Pages

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Little Boy Lost

We were in the bread aisle.  I turned my head, to peer more closely at the yellow tag at the end of the loaf of bread, trying to uncurl it, to decipher the best before date, barely visible in tiny black print. This simple act took three seconds, four at most.  I looked up and he was gone.  No bright red coat, no blond haired, blue eyed boy clutching his as yet unpaid for pack of jumbo pencils in soft, still toddler-like hands. 

I didn’t panic.  I told myself he wouldn’t be far away. I walked to the end of the aisle, turned left. No, not in jams and baking.  I retraced my steps and turned right. No, not in biscuits.  Stay calm.  Where is he?  I shouted his name a couple of times, expecting to see him appear. Nothing. Nameless faces pushing trolleys ambled by. But no sign of Pip.  Looking ahead, I wondered if he had disappeared to the bottom of the freezer aisle, to the his favourite place behind the tills; where he likes to fiddle with the silver dispensing flaps on a vending machine that holds plastic balls filled with toys.  Hastily, I made my way there.  The only child at the vending machine was a small dark haired boy with his mother. 

Heart pumping, adrenalin jumping, running now.  Back to the bread aisle. Perhaps he’d wandered back there to find me. Maybe it would be better to stay put, at the last place he'd seen me. I return to an empty space flanked by silent loaves.  Shouting now. Over and over, repeating Pip’s name again and again.  Panic surging. Eyes stinging. Suddenly unable to stay still.  Then running to the in store bakery; the place where he loves to stand in front of the glass counter and look at the pink sprinkled ring doughnuts and the gingerbread men. Lone shoppers walking trance like, as if oblivious to me calling the name of a young boy, that might possibly be lost. Or missing.

Don’t think it. Don’t think it. It’ll be alright. It’s going to be fine.  Store workers, restocking shelves in the aisle beyond, blurred at the periphery of my vision. A thought.  Help. Get help. They can help. Tell them; ‘I can’t find my son, I’ve lost him. Help me.’ Moving again. Still shouting his name on approach.

A woman wearing glasses, touching my arm.  "Are you looking for a little boy in a red coat?’" Yes. Yes. I am. I’m desperate, have you seen him? "He’s with one of the store workers, they’re taking him to customer services, to make an announcement on the tannoy".  
 
Running. To get to him as soon as possible. 

Midway through the store I find them, Pip, following a tall man, smiling, still holding the pack of jumbo pencils. 

“Hello Mummy, this is Michael. I was going with him so he could call you.”

I look at Michael. His badge confirms his name. His uniform, that he is ‘real’. I thank him, we walk away, in search of our abandoned shopping basket.  I explain to Pip that Mummy has been so so worried.  That he mustn’t wander off.

“If you get lost, then you find a man in a brown suit and then ask them to call your Mummy.” he says.  Problem. Solution. Pip’s world is simple.

Yes and no, Pip.  Yes, if you are in the Sainsbury’s supermarket, where you recognise what the uniform looks like, and that the person you’re talking to is someone who works in the store.  No, if you’re somewhere else.  You can’t just walk off with anyone, anywhere in a brown suit. Does he understand the subtle difference? I’m not sure.

I’m a surge of emotions. I feel thankful, I feel tearful. I feel unable to reconnect back to normality.  Discombobulated. We find our abandoned shopping, checkout and go home, I clip the kerb on the way.

Later at home, we make gingerbread men. The sole reason for our trip to the supermarket was to buy the ingredients.  To be precise, they’re actually Gingerdead men. Skeleton shaped men made from a special cutter, a practice run for Halloween. Pip loves making them, examining all their little bones. But the irony of making skeleton shaped biscuits is not lost on me, especially today.

As I knead the dough and Pip helps roll it, I reflect that we’ve never had the ‘we don’t go with strangers discussion’. I think; he’s three. He’s too young.  I don’t think he even understands what the word ‘stranger’ means.  I tell myself, he’s always with me.  I never let him out of my sight. I’m always watching him. And then the little voice in my head says; "Except for those four seconds you took to look at the best before date on a loaf of bread today. That’s how quickly these things can happen. Just.like.that."

Recent media events have made me even more jittery than normal.  How do you balance allowing your child to enjoy the innocence of childhood with ensuring they are able to do the ‘sensible’ thing in a situation where they find themselves alone or lost?   Pip knows his full name, and address, and after today, I’ve decided to write my mobile number on the inside of his shoes. If he get’s lost, somewhere where there isn’t a tannoy, someone can call me (assuming of course, that he remembers to tell them that my number is inside his shoe.)
 
Today’s generation of children have their childhood compressed to such a few short years, I want to preserve Pip’s idealistic view of the world for as long as possible.  I don’t want to frighten him or worry him unnecessarily.  Not at age three.  Yet I find myself now wondering if this is irresponsible parenting in a different sense.  If I’m being naive.  If I should say something. Is there a halfway measure? How do you tackle these things sensitively with a child so young?  Is there an appropriate age to talk to children about the dangers of strangers?

