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

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The Grand Illusion: Mogul, Mom & Maid

A real conversation from early December:

Husband: “Honey, when will our Christmas cards arrive?”

Me: “I’m sorry, I haven’t even ordered them yet.”

Husband: “What? How come? We’re already receiving loads of cards and should be sending ours out now too.”

Me <insert snark> : “Oh, I didn’t realize. I’ve been lying here on the couch watching reruns of Desperate Housewife and filing my nails.”

Husband: “I know you are busy, I get it. But I’m surprised the cards aren’t done because you always seem like you have everything under control.”

BOOM. The moment of truth. It always seems like I have everything under control. Hahaha!

The reality is: I don’t. It’s all a thin veil or, rather, a grand illusion. Scratch the surface and there’s a hot mess of confused priorities, a healthy dose of anxiety, a fair amount of disorder, random spots of remarkable focus and OCD, a pinch here and there of laissez-faire and, more often than not, a wing and a prayer, a shrug and a nervous giggle.

Or, as a friend who is also trying to figure out this working Mom thing calls it: the sliding scale of incompetency.

Reality #2. Also back in early December, Liz O’Donnell, author of the new book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman” asked me to contribute to a blog carnival with other working Moms, to share our tips and perspectives about our balancing acts. Irony: it was one of those weeks when all around me, life was exploding and there was no time to blog for me, let alone anyone else, let alone blogging about my balancing act! So, Liz, here’s my post, just a few weeks late …..

So, I ask myself, what of this grand illusion? Does it help or harm me? One the one hand, apparently I project this image of a confident working Mom, managing all that comes with it, with a smile on my face. This is good, surely? Heck, I even fool myself most of the time. I achieve this illusion, like so many other women, thanks to my ability to prioritize, multi-task and to turn on a dime when it’s really needed. It’s also thanks to several handy tools that help save some precious time and the wonderful invention that is Waterproof Post-it Notes which, quite literally, ensure the contents of my brain don’t disappear down the shower drain. (Buy them now …. hurry!)

On the flip-side, existing in this mode is a scary place. At any given point, there’s a terrifyingly strong chance that I will screw something up big time. The fragile card tower that I hold together all day and night is precarious. One missed deadline, one forgotten item at the grocery store, one overlooked play date invitation – not to mention the fun and games of hormones – and it can all come toppling down. The energy involved in keeping the cards propped up and balanced is exhausting.

So this is my balancing act. With the emphasis on the word ‘act’. But would I exchange it for not being a working Mom? Nope! This is my bed and I chose to lie in it.

Oh, and back to those Christmas cards. Yes I did get around to ordering them but so late that they ended up arriving on Christmas Eve. Have I had the chance to mail any out? No. Will I? The likelihood is probably not. Sorry folks. Because here’s reality #3 which, thanks to Dr. Seuss, I use day-in and day-out as a filter for the choices I make when prioritizing the 23697,2466,00000 things on this working Mom’s to-do list:

Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Guest Post: Searching

by Ben Jackson

As most of us who blog discover from our analytics, people put some strange search phrases together to find things on the internet. Aside from the stomach-churning searches for nocturnal activities (of which there are many), I also often find queries for advice on dadding (“single dad blog. too busy to eat breakfast”), searches for quotes and things to say on fatherhood (“dad eulogy” often appears), and queries for which I simply can’t understand how my blog could possibly be relevant (“waiter with dreadlocks” and “she said prison barber hair shorn”).

And then there are the searches for “teratoma,” and variants thereof.  It’s these people, anonymous through the internet, I want to find, and hug and do whatever else I can to offer some small measure of comfort.

My daughter Emma was born in 2001 with a cervical teratoma – a tumor on her neck which was larger than her head.  It protruded from her mouth, it extended down into her chest and attached from her heart, and it sat like a grapefruit underneath her chin.  It nearly killed her, and she spent almost her entire first year hospitalized as a result.

These search queries in my stats page are small digital prayers.  They represent some terrified stranger, who has just received news that is far beyond their comprehension, and they are pleading into the information ether for salvation or information. They are suffering in a way I can understand more deeply than almost anyone else on the planet, and most of the time I feel powerless to do anything to help.  I hope my writing provides some factual information and a lot of hope, but because of the anonymity of the internet, these deeply personal cries for help are beyond my reach to personally answer.

Last week, I received an email from a mother of a girl who also has a tumor similar to the one Emma had. She talked about being isolated, and was largely reaching out for a connection from a very lonely and scary place—and it knocked me for a loop for a bit.  It reminded me that what we write is read by actual people; that those search phrases bandied about have an individual behind a screen, looking for something to connect with.  That, beyond the creeps searching for their jollies, there are stories, and there is pain, and hope, and love and loneliness yearning for something that maybe we can touch.

It reminded me that we who write have a responsibility to those people behind the queries, that our words matter to someone, and that we had damn well better get what we’re trying to say right—and it reminded me that from my readers I can gain the connection that I seek as a writer, and as a dad.

Here’s hoping that your queries find you the connections you seek in 2014!

Ben Jackson is a father, blogger, publishing professional, creative writing student, and majestically bearded. From time to time, he has conned otherwise sensible editors into publishing his short fiction and essays. As an avid martial artist, one can often find Ben writing through bruises, slings and casts. You can read more of his writing at www.benfjackson.com or www.dadofthedecade.com

ben xmas sweater

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