Hi, my name is Denise, and I lost my 3-year-old son at Disney World.
I know, I know. It sounds really bad, but trust me, not nearly as bad as it felt. Though he was only missing for two minutes tops, those were some of the scariest minutes I have experienced as a mom thus far. The whole thing is still a bit of a blur, but as we were about to head into a ride at the Magic Kingdom, I heard my husband frantically yell, “Where is big boy?!” My eyes quickly darted around our surroundings, which is what happens when he steps out of sight for a minute — except this time they came back with nothing. My sweet, innocent child had completely vanished. Totally and utterly gone. At the busiest place on earth. Oh my god . . .
Immediately my mind raced to all those awful rumors I’ve heard about kids who have supposedly been kidnapped at Disney, and while I know they are false, at that moment I was wondering if my baby boy was in the bathroom with some kidnapper who had already changed his clothes and shaved his head? I ran around frantic. Look for his eyes! Look for his eyes! It was at this point that I flagged down a cast member for help, which is also when my husband returned with my crying son in his arms.
Looking back, there are many (oh, so many) things that we, as parents, could have done to make the whole situation a lot less traumatic for everyone involved. But I always thought, “Who loses their kid at places like Disney?” Uh, I do, apparently. And because things do happen, here are a few tips we can all use for preventing losing our kiddos and making it a lot less scary if it does occur.
Take a picture in the morning.
When I flagged down the cast member for help, the first thing he asked me was, “What does your child look like?” And I said, “He’s about this tall, he’s wearing a goofy hat, and he’s really cute.” Brilliant, right? The guy looked at me like I had just described every other kid at Disney, because, well, I had. In any other moment I can describe my son right down to his every freckle, but not when I was panicking. If I had a picture from the morning I could have just shoved my phone in his face and said, “THIS is what he looks like!”
Pop your business card in his pocket.
After much Internet searching, I now know that I should have had my and my husband’s cell phone information located somewhere on my son. If you use one of those Safety Tattoos or simply stick a note or business card with your contact info into his pocket, anyone who finds your kiddo can easily call you.
Wear matching shirts.
I’ll admit it — I have sort of snickered at those families with matching shirts at the zoo or at Disney, but now I totally get it. It would have helped to make him stand out, as well as help whomever was helping to look for him identify him easily.
Consider putting him in unique shoes.
When I was scanning the sea of people, it was really hard to make anyone or anything out. If I had put him in a pair of stand-out kicks, it would have made the whole scanning-the-crowd process a bit easier.
Teach him your phone number.
I’m pretty sure my firstborn could rattle off my digits from the time she could talk, but my poor second child . . . we had slacked on teaching him my phone number. You can bet that he knows it now!
Pick a meeting spot at the beginning of your day.
If you have an older child, be sure to pick a “lost spot” right when you get to wherever you’ll be that poses a risk for losing your child. This way if he gets lost, he can head to the spot and wait for you there — or ask someone that works there to take him to your spot.
Have him seek out another mommy.
It’s good practice to teach your kiddos that in the event that they find themselves lost, they should seek out another mommy to help them. Moms are easy to spot (strollers, gaggle of kids, etc.) and will almost always drop anything to help a lost kid.
Teach him not to look for you if he gets lost — you’ll find him.
If lost children will stay put for a few minutes, chances are the parents are able to retrace their steps and find them. It’s when the child takes it upon himself to find his parents that things get a lot more confusing.
Uh, yeah. So, this is very, very hard to do. Trust me. And I can’t say my husband and I were shining examples of how to not panic, but I know if I was less panic-y and more clearheaded, I would have located him sooner.
Ask for help!
After helplessly running around looking for my son for myself, I finally asked a cast member to help me find my kid. He seemed to know exactly what do to — and I know now that Disney (and other theme parks) have a very fluid system in place for reuniting lost children with their parents.
Always know who is watching who.
In the case of losing my son, it was a textbook parenting fail: I thought my husband was watching him, and he thought I was watching him. In reality, neither of us were. Always make sure everyone knows who is in charge of keeping track of which kid and when.
Try not to get upset with your child.
We did not get upset with our son at all; we were more than happy to have him back in our arms. Since then, however, I’ve heard tales of parents who get very upset with their lost kiddos. Even if you’ve got a wanderer on your hands, chances are he’s suffered enough during his time “being lost.”
Don’t beat yourself up.
I had a hard time in the minutes and hours that followed losing my son. I felt terrible. Like really, really bad. What kind of mother was I? Child services might as well come get my kids, because I certainly did not feel fit to take care of them. But the truth is that good parents lose their kids all the time — and as with anything in life, learning from these experiences just makes us better.
You gotta do what you gotta do.
Honestly, I spent the rest of the day at the park completely and totally understanding why people put their kids on leashes (something I’ve scoffed at in the past, but a lot of people do at Disney). I’m not saying I think kid leashes are going to solve the world’s problems, but if you’ve got a young kiddo who is prone to walking off on his own, I say, “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”