The Day I Lost My Son

When I say “lost,” it’s actually more like “mislaid.” And it was only for 20 minutes or so. But, as any parent who’s lost visual contact with their child in a crowded place knows, even a minute feels like a lifetime.

I surprised myself by being completely calm and rational. But, before we get into the psychoanalysis, let me describe what happened.

We were on vacation in Australia. In a small town on the bay of Melbourne called Anglesea. It was a Sunday morning and we were strolling through the market alongside the water’s edge, two adults and five kids aged 9 through to 4. There were all kinds of colorful booths selling books, crafts, food, souvenirs and other random local stuff. It was hot and sunny, and milling with families vacationing in the seaside town. We had given the kids each a few dollars to spend and, kids being kids, they had each spent it all on the very first items that took their fancy. And then kept asking and asking and asking for more money to spend on this item and that item. We shut them down, of course, intending to impart a lesson.

Onwards we browsed, lingering a while here and there at different booths and trying hard to keep the kids all herded together, despite distractions in every direction. At this point, my son was perusing a book stall (even though he had already spent his money at an earlier book stall.) Now, I’m not going to squash his interest in combing over books but, after a while, we needed to keep moving on: in fact, we’d spied some delightful, fluorescent frozen slushies at a booth that the kids just “had to have” to quench their thirst. I told my son we were leaving. He pleaded for a minute more. I acquiesced. But a minute passed and he was obstinately ignoring me. Another reminder, followed by a warning, was issued. And then I “fake left,” i.e. I told him I was leaving, hoping this would be enough of a kick up the derriere to get him to put down the books and rejoin the group. We were quite literally two metres away. Thirty seconds passed and I asked one of the other kids to go find him, tell him we had bought him a neon-red raspberry slushie. She returned, saying he wasn’t there. I went back over. No sign of him. I did a 360, searching the immediate crowd for his bright yellow t-shirt.

He was gone. I asked the vendor if she’d seen which way he had gone and she pointed in one direction.

I wasn’t worried, at this point. More annoyed, truth be told. I found the rest of our party, told them what was happening and we set off, retracing our path through the crowds in the direction we’d been told he’d gone. Scanning through the thick of bodies for a 9 year-old boy dressed in a yellow t-shirt and blue shorts (I was relieved he’d chosen such a bright top to wear that day.) After about 25 metres and no sign, I thought it best to leave the group and go solo. It’d be faster, I could be more nimble in the crowds.

At this point, maybe 15 minutes had passed. I figured I’d go all the way down one end of the market, then make my way back through to the other end. I was wondering at what stage I should start panicking and who I would call. Being that I was a tourist. All this time I was also worrying about my son’s state of mind. Would he be nonchalant? Or terrified? Would he have the presence of mind to ask for help?

It never crossed my mind that he might have been abducted. Had this happened in America, like in a busy mall, I’d have been immediately anxious and suspicious. But, everyone here in Australia seemed genuinely nice and, well, normal.

Another five minutes of searching and, suddenly, I spied him seated at a bench surrounded by some concerned adults. I called his name, probably sounding higher-pitched and less chill than I thought I was, and he ran to me and clung to me, sobbing. The kind adults saw that he was OK and moved away as I expressed my thanks and relief to them.

I sat down with my son, held his trembling, teary body as he gulped and sobbed. My heart and womb clenched with complete relief. I wanted to shake him and yell at him, but I could see just how traumatized he was. I knelt down and looked him in the eye, telling him: “I will always find you, no matter what.” A promise to him. A promise to me.

Holding hands, we turned back and re-found the rest of our group and everyone was happily reunited. We texted folks to let them know we’d found him. We talked with the kids, reminding them of the different things they should do if they were ever lost or separated from us, which included:

  1. If you have a pre-agreed meeting place, head there.
  2. Or stay put, don’t wander. Let us come to you.
  3. Find a helper, like a Mom.
  4. Know your parent’s phone numbers.

My son did #3 & #4 and I was very proud of him for that. Sure, the number he gave them was my U.S. cell phone and he had no clue about international dialing codes but I’d like to think that, had the local police got involved, they would have figured that all out.

That evening at bedtime, he wouldn’t go to sleep without me. He fairly clung to me. And there were bad dreams too that night. See, there was no need to yell and be mad at him. Those 20 minutes amounted to some of the best education he’s ever had. Frightening, yes. But he’ll never wander off again, that’s for sure.