22 comments:

  1. The feeling of panic when you momentarily 'lose' your child is one never forgotten. I think giving children scenarios to fin out their instinct in a certain situation is useful, then to explain what would be the best way to handle it. Keep it simple and with events they can relate to. I can feel the relief when you got Pip back, from your writing. So important to address the dangers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's hard trying to address the dangers with one so young, but I like your suggestion of using simple scenarios to help explain it. Thank you.

      Delete
  2. I know that panic - it's the worst. I also feel that my 3yo is too small for the stranger talk. It's hard to know when they can understand and when they are just going to be frightened by talk of getting lost. I like the idea of writing my mobile number in her shoe. When we travel I write a note to put in her pocket saying: My name is XXXX, My mummy's name is YYYYY and her mobile number is OOOOO. I speak English and Hebrew (I write it in Hebrew as well as we are travelling in and out of Israel). I got this idea from a friend many years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great idea about the note in the pocket. I'll adopt that too. Thanks.

      Delete
  3. Oh God. My heart was in my throat reading that. As Midlife Singlemum has already said - I really know that panic too, and it's awful, and I'm sure made worse by the recent news of that little girl. This is all parents worst nightmare - I think you coped and dealt with it very well. And you are probably right, at three he is probably, maybe, too young to understand the subtle differences of which 'strangers' are 'safe'. I also like Midlife's idea of putting a note in her daughter's pocket. It won't be long before Pip will have a better understanding of the world, and you will be able to tell him clearly about strangers ... Ps, Given the subject matter, and how you felt, and maybe how you still feel, I hope its not inappropriate to say that discombobulated was a great choice of word! X.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Discombobulated was a fitting word I agree! Thank you for your supportive comment.

      Delete
  4. Oh my goodness my heart was in my mouth just reading. It is such a horrible feeling, I too haven't really had the stranger talk because, well I wouldn't really know where to start with it, and how do you explain it to a 3 year old like you say. Will read your responses to this for help for me too as Alex can be a bit of a wanderer at times. Bet you gave him the biggest cuddle when you saw him though! x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, a cuddle...followed by a stern talking to!

      Delete
  5. OMG we've all been there and you don't ever forget! I have told my 3yo a sort of round about version of a sketchy truth and he completely gets it. I had to buy a wrist strap from Mothercare not that long ago because of his tendency to go off quite happily, but I've not had to use it recently. Hope your blood pressure settles down soon! XXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that feeling of rising panic is unforgettable. One of the worst feelings in the world. x

      Delete
  6. It's the worst feeling in thx world - thank god he was ok. I wrote a post yesterday entitled 'how do you keep your kids safe' asking the same question. My 2 are older than Pip but like you after recent events I asked them what they would do if someone approached them who they kind of knew - a neighbour up the road, someone they may have seen in the school playground etc and said to them 'your mummy has asked me to pick you up as she cant'. Big boys thought and said they would say No but in reality I think they knew that's dhar I wanted to hear & would they? It's so hard as I don't want them to be scared of their own shadow. So glad you are ok after your horrid experience x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks RP, have been over to your blog and commented on your post. x

      Delete
  7. This freaked out my heart just reading it. And I just don't know HOW to explain to a child WHO is safe to run to or go with. WHO to trust. With creeps dressing up in uniforms of trust these days to kidnap children you almost think twice asking them to go to a police officer. I think MORE than likely people in uniform are safe. It's just that small percent and a lot of wrong place / wrong time that we hear about in the news. It's difficult for us to know who to trust these days much less who a child can. Yet, I think the world is filled MOSTLY with good people. I want to believe that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The world is filled mostly with good people. I'm sure of it, it is just that tiny percentage of times when bad things happen. And I think it's important to keep that in perspective too, otherwise, as parents, I think we'd all go mad!

      Delete
  8. god you must have been so worried. It's my worst nightmare! You are so right how do we teach our children today, should we have to live in this state of fear / paranoia, makes me feel a little sick!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, losing them is a nightmare. Thanks for commenting. x

      Delete
  9. OMG this has happened to us too. Curly Girl gets so excited in shops she has a tendency to run off and explore and it terrifies me, especially as I can't run after her now. Behaving in shops is one of her reward chart tasks now. I haven't had the 'stranger danger' discussion with her yet either but I think the time is coming. But I'm with Julia, HOW to explain WHO to trust to a 3 year old? Loving the idea of a number in the shoe by the way *wanders off to find pen* x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, running after them at this stage of pregnancy is a nightmare. I like the idea of adding 'behaves in shops' to the reward chart. I don't know regarding the how and who explanation. It's so hard when they're so young.

      Delete
  10. I welled up reading that. Such a horrendous feeling - I was feeling your every word. Surprised it didn't bring on early labour! Some great ideas above. I will take them on board.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. Hopefully the suggestions will help others too.

      Delete
  11. This is the stuff of my nightmares. Thankfully, my local supermarket is small and mostly quiet. I really don't know how you explain the perils of strangers to a three year old. I think that the concept may be lost on someone so young. Here's hoping it's not something that you have to experience ever again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope so too. Once was enough. I don't think my heart could take it again!

      Delete