OPINION: No parental panic compares to when your child goes missing
- Credit: Ruth Davies
When I was four years old, my mum heard a knock at the door one day only to find me, home from school, on my own.
You could see our house from the playground and I must have thought right, had enough of this, off I go. I left by the gate and walked the long way around, through a woods, onto my road.
My mum was horrified and as she took my hand to take me back, a teacher, almost weeping with worry, arrived minutes after me.
The whole school had been turning itself upside down looking for the little girl who had one minute been safely in class and the next, just gone…
My mum didn’t have to have that awful moment where you know your child is missing because the first she knew of it I was safe.
The teacher, on the other hand, looked like she was about to stop breathing. I know exactly how she felt remembering the longest two minutes of my life when we lost our daughter Florence at Bewilderwood.
Two minutes of panic after she’d been within my sights, then, in the blink of an eye, she’d vanished. The thoughts and what ifs... it all flies through your mind in rapid succession of bad thing, after bad thing, and as other parents quickly gathered, firing questions like “what’s she wearing?” and “how tall is she?” and “what colour is her hair?” they united as an army, going off in different directions until she was found.
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Mum’s are great like that, it’s all systems go until the kid is back where they belong. Because it happens, to all of us, none of us are perfect and kids lack common sense. They sort of look up to the sky, not realising they’ll need a trail of breadcrumbs to get back to where they started.
Shops are prime for child misplacement too, and another time when I was little, a bit of a monkey, my mum lost me in BHS only to find me in the window, entertaining onlookers outside, pretending to be one of the mannequins.
Knowing that sledgehammer feeling makes letting go of them as they grow quite tough.
When all you’ve ever done is hold the reigns tightly, loosening them feels wrong but, we have to do it.
I’ve just started to allow my son Jimmy a little of the freedom his big sister has. She’s rather sensible. He, well, he’s not quite built the same way.
Jimmy is more in the sky staring camp, so we bought him a mobile phone to make tracking him easier. On the few days he is allowed to walk alone I watch him on Snap until he’s at the door.
A little helicopter-ish yes, but hey, he gets freedom and I get peace of mind. I prefer the days when I pick him up though, and when it’s after school club, finishing later, I’m always there. We talk every morning and I say either “tonight I’ll be at the gates” or “tonight you’re walking home remember?” he needs reminding of everything, he’s nine.
You can imagine the horror then, when one afternoon recently I was sat at home with the little two, knowing Jimmy was safely in school, and he rang to ask where I was.
He’d waited 20 minutes for me remembering he was being picked up, but not remembering he was meant to be in a club – he’s never had to before, it’s an extension of school, it just runs straight into.
In that 20 minutes he’d wandered to the park where he thought he’d stay until I arrived. I sent him back to school. Next, I rang them, now at 26 minutes after he should have still been there. I thought they’d be like my teacher had been, terrified and scouring the area to find the lost child, but no, this was the first they knew about it.
His teacher even told me that “a lot of the responsibility lay with Jimmy”.
For 26 minutes school had lost him and no one, not even the club he was meant to be at, knew, but he was partially to blame. Apparently.
Well, let me tell you this, momentarily losing track of a child at Bewilderwood before finding them within a couple of minutes, is a lot easier to digest than thinking of potential consequences to 26 minutes of a school not even realising they’re a child down.
Thank God he was safe!
Our school are now discussing changes to their procedures.
I’m going to try hard not to allow that incompetence to make me hyper vigilant, thus taking away the freedom Jimmy is just beginning to enjoy. But my heart’s still in my mouth. my mum says hers is still too, even from 28 years ago when I went AWOL. I don’t think it’s a panic we can afford to lose though, do you?
Ruth Davies has a parenting blog at www.rocknrollerbaby.co.uk