last time we stayed in one with a toddler I had to wedge a pack n play in the doorway to prevent my 1 year old son from escaping!
I didn’t lose a child, but my rambunctious 2-year-old managed to climb through a fence at a local farm and made his way to the goat pen to play w them on their playscape. I was too big to go the same way and apparently had not been fast enough to stop him even though he was literally right next to me. I panicked as I ran to find the farmer to unlock the gate. He was safe with the goats, but only one repeat offence from being w the horses which could have easily stepped on him and hurt or killed him. Fortunately he was just taking his turn behind a sassy nanny goat going down the slide and I was able to scoop him up.
You never imagine something meant to keep critters in may not be affective in keeping little humans out… especially at a zoo.
While I haven’t lost my child in a public place, I have managed to lock myself out of my house with my 18 month old inside! We were having gutters put on our new house that we had just moved into and there was a ton of activity going on. Somehow I got turned around and confused and let the laundry room door shut behind me. I didn’t realize it was locked. We hadn’t lived here long enough to know which doors to leave unlocked yet. If it weren’t for the amazing crew of contractors who helped me break back into my own home – I’m not sure what I would have done. All in all – I was locked out for about 5 minutes but it could have been much worse.
Last summer we lost our #4 child at Disneyland. Disneyland!! My husband and Injad taken our 5 kiddos and I would like to think we were organized and had things under control. But then It all happened so fast. We had taken a bathroom break and all seven of us were rotating in and out and somehow something caught his eyes and he wandered off without us noticing. We were a wreck, but Disney took it very seriously and even though it seemed as though he was gone for an eternity, it was less than 10 minutes. We aren’t neglectful parents, we weren’t doing anything we shouldn’t have been. It just happened. And it does happen.
I too lost my daughter at Disneyland. I was a single mother who was nervous enough about traveling alone with a 5 year old but also wanted her to have fun. A few minutes in the twisting caves on Tom Sawyers island and spring break crowds and she was gone. I couldn’t think straight but thankfully an employee saw me and within minutes she was found happily skipping with another family who was trying to find me. Now at 13 she is teased about the the time she shut the river in Disneyland down!
I’ve lost my middle son three times 🙁 The first time, we were at a fundraising walk and I went to speak to my dad. I had my son beside me (he was around 5) and thought he was still there. When I looked down, he was gone. We searched and searched and finally a couple older ladies had spotted him on the track and brought him back to us. We were at a large fair the second time and he was around 6. He wanted to go in the men’s room to pee and I felt comfortable enough to let him go in, thinking I’d just wait outside. He didn’t come out and so I sent my older son in to look for him and he wasn’t in there but we discovered another entrance! My middle son had gone out through THAT door instead of the one I was waiting at. THANKFULLY we found him wandering around after figuring out where the second door lead to. The last time we were at a large indoor water park. He wanted to go on a slide and so I told him what stairs to use and I waited for him at the bottom. Again, he wasn’t coming down so I went to search for him. Found him with a life guard – he had been allowed to go down a VERY advanced slide (huge drop at the bottom into a huge swirl of water) that had a sign “EXPERT SWIMMERS ONLY”. Apparently my 7 year old looks like an expert swimmer??? He could have drowned if the lifeguard hadn’t acted quickly! Realizing your young child is NOT where you thought he was is the scariest thing I have ever encountered. I’m surprised we go anywhere with him with that kind of track record for being lost 🙂
K. Ann Guinn
Thanks so much for your courage to share this, Erin! My sons are now 16 and 18 yrs. old, but of course we have all “lost” them for at least a few seconds on many occasions. I agree with you that anyone claiming otherwise is either 1) not being entirely honest, or 2) OVERLY controlling (to the point of being unhealthy), but as you say, even that parent can’t control everything.
The scariest time was when we were with another family in Providence, RI at First Night. We were in a building watching some show of trampoline jumpers. All of a sudden, we looked down and couldn’t find my son. But the scary thing was, he wasn’t with us (not like the time you realize they’re just on the other side of your spouse, for instance). Thankfully, we found him within minutes, at the back of the room with one of the older children in our group (safe!)!
