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Losing Your Kid in Public

Little One Lost!? That Sinking Feeling Every Mom Has Experienced

If you're an active mom of an even more active child, you've probably been there. You're having a pleasant day at a park, museum, or pool or a not-so-pleasant one running errands at some grocery or big-box store with your little one in tow. You're doing the whole multitasking mom thing: one eye on the kid, the other looking for dinner ingredients or checking your Instagram feed in between celebrating your kid's fiftieth and fifty-first trips down the slide.

Even with your divided attention, you're totally aware that your child is, at that very moment, attempting to hide in the middle of a display of women's nightgowns or collecting leaves behind the twisty slide . . . until you're not. Suddenly, you realize that you have no idea where your child has gone. He is lost.

Don't panic, you tell yourself, willing him to suddenly appear at your feet. You begin a systematic visual scanning of the area, and when that doesn't yield results fast enough, you start yelling his name, hoping he'll hear the fear in your voice and end whatever hide-from-Mom game he's surely playing. Nothing.

You try, and fail, not to let your mind go to the worst-case scenarios: busy roads, deep ends, abduction.

That's when you start moving, running up and down aisles and searching behind trees, desperate to see his face. You might enlist the help of a fellow mom or a store employee, if you're lucky enough to come across one on your crazed search. You start brainstorming places that would appeal to him. Would he have been drawn to the display of dog toys one aisle over? Did he seem interested in the pool's snack bar? The minigolf course next to the park?

You try, and fail, not to let your mind go to the worst-case scenarios: busy roads, deep ends, abduction.

The whole experience lasts less than five minutes, but it feels like a year. Miraculously, he appears in front of you. His face has never looked sweeter. You grab him and clutch him to you, fighting back sobs of relief. You try to give him an age-appropriate lecture about staying close to Mommy in public spaces or about how hiding behind racks of nightgowns isn't a fun game, but mostly you just want to feel the weight of his little body next to yours, where it belongs.

You feel guilt over what could have happened, even though you're confident you're doing the best job you possibly can. Rationally, you know that no one can keep both eyes on their children at all times and still live any kind of productive life. You know you're a good mom. But still . . . the what ifs are impossible to get away from.

You come up with a plan so it never happens again. You'll force him to ride in the cart or a stroller every time you go shopping. You'll put him in neon-colored shirts so he's easier to spot, or at least you'll be sure to catalog each item he's wearing every time you take him out. You'll avoid parks with too many hiding spots and nearby hazards forever.

This is just a part of parenting, a part that no one wants to talk about or really even think about.

But the truth is, this is just a part of parenting, a part that no one wants to talk about or really even think about. We know we can't control everything in our children's lives, as much as we all want to. No parent can be perfect all of the time. No child can be either.

And sometimes those moments when a parent lets down their guard for a split second and a child decides to test his boundaries intersect.

The good news for moms who have lost their child? You're in good company. Pretty much every mom of a kid age 2 and up who occasionally decides to leave the house with that kid has been through the same experience. They know the feeling that was in your stomach while you were searching. They know the thoughts that were going through your head.

And they also know that lost children can be found.

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