As for me, yes I was rather calm and collected during those 20 minutes. I did not fear for his safety. But, my heart is forever scarred by the look on his face when I found him.

20mins

Holy Crap!

Since when did the word ‘crap’ become an acceptable and commonplace part of the English language? I hear people saying ‘crap’ left right and center and fully expect that any day now, I’ll hear this ugly – but apparently tolerated – word coming out of my kids’ mouths.

Don’t get me wrong: I am no prude. I have a filthy mouth. I’m just trying to delay the inevitable moment when my kids repeat explicit words and I have to react with the requisite  levels of discipline and feigned horror (while hiding my giggles.)

Flashback to the 70s … upstairs in my big brother’s bedroom. He was complaining about how crap his math teacher was in hushed tones so the parentals wouldn’t hear. I, at the tender age of about six or seven, had no clue what this word meant. (Shit, now you can work out how old I am … ) Anyway, later that evening over dinner, Dad was asking us about our school day. I excitedly offered up this new tidbit of information I had recently acquired: “Dad, did you know that Jonathan’s math teacher Mr. Agnew is crap?” (Side note: apologies to Mr. Agnew, I’m sure you were a fine teacher and my brother was just an extraordinarily large pain in the arse.)

Silence at the table. Uhoh.

Without going into the details, what followed involved soap, some chasing around the living room, my mouth and lots of crying.

(For which, I have never forgiven my brother.)

Hence, my friends, you can understand my sensitivity about the word ‘crap’. This punishment also applies to calling someone an ‘old bag’, I also discovered.

Kids, you’ve been warned.

Learning from the Mean Kids

My outie is better than your innie.

You’re not my friend any more.

Little makes me sadder – and madder – than when one of my kids tells me someone was to mean to him or her  and it hurt their feelings. My first instinct is to locate the brat and his parents and give them a good punch talking to. My second instinct is to envelop my kids’ heart in bubble wrap so that no wretched child can ever make them feel that way again.

We usually have these discussions around bathtime and bedtime. With their eyes wide open and teary, or sometimes with their shoulders caved in and chins dropped, we discuss who said what to whom and how it made them feel. And I have come to realize, through these end-of-day discussions, that my kids are counting on us grown-ups to help set things right again in their little but ever-so-large universes so that, tomorrow, when they get back on the school bus, it all will be OK.

But I’ve also realized that, Mama Bear rage and retribution urges aside, my job is to actually help them (figuratively) fight their own battles. These are life skills that will help them from the playground to the sports field to college and into the workplace – or wherever their journeys take them. Because there will always be meanies.

And, because, I like to group things into neat buckets, lists and bullets, I figure there are four key ways to tackle the meanies:

  1. Respect: It’s tough then the mean kid is actually a friend, and all the more so, if he or she is  from a family you know. In our family, we talk a lot about how important it is to treat other people the same way you want to be treated (and my kids’ karate lessons do a great job reinforcing this.) So maybe this meanie needs a gentle reminder that respect is the foundation of friendship. I urge my kids to say: “That’s not a nice thing to say to a friend,” and to go find someone else to play with until that kid is ready to resume being a real friend.
  2. Empathy: The meanie might be unhappy or lonely or shy. This kid might be from a household that is dealing with stuff, or maybe he’s a little insecure. I encourage my kids to think about what might be going on behind the mean words. Perhaps they should consider this an opportunity to be empathetic and extend the hand of friendship?
  3. Forgiveness: People say hurtful things when they’ve been hurt themselves. I’ve seen this first hand when my son had a fight with a close friend. It doesn’t matter who said what first. If you really value your friendship, put injustices aside and say you are sorry. In our case, we talked it over, the boys shook hands and, within seconds, were BFFs all over again and in full Pokemon mode.
  4. Laugh it off: Comparing belly buttons, seriously?! Giggling together about whatever ridiculous nonsense is being thrown out can change the dynamic of the whole encounter. Maybe all the meanie was looking for was a way to make a connection? Turn the whole thing into a hoot and maybe you’ll find a new friend? (This often goes hand in hand with #2.)

These are not lessons that can be learned and applied overnight. Heck, I know many an adult who could learn them too and I’m including myself in that mix. But, you know me, I like to look on the bright side and I’m hoping that, with a little dose of respect, empathy, self-awareness –and let’s not forget, silliness – we can all get along a little better.

