I Can’t Find My Baby!
You know that feeling when you can’t find your young child? Did you flinch and begin to feel that sinking feeling as you read this title? Everyone knows that first jolt of alarm when realizing that they’re unable to spot their little one. A friend sent me the following story about her experience with a Down syndrome boy. I felt that horror every bit when I read this tale.
“I took my son and two of his friends to the neighborhood park to play. As we spent time there, I noticed a cute little boy coming up on his tricycle. It was a push trike, without pedals. Then I noticed that he had Downs. His smile was beautiful!
Soon he was climbing on the equipment with us, and having fun. But I couldn’t see any adults with him, or anyone who seemed to be responsible. Then I noticed he didn’t have shoes on, and was missing a sock.
He couldn’t or didn’t talk, so I couldn’t figure out his name. He was wearing a diaper, but looked about 5 years old. He didn’t have a jacket and it was getting dark and cold. So, I called 911, and we spent time with him to be sure he was ok until help arrived.
I knew there was a frantic mom looking for this cute guy. A kind officer picked up our new friend. And about an hour later I got a call that he was home safe and sound and his mom was very emotional, and upset that he had taken this adventure on his own. He lives several blocks from the park.”
You know that frantic mom – you have been that frantic mom (or dad) whether the child is yours or one you were caring for temporarily. In one way or another it has happened to all of us.
We have a friend who is a public figure who lost sight of her daughter and executed an agonizing many minutes long search of sidewalks and house and sidewalks again, when they had simply been walking home from school. I can imagine a whole new level of horror in her beyond what I’ve ever known since this family actually has financial means that might make them a target for a person with ill-intent.
What happens in those moments?
I used to have a sort of progression I’d go through when one of my children turned up missing. In the first seconds of discovery was heightened alert, then a grip of fear. If time went by, the edges of panic swept in, and finally utter hysteria would begin crowding out any rational thoughts needed to address the problem.
Somewhere between the edges of panic and full-blown hysteria lies the emotional place from which I’d try to formulate the best plan to recover my child. It’s a crazy place, between panic and hysteria, but we’ve all been there.
I got so far down that road once that for a long time there was no middle of the road for me. In the first seconds, I would just skip right from awareness to despair without feeling the other emotions at all.
It wasn’t losing any of my children at a retail store that did it. Nor when I answered the doorbell at our new home to find a total stranger holding my son and asking “Do you know where this baby lives?” Not even when realizing I had left the garage door open again and running as fast as I could through the house to close it before my Down syndrome son could run out into the street again.
Or even at an amusement park where I just began telling every uniformed person I could see that my daughter was missing and pleading for help. Eventually we actually had to retrieve our daughter from the lost and found. I don’t recall even thanking the kind woman who had taken her there. It’s a pretty primal instinct, that of rescuing one’s child. I had shut out everything but taking her back into my arms.
How much panic can there be?
No, the “missing experience” that changed me was after a huge Christmas party when my Down syndrome son was about 10 years old. We had looked everywhere in that church. My son has always liked to squeeze himself into small spaces so we had searched every single windowsill, under every table and behind every curtain.
Finally, I was asked “Jane, are you ready to call the police?” and I said “He is not in this building.” Outside was a dark vacant lot. And beyond that a freeway entrance. All sorts of thoughts had gone through my head. Just then a woman grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me to my knees saying “Let’s pray.” We did.
The next thing I knew someone (I can’t even remember who now . . . I was pretty focused again . . .) was walking toward me holding my son by the hand. The story went that the place was pretty much cleaned up with tables and chairs all back under the stage on racks that slide into 30-foot long by 4-feet tall & wide concrete caverns that house them. A man was folding tablecloths in the now quiet room when through the doors to one of those enclosures he heard a muffled sound.
The gentlemen nearby opened the doors, pulled out the tray of tables and called into the darkness for my son. No response. Again. No response. A former football star and now caring grandpa, Eldon Fortie, got down on all fours and crawled through dust and grime into the deepest, darkest recess of the bunker to find my son sitting quietly, unafraid. He said “Joey, do you want to come out?” And they crawled out together.
It was a miracle you know. My son rarely makes a sound outside our family circle. It’s no surprise he wouldn’t have called out for help – especially as he seemed perfectly content back in his little corner. Just the kind of place he likes to be. But in that instant a sound was made, and a man who was barely aware that anything unusual was going on heard it.
Eventually we’d have found him, I know, if police had come in with dogs I suppose. It was a gift to me that it didn’t take that long.
I left that experience unable to ratchet up slowly from alarm to blind panic. Ever after that if my son went missing my mind and heart would go from 0 to 60 in a split second. I can feel it again as I write about it. Though now when I get to that edge of reason I can circle back to the best help one can have in those circumstances: pray.
The sweet breeze of a happy ending
Years before we had lost track of my son as a 6-year-old at the beach. Friends had spread out looking for him and of course it was approaching nightfall, when we heard over the loud speaker: “Would the parents of Joey please come to the lifeguard station?” They told us that he had appeared in their office (up an open-air 25-step flight of stairs, mind you). They asked him his name —- and he told them.
Reminding the reader that he virtually never speaks to people outside our family. (There are people who have known my son for years, who really care about him, and who he knows well, who have never heard him speak.) To speak his name . . . clearly . . . to a stranger . . . when asked?! That had been a miracle too.
All kids give their parents these scares. So, there must be a lot of miracles happening to happen when needed. I’m glad that my friend “just happened” to be playing at the park on that cool evening when someone’s Down syndrome boy had disappeared on her.
It’s an enormous amount of stress for parents who, over a longer than “normal” period of time, keep track of their children who might never learn to understand boundaries. The freedom the child feels feel must be grand. While those who watch over them carry a burden for two.
What can be done to help it? How to cope with it? All I can say is: pray, and keep checking.
In times past I checked the whereabouts of my son about every 15 minutes. Even inside our own home, approximately every 15 minutes I would stop what I was doing and glance into whatever room to be sure he was still where I thought he’d be. Also, if I were away from him I’d find myself looking up or being mentally prompted to verify his location. Then look at a clock to discover that it had been only about 15 minutes since I’d last done so. I’m sure that the unknown mother my friend helped that night does the same thing. Still, little legs can go a long way in 15 minutes!
Finding a child might take a miracle. Coping with the weariness of vigilance might take a miracle. But I know that miracles happen.