Besides this judgment and blame-placing in this news incident, the other thing that truly concerns me is the attention being given this animal over human life. I love animals and believe we should care and protect them, but I never heard once any concern over how the boy or his family was doing. After seeing the video of the boy being dragged under water, I would have been forced to do the same. No-one wanted that to be the outcome, but human life much always trump animal life! Sadly, I rarely see human life being given nearly as much priority and attention as was given to this gorilla.
I live this all the time! Many children with autism and children with Down syndrome have this in common. They like to wander. They might have different reasons for leaving, but I always have to know where they are. I have two with Down syndrome. The first time we lost one, it was out the front door under big brothers’ and sister’s watch. We learned not to wait to call police for help! Because they found my daughter before we called, that made it an automatic CPS call. Child Protective Services in California.
Wherever we go, one adult is responsible for each child. We work hard at having positive hand offs. Sometimes, even physically handing my son over to the next adult responsible. The leaders in our Awana club have been very good about watching my son and take it very seriously when we lose sight of him.
When a child is missing, don’t pooh pooh mom! Believe her and help her find her child! But don’t panic either. I have beem through this more than I want to remember! And called the police almost as many times.
Thank you for this! It’s so easy to mindlessly go to that ugly judging place where strangers are concerned. For a second, after the Disney alligator tragedy, I found myself wondering “Where were the parents?!” But of course then I remembered:
The time my 18 month old wandered into the kitchen (we never let him go in there alone) for a few seconds and came stumbling out with a butcher knife in his hand. That’s how we found out he can now reach the higher counters in our kitchen. And how big the butcher knife was. We were right there. We knew where he was. It could have ended badly. But it didn’t.
The time that my 3 year old daughter refused to take a nap so I let her scream it out and then was afraid to check on her in fear of waking her up, finally only to find her asleep standing up stuck between the bed and the wall. I was right there. I knew where she was. It could have ended badly. But it didn’t.
That time when my 4 year old wandered away from us at Downtown Disney. We were all together, holding hands, but it was hot, and my little man was feeling independent, so I let him walk next to me. We went around the next curve to the right, but somehow he followed the wrong people and swerved around to the left and headed back the way we had come, instantly out of site. We were there. We knew where he was. And then he wasn’t. It could have ended badly. But it didn’t.
This same kid at the Grand Canyon, a year older, but nonetheless squirrelly. I turned my back for a second to keep an eye on my other kid and of course there he is, my littlest one, trying to climb over the railing. OVER the railing. At the GRAND CANYON. Thank you dear observant strangers that were with us. We were right there. We knew where he was. That could have ended badly. It DID end badly for another family earlier that week. But it didn’t…for us.
This is 25 years of parenting added up and there are more stories, some I left out, some I have probably forgotten because they didn’t end badly. The zoo mom, the Disney mom, they too could have had a quirky little story to tell when their kids got older, but it ended badly for them. That is the only real difference of which we can be sure.
I have never had the blessing of being a mom, but I just wanted to say how touched I was in reading your account of losing your little one at Great Wolf Lodge. And because of that personal experience, the mercy, compassion, and grace that you extended to the mom involved in the gorilla situation moved me to tears. I wish everyone could extend that kind of understanding and grace to others instead of casting judgement. I believe the Lord is very pleased with your kind of response. May we all learn a lesson in grace from your sharing.
I lost my 3 year old son tonight at a hockey game. It was the end of the game and we were gathering in the hall with like 15 family members to say goodbye. My son was being passed around and then my wife looks at me and says “where’s our son?” I looked quickly and didnt see him.
I ran around that place everywhere scared to death. Im still shakin up and cant help but think of what “could of happened.”
My mother n law saw him at the edge of the stairs and decided to take her on a footrace on the floor above us.
One thing i have learned tonight and by reading other stories is that this most likely happens when you are trusting that “other loved ones” are watching over him.
I am so sorry you had that experience but so glad you found him! I know that fear and panic all too well. I totally agree that things happen when everyone thinks that someone else is watching. It seems to always happen when there are a LOT of adults around as opposed to just one person watching. I feel like such a helicopter mom when we got to the pool or beach, but I sometimes feel like I’m the only adult watching. I’m so glad you found your son–and realize you’re not the only one who has had this happen.