Have you ever temporarily lost a child? If so, you’ll know it’s the worst feeling in the world at the time.
There’s a tight knot in your stomach and a feeling of nausea that slowly creeps up. Your mouth goes dry and all sorts of scenarios start flashing before your eyes.
How do I know? Well, about 10 years ago it happened to me.
And even now, when I think back to that time, I vividly remember the feeling of panic and utter desperation; it was awful.
My son was just two-and-a-half-years old. We had headed over to Bluewater shopping centre (in Kent) one early Sunday morning – an outing that VIP and I would do fairly regularly.
It made sense as the kids were awake at silly o’clock in the morning and we used to let our son Luis run off some steam at the shopping mall early in the morning (he was always a very active child, always moving and always wanting to do something, so he needed it!)
As the shops opened at 10am, the place was always deserted at 9am, so we could let little Luis run free and not worry about him bumping into anyone.
He loved it and would squeal as he ran around, up and down the mall, zig-zagging and running around in circles – as kids do, while we would stroll behind him pushing his sister (3 months old) in the pram.
This particular day we’d arrived at the shopping mall and decided to get a couple of takeaway coffees. As it would be tricky to drink a coffee and push a pram, we decided to sit on a bench to finish them while Luis ran around.
We had been laughing away at something baby Nadja was doing in her pram and when we looked up to clock eyes on Luis, he had completely vanished.
At first we weren’t worried; in reality it had probably been around 20 seconds since he was right next to us, so he couldn’t have gone far. So we started to call him. And when we didn’t hear his response, VIP went in one direction and I went in the other.
However, it soon became apparent that we had walked further than the distance he could have possibly have travelled – and still we couldn’t see him.
It was puzzling – we checked behind pillars and any nearby hiding places, but there was still no sign of little Luis.
The panic sets in
And the more the seconds ticked by, the louder our shouts became and then I started to panic. All sorts of thoughts started whizzing through my head.
What if he had fallen down an escalator and was unconscious? What if he had got stuck somewhere we couldn’t find him? And of course, the worst thought – and the strongest – what if someone had taken him?
Looking back now, we must have looked like a right crazy pair, running up and down the mall screaming his name with not another soul around.
I started to look at the walls to see if there was an alarm I could set off; I thought if I got the security officers’ attention, they could check their CCTV cameras and we would see what happened and where he went.
Every second seemed like a whole minute had passed and I was on the verge of being physically sick. There was just no plausible explanation for his disappearance other than he’d been snatched.
Seconds turned into minutes and we realised he had truly vanished. In my mind, there was no other explanation other than he had been taken. I was in a state of shock.
I really wanted to start running; to carry on searching, but I had to be with the pram and it was frustrating. I felt powerless.
VIP decided to head off to alert security and on his way he spotted a clothes shop had its shutters open by about half a foot from the floor.
Was it just possible that he had crawled under the shutters and gone into the shop? He got down on the floor to look under the shutters and suddenly let out a massive cry that sounded between a muffled ‘He’s here!’ and ‘Oh my god!’
Within seconds the shutters of the shop were being pulled up and there, sat on the stairs which led up to the shop’s upper floor, was our son without a care in the world looking pleased with himself.
I cannot describe the sheer relief that I felt; I started to cry. In the few minutes that he’d been gone, my whole world had been turned upside down and all my emotions came flooding out.
You can imagine that our son’s disappearance was a huge learning lesson for us – and we never let him out of sight again after that. Well, not until he was 12 and started to take himself to school and back!
And now that both our kids are older and wiser, they are fully aware of the dangers of speaking or going with strangers – men, women, even older children.
But there’s always that worry in the back of my mind that something will happen, or that they’ll make one mistake. Although that will disappear with time, I know other worries will take its place.
Protecting our babies
Nowadays, with the kids now 12 and 10, I often come up with hypothetical scenarios of life situations, just to see how they’d react if something out of the ordinary happened to them.
For example, last week Luis was in London on a trip with my husband. They were heading to London Bridge and decided to walk through the bustling Borough Market. As my husband was recounting to me later that evening how busy the market was, I turned to my son and asked him what he’d do if he lost his dad in the market.
Quick as a flash, he replied that he’d simply call him on his mobile. Good point I thought, but what if his mobile was out of battery?
I posed this to him and, used to me questioning how he’d react in different scenarios, he though for a moment before replying: “I’d go up to a stall holder or shop keeper and ask them to call you”.
“Call me?” I replied, a bit puzzled.
“Yes” he said, “Because yours is the only mobile number I can remember” and he promptly recited my mobile number back to me – every single digit correct.
I was a bit taken aback (as well as impressed) that he knew my mobile number off by heart, even though he couldn’t tell you the first two digits of his own number. Mind you, you would hardly be calling yourself if you were lost would you?
Ten years ago when I temporarily lost my son I would have taken every precaution in never letting that happen again. The feeling of being powerless in protecting my son was overwhelming, and it’s an emotion that I never want to feel again.
I know that in the last ten years technology has developed at an alarming rate, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn there is some sort of device with an alarm that is triggered if your child moves a certain distance from you.
If not, I think it’s a great idea for a new start-up; with two young toddlers I’d have definitely bought into the idea for peace of mind.
Has anything ever happened that left you feeling completely helpless?