I didn't expect my visit to the store on Saturday would require more time and effort than anticipated. Such is daily life, we go about doing our normal routine and then we are confronted with an unforeseen event. Do we get involved? Or defer to the conditioned belief, "Someone else will help..."
I walked up to the store with package in hand to return an item. My goal quickly changed from thinking about how to tell the clerk, "I don't have my receipt and want an exchange", to thinking about assessing what was happening within a sparse gathering of customers, and what might need to be done, if anything.
Something wasn't right according to the internal signals I was picking up with each step toward the store's entrance (Gavin de Becker, expert in evaluating threats and author of Protecting the Gift, I now recall wrote about our primal intuition that is hardwired for the benefit of our children; it is a sense you do not want to ignore, especially if you are a single parent). Customers were milling about, checking with each other as people do, sharing conflicting information, and passing to each other what they thought was occurring. In the background of their chatter, unfolding before their eyes, a mother was darting this way and that, back into the store and out into the parking lot again, calling out for her son, with each call growing louder and filling with panic. I heard the father from within the store yelling for his son to "Come here! Now!", apparently thinking his son might still be in the store and would appear immediately to his forceful command. I'm not sure when I did, but I checked for my cell and returned quickly to the car to retrieve it, knowing the police would need to be called if no one had done so.
A store attendant responded, "We are doing everything to help her...We have staff posted at every entrance..." to my question, "Is anyone helping her find her child?" Still, I could see the parents were in a panic and the father bolted to his car and headed home to find his son. Information was still being shared by customers in a flurry without clear indication as to what actually transpired. I heard in the murmur from one voice, "He was running around the store a little while ago..." From another, "Maybe he went to the car?" From yet another, "Maybe he's in the restroom?" And from yet another and no more reassuring or hopeful, questioning, "Could he be at home?" Customers' faces were empty and without certainty.
As each second ticked away, I could see the mother begin to emotionally crumble; her other son about age nine stood by obviously feeling helpless and fielding questions from a few bystanders. I approached and invited the mother to sit down on the floor and she fell to her knees and melted into tears, fumbling with her cell and concurrently agreeing to call the police.
The call was placed and the police were informed of a missing child and given preliminary information while the mother continued to cry and leave a sobbing voice-mail for her son who might be at home, telling him, "If you are there, stay there! Call me!!"
On the phone, the dispatcher asked if she could talk directly to the mother and she was handed the phone and now had something to do; she could now take action instead of being helpless. Her last words to me and another bystander, father of two as well, was "Thank you!" with eyes reddened and tears streaming down her face, visibly shaken by the event. She was secure now, knowing something would be done, even if the outcome was still unknown, as she went with a police officer, who arrived in about seven minutes, outside the store to talk about what happened.
While the timeline is unclear about how events unfolded, the important thing for any parent, is to know he was found safe at home.
Many of us have been there, feeling that sense of dread when for a moment, or painfully longer for some, we have lost sight of our most precious gift. At those times, we must all support one another and assist when and if we can.
- Act immediately if you believe a child is missing (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
- Report a sighting of a missing child (1-800-843-5678).
- Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) at Amazon.com
- Stranger Danger Quiz: Can you kids recognize strangers?