Guest Post: Hosting The First Sleepover

by Paul Taylor

Although we try to keep our children as young as possible, they seem to have a mind of their own and desire to grow up faster than we’d like them to. As soon as he or she begins making friends at school, you child will undoubtedly start making plans for sleepovers. As a parent, there are many aspects of this innocent activity that you need to consider. Your child’s first sleepover will be the beginning of many and you should keep your wits about you during this social activity.

1. Your Behavior - You child isn’t the only one who needs to be on his or her best behavior. As an adult, we do and say a lot of things around the home that we can get away with. Why? Because we are adults and we can. However, you don’t want to scare away your child’s friend. Every parent has their own way of raising their children. What works in your home may not be ideal for another person’s child. Watch your behavior for it may put your child in an awkward position with his or her friend.

2. Meals - Find out from the friend’s parents which foods are ideal. You don’t want to inadvertently give them something they are allergic to. You don’t want to continue the sleepover in the emergency room. Make the child feel welcome in your home and provide his or her favorite dish. Even if it’s something you’ve personally never had before, it is a way to share culture with each other. You never know, you might find it to be a common delicacy within your home afterward.

3. Bedtime - You know that the children aren’t going to go to sleep immediately. Have some patience and provide a little leniency. The first sleepover is going to be the highlight of your child’s month and you can expect a certain level of excitement and hyper-activity to be going on. Don’t let the children use you as a doormat, but don’t be the sleep-tyrant either. Give the children a little slack especially if they are keeping the noise level down. Did you go to sleep immediately when you had a sleepover as a child?

4. Entertainment - Another aspect to consider is what kind of entertainment is acceptable for your child’s friend. While some households don’t see anything wrong with a family dinner watching “The Walking Dead,” some parents may be quite upset that you subjected their child to such television. Even video games should be monitored. Remember, not every household is the same and some don’t accept violence in any manner. Although it is your house, you should be respectful towards the wishes of your guest’s parents. It’s not your job to raise their child.

5. Privacy - It is possible to maintain vigilance over the happenings within your home without involving yourself in the play of your child and his or her guest. A periodic checkup is OK, but don’t try too hard to involve yourself in their activities. The children are having a sleepover, not you. It can be hard to let your child live their own lives without involving you, but they need to be able to establish their own path.

The sleepover is a way of life and children have been engaging in this activity for a very long time. It creates bonds between friends and is a way to continue the play for an extended period of time. There is nothing to fear from these and after the first few sleepovers, your stress levels will diminish. Just try not to embarrass your child too much.

Paul Taylor started www.babysittingjobs.com which offers an aggregated look at sites that help families find sitters and sitters find families easier than ever. He loves writing, with the help of his wife. 

Couple lying down with daughter

My Son is a Liar

This weekend I overheard my son telling a couple of big fat whoppers to some other kids at a party.

“I’m on level 9 of Skylanders,” he boasted. “And I have a Smart Watch, I totally talk to my wrist and can make phone calls from my watch”

Fact: He has never played Skylanders (whatever that is.) And he does not own a Smart Watch (whatever that is.)

You may call it creativity, showing off, a fib. I call it a lie: an untruth.

And it worries me.

It worries me because this is not the first big fat whopper I’ve heard out of the mouth of someone I thought was so innocent, honest, bright and un-sneaky. But it’s not. I’ve heard him telling his sister and friends small, insignificant lies. And I’ve caught him telling bold-faced lies, right to my very face. About small things, but ….

I can understand boasting and showing off; peer pressure and all that. I can forgive a little creative license. But I will not tolerate down-and-out mendacity. Where does it come from? What motivates it?

Every day, I try to teach my kids to be kind, to have good manners and to be happy. And very, very silly. These are the values that matter most to my husband and I and which we model. Now I realize that we have to add reinforcing and reassuring that telling the truth always trumps deception. I guess that security plays a big role in this. A child needs to understand that there is so more to be gained by spilling the beans than covertly hiding them. But don’t get me wrong, there will be also consequence when whoppers are discovered, especially if their motives are dubious.

I guess I would be lying if I told you this parenting business was a cake walk. Are your kids liars? How do you handle it?

A Plea For Kindness

It’s been well over a week since I last wrote and published a blog post. I’ve been meaning to but the tragic events of last Friday muted both my desire and capacity to write. The words failed me. In many respects they still do. It’s not often I find myself stymied when words, usually, are my salvage.

