Amusement parks, zoos, carnivals, stores — pretty much anywhere outside of your home — can create major nerves inside a parent, especially when big crowds are involved. People and kids are running around, it's loud, and distractions are everywhere. The fear of losing your child is something parents deal with on a daily basis, and those of you have misplaced your beloved child, like me, know that there isn't a darker feeling in the entire world.
About a month ago, my family and our in-laws went to a big indoor water park. It was the perfect getaway as the snow continued to accumulate during our dreadful Michigan winter. We unpacked our bags in the hotel room, put the bathing suits on the kids, and immediately hit the pool. And let me just say: I'm typically a pretty free-spirited mom, but there was something about this water park that gave me a . . . feeling (moms know what I'm talking about). It was jam-packed with wet bodies, kids squealed with both delight and fright, and parents juggled holding their toddlers and their beers. I sat and carefully watched my preschooler and kindergartner have a blast while they splashed around and slid down the slides.
I went over the worst scenarios in my head of what could have happened, and I broke down.
As dinner time approached, it was time to get cleaned up. I took my daughter to the women's dressing room to shower and change out of our suits. My husband, I assumed, was staying with our 5-year-old son for a few final spins around the lazy river. I assumed wrong.
When my daughter and I got out of the dressing room, my sister-in-law's eyes were hanging out of her head. A heavy pit settled into my stomach. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Oh, we just thought David was with you," she said. "What do you mean?" I answered. "You don't know where he is?" "Well, Joe is looking for him now."
I left my daughter with my sister-in-law to run around the too-busy water park. I couldn't find my son or my husband. Minutes passed. I stomped around in my regular clothes and boots while children laughed and splashed around me. I couldn't concentrate. My nerves were pulsing through me. My fingers began to shake. Finally, after what felt like hours, I saw my husband walking back into the water park holding my son's hand.
My son's eyelashes were wet and clumped together with his tears. My husband deflated like a balloon when he saw me, his relief taking over. I walked to my son, crouched down, and hugged his wet little body tightly. He was shaken, but not traumatized. My husband ended up finding him at the front desk. Apparently, when he couldn't find mom or dad in the water park, he walked all the way to our hotel room by himself. He banged on the door and no one answered. Finally, a random woman (an angel) walked our son to the front desk.
This could have ended so badly. My son was alone and wandering around a hotel, and any creep could have seen the opportunity and taken it. I went over the worst scenarios in my head of what could have happened, and I broke down. He was safe, but we were lucky. So, so lucky.
In hindsight, it's funny that my motherly intuition kicked in right when we got to that water park. It's like I knew something was going to happen. I even thought I was being extra careful, but I chose to assume something I wasn't sure about. I learned a really hard lesson that day, and that was to always double check. Yes, I love being a free-spirited parent, but not at the expense of my children. The moment I realized my son had slipped away was the scariest of my life, and I never want to feel that again.