Attention: Lost Mommy

I lost my child at the zoo today.  I have two. One is a crazy maniac that climbs things and the other is enthusiastic but measured and responsible. That is the one that I lost.

It took me about a year to get used to the various challenges of having two children. Not that I overcame those challenges. They just did not present such shock and surprise after a year. One of the challenges has been to keep track of both of them at the same time. C became very mobile very early. And now, at 13 months, he wants nothing more than to eat, run, climb, repeat.  And he is fast and he is tricky.

SO, when I arrived at the outdoor play area of the zoo today with my good friend and her two children, 2 years and 3 months, I decided that I would take note of where B was going to be for a while and then shadow C like a hawk.  B was immediately drawn to an area around a tree that had pieces of tree trunk and branches that could be used as building blocks. B has been on a building spree lately, and immediately began creating all sorts of cool structures.  C lasted in the area for about 1 minute before running across the large play area to try to climb into a fountain.

I spent the next fifteen minutes multitasking.  I would hand wooden fish to C so that he could place them onto a waterslide that would send them into a fountain and we would both clap. I caught up on the latest with my very good friend who I don’t get to see often. And every 2 minutes or so I would peek my head around a plant that was obscuring my view of B so that I could confirm that he was still where I had left him. I would then quickly turn my attention back to C and pull him out of the fountain that he had just climbed into.

B was wearing a big floppy camo hat. Each time I would glance his way, the hat would confirm his presence near that tree. Until it didn’t.  But I didn’t panic. I turned to my friend and said, “I don’t see B.” She quickly agreed to watch C and I headed over to the tree.  He wasn’t there. I started through the large outdoor play area scanning up and down and just as my panic began to rise, he appeared as happy as can be with two zoo workers (one who I graduated high school with but who didn’t recognize me which at that moment I decided was a good thing.)

Apparently, B had come out of the block area, and did not see me. He ran over to one of the zoo workers (wearing a bright yellow smock to distinguish herself as such) and reported his mother missing.  She then called a “1047” on her walkie talkie that alerted her supervisor, as well as every other zoo employee, that a child in the zoo was missing his mother. Security was alerted and reported to the scene. And then they found me searching for him.

This all happened in 5 minutes. The zoo employees explained what had happened and then told me that I needed to be interviewed by zoo security so that she could fill out an incident report. I asked if she was going to call Child Protective Services on me. She sort of laughed and then asked for my name, address, phone number, shoe size, etc.  I refused to give her my address in fear that a social worker would be waiting at my door when I returned home. As I was completing my report my good friend arrived with her children and my “crazy one” to see what all the hubbub was about.  The security woman moved on and I told her I was being written up as The Mother Who Lost Her Child.

What did I do wrong? Once C had found a spot that would keep his attention for over a minute, I should have had my friend watch him while I reported to B exactly where he could find me when he was finished with his activity. I knew where he was but he didn’t know where I was and that sent him to the zoo worker. What did B do right? He went to a person that he identified as an adult that could help him and he asked for help. I was very proud of him and I told him so.

SO, while these mother-of-two challenges don’t shake me as hard as they did for the first year of C’s life, they still challenge me.  I will never know it all.  I will never be an expert. But, I hope to continue to learn from my mistakes and pray that none of them lead to physical or emotional harm to either of my children. Or myself.

As for the zoo workers, the guy I went to high school with (no, I never mentioned it to him) confronted me again later on. He mentioned that he was sorry that so many reinforcements had been called and that such a big deal had been made out of the situation, but that that was simply zoo protocol in order to maintain the safety of the visiting children.  I thanked him and told him that I absolutely understood, but was taken aback my the report that I needed to fill out with security and mentioned my child services concern.  He chuckled and assured me that security’s report was done to cover the zoo’s behind lest I turn around and sue them for not finding my child in a timely manner.  He then looked me right in the eye and said, “This happens all of the time. Children separate from their parents. I cannot explain to you how many times this happens even within an hour. It is the nature of the beast. It is inevitable. Believe me.  You are not alone.”

And so, that is that. I am not alone in losing my child. I am not a terrible mother. I am just like all the other lost mommies who are doing the very best we can to accept these challenges of parenthood and to learn from our mistakes.  And to hope and pray that nobody gets physically or emotionally injured in the process.

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