Through the haze of the tears, attempts to process and comprehend, and the sickening reality of so much pain and innocence lost, one word kept piercing my emotions and reverberating in my head.

It’s kindness.

As parents, it’s our sole duty to raise children that have experienced and know kindness and how it manifests itself. As parents, we must model it every day so our kids understand it’s just the way we behave. We are kind to one another. We listen, we say please and thank you, we pay compliments, we boost you up when you’re feeling down, we reach out a helping hand. We open our minds and our hearts. Without kindness, the world is cold, shallow and violent place.

So, let’s all pledge to be a little—even a lot—kinder to each other. That’s all I want for Christmas.

Thank you.

Kids versus Grown-Ups

We try to co-exist in harmony, but the plain truth is that opposing forces are at work. No wonder parents feel exasperated all the time while the kids just rolls their eyes at us. It’s as if they are from Mars and we are from Venus. Like powerful magnetic fields, we are drawn to each other until someone turns the magnet around and it does that weird avoiding you thing. And apparently, it’s our job to convert these strange creatures into law-abiding grown-ups.

While we parents slave at trying to keep things calm, orderly, socially-acceptable, pleasant, clean, polite and educational, they are doing the exact opposite, including:

  • Distributing teeny pieces of Legos all over the house.
  • Picking their noses and wiping it somewhere that you are likely to find hours later.
  • Not flushing the toilet.
  • Writing on walls
  • Yelling like Clone Wars invading banshees while you are trying to rest.
  • Really really really really really wanting to buy new toys.
  • Leaving dirty clothes wherever they happen to discard them.
  • Stuffing their faces with sugary snacks 30 mins before dinner.
  • Trying to fly ….
  • Pouring a big glass of milk and justing drinking a little sip of it.
  • Using the floor as a trash can.
  • Using their top or sleeve to wipe their mouth and nose.
  • Wearing your makeup.
  • Eating play doh.
  • Spreading [insert unsavory/messy item here e.g. powder, ketchup, diaper cream, lipstick, poop] wherever it’s not supposed to be spread
  • Bringing their worm collection into the house.
  • Saying “fine” or “whatever” and stomping off.
  • Waking up early when you want them to sleep late.
  • Sleeping late when you need them to get up early.
  • Eating Jello on the couch.
  • Creating light sabers or guns out of anything. Seriously, anything.
  • Squirting way too much ketchup on their plates.
  • Pushing each other’s buttons.
  • Ignoring instructions.
  • Stuffing their gobs too fast, then burping like a trucker.
  • Eating food slower than a snail. Molecule by freaking molecule (especially if you are in a hurry).
  • Default = I want.
  • Finding a Sharpie & writing on the couch ( despite the fact you have 100s of washable markets !

Sound familiar? What’s a parent to do?

If you are reading on, thinking you’ll find the answers here, then I am sorry to disappoint. Fear not though; the glass is half full. See here’s the best part: we are all in this together!

And at some point, somehow, they become adults, no matter our attempts at restraining their beastly ways.

Manners, Please

You know what bugs me? Rude, selfish, thoughtless people.

I was recently aghast and disturbed when I read this post about an incident in which two teens showed utter insolence to a woman. No only did they not open the door for her, even though she was just steps behind them, but when she said “thank you very much” with a dose of sarcasm, they turned around and said “whatever, bitch.” O.M.G!

The mere thought of my kids – let alone anyone’s kids – behaving this way makes my nerves bristle.

But this is not just about kids, it’s about all of us.

Have you ever tried parking at the grocery store, only to find the spot you’d selected littered with an abandoned shopping cart/trolley? While at the supermarket yesterday, I looked and counted 17 carts slung around. Willfully. Selfishly.

It’s very easy to feel impervious to the outside world when we are driving in our cars. It’s almost as if, simply by being behind the wheel, we are excused from exhibiting basic manners like acknowledging with a “thank you” when someone lets you out, or saying “please, after you” to let someone go ahead of you.

Or how about taking a few seconds to RSVP to that invitation to a kid’s birthday party, rather than just turning up and assuming that the host can accommodate the unaccounted-for child or pay the excess fee for being one kid over the 15 limit?

I know we are all busy. I understand that things easily slip our minds. I know it’s natural to focus on me and mine, rather than you and yours.

But people, I’m trying to teach my kids to be polite and respectful and, frankly, you are not helping much.

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