It was a perfect day. After a year of anticipating our visit, our family was finally at Disneyland. We couldn’t be happier.
The weather was wonderful. Our three kids, ages eight, five, and three had done surprisingly well with all the activity. We’d filled the day with rides, exploring the park, and the three o’clock parade. Our youngest son had fallen asleep in my arms so we wandered into one of Disney’s magical shops to cool off and buy some souvenirs.
“Where’s Jack?” My husband asked.
“I don’t know. Isn’t he with you?” I said.
“He’s not with me,” I said.
“Jack,” my husband called out loud.
“Jack?” I repeated.
He’s probably hiding behind a rack of clothes or playing with a toy closeby.
Before I go on, I want take you to that shop with me. I want you to feel what I started to feel at that moment. My stomach tightened. i felt like I was in an elevator that came to a sudden stop. I could suddenly hear my own heart beating, faster with every passing second.
Dear God, what is happening?
I couldn’t lose my footing. I was still holding my other sleeping child.
“Jack!” I heard my own voice crack.
I watched as my husband walked away, searching clothing racks and aisles. “Jack. Where are you, buddy?” His voice was shaky, too.
Everyone in the store was staring at me. I didn’t care. My heart continued to bang in my chest. My mouth salivated. I needed to throw up.
“JACK! JACK! COME OUT, BUDDY! PLEASE COME OUT!” I yelled.
I didn’t know what to do. Where’s Jack? God, where is he?
My husband was back. He hadn’t found our Jack.
All of a sudden a Disney cast member (employee) came up to me.
“I see you are looking for your son…” The questions came quickly.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SAW HIM?
HOW OLD IS HE?”
WHAT COLOR IS HIS HAIR? EYES?
WHAT IS HE WEARING?
Oh, God. I’m going to pass out. Jack is missing! They are asking me all this because he is lost. Really, really lost. Oh, God. NO. PLEASE NO! This cannot be happening. I WANT JACK NOW!
“He is five years old. He has brown eyes. Brown hair. He’s wearing a blue striped Mickey Mouse shirt like this one.” I gestured to the shirt my sleeping boy was wearing.
I became desperate. “Please help me. Please find him! JACK! JACK! JACK!”
“Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ll find him.” The cast member walked away, talking into the walkie talkie in his hand. I didn’t know what to do. I did all I could do, continued to roam the store yelling for my son.
Let me take you to that ugly place again. Thoughts that I don’t ever want to remember crossed my mind. Dark, scary thoughts. My boy was gone.
God, please help us find Jack. What if someone takes him? What if he is sold away and I never see him again? What if he is abused? Or worse? Poor Jack! This trip that was supposed to be so fun… and now he’s gone. Oh, God, please help me!
My poor husband. He’d been desperately searching the huge store looking for our son, too. He came back to me to see if I’d found him. No Jack.
“JACK! JACK! JACK!” I screamed every few seconds. I knew he’d come to me if he heard my voice. That must mean he couldn’t hear me. He wasn’t in the store. There was nothing I could do. The clock kept ticking. It had been TEN HORRIFIC minutes since we realized Jack was gone.
“They found him!”
It was like the face of an angel. A young woman holding a walkie talkie was walking toward me smiling.
“Someone is bringing him now. He should be coming from over there.” She pointed to the door we’d originally walked into. My husband and I raced out the door. He beat me. I still held our other son in my arms.
I don’t remember exactly what happened in those next few minutes. I watched as my husband ran, his prosthetic legs reflecting the sunlight. In the distance I could see my little boy, holding hands with another one of Disney’s special helpers. I was relieved to see my husband finally get to him and held him in his arms.
I couldn’t fight the tears anymore. It was just too much.
I finally reached them. I was sobbing.
“Jackie. Baby. Where did you go? We were looking everywhere for you.”
I didn’t yell at him. I spoke softly. I’d been so scared, but now I was so grateful he was safe.
“Here, let me take the little one,” my husband offered. I handed him off so I could hold Jack.
There are no words to express how I felt holding Jack right then. After missing him for just a little while, it felt so good. I thought I’d never see him again. My boy. My sweet, little boy. He had been alone. He looked like he’d been scared, too.
To make this story a bit shorter, I’ll summarize what happened. It turned out that Jack walked out of the store on his own accord. He got lost in the store at first, and when he didn’t see us, he thought we had left the park without him. So, he left the store to look for us.
He’d made it all the way to the entrance of the park by himself, where someone must have spotted him and alerted a cast member. Jack admits he was scared. If you ask him about it he’ll tell you that’s the most scared he’s ever been. I feel the same way.
This could have had a very different ending. I’m grateful it didn’t. Disney has a fantastic plan of action for times like this. Looking back on it, I am very impressed with how it was handled. Way to go, Disney!
Thank you, Lord, that you kept Jack safe that day. I’m grateful for your protection over him and for the people who helped us find him.
We did not stay for the fireworks that night. We actually decided to leave right then, at about five o’clock. That was enough for one day. I wanted to get back to our hotel and be together. We returned to Disneyland the following day. We even went back to the shop to thank the cast members for their efforts the day before.
Before this happened to me, I’d heard stories of kids getting lost. I just always thought it would never happen to me. I’M A GOOD MOM. I WON’T LOSE MY KID, I thought. Well, guess what? I did. My kid wandered off before I could even take notice. It can happen to anyone in a quick second.
I truly hope this does not happen to anyone else. Losing Jack was like a nightmare I would never wish upon anyone. Let’s use it as a lesson for us all. Here are two suggestions to take away from my bad experience.
1. MAKE A PLAN: Talk to your kids. If they get lost, what should they do? We’ve told our kids to STAY WHERE THEY ARE. Obviously, Jack didn’t remember to do that. Still, we have to try to have a plan in place. Encourage them to find an adult, usually someone who works where they are. Maybe they could find another mom who has kids with her. Another mom would likely be willing to help. Make a plan for your family and remind your little ones often, especially as you are entering a big place, store, restaurant.
2. PUT IDENTIFICATION ON YOUR KIDS: My boys were so young during our trip that they didn’t know their phone number. Some young kids may not even be able to tell someone their name. I’d suggest writing your phone number on the inside of their arm or another spot where it won’t wear off. These days there are even identification bracelets you can order with your kids’ info on them. Tell your kids they have your number on them so they can share it with someone if they get lost.
Again, this can happen to anyone. By talking to your kids about a plan and taking some precautions you can keep your kids safe if they ever get lost. Do you have any other helpful tips or ideas? Please share!
*A version of this post appeared on Alamo City Moms Blog.