Friday, February 18, 2011

Panic at the Aquarium: The Time I Lost one of the Kids

We hadn't been inside the grounds of the aquarium for more than ten minutes when I looked down and realized that Cobra (Twin A) had disappeared.

We were looking at the outdoor tidepool exhibits located on a concrete patio atop a cliff overlooking some of the most beautiful beaches and expensive real estate in the country.  It was a perfect SoCal day and the beach break was dotted with surfers paddling out near the pier.

I had hoped that the aquarium wouldn't be too busy on a Thursday morning, but when we arrived, the parking lot was lined with buses full of school children and tourists.

Once in, I let the kids out of the stroller so we could explore the man-made tidepools.  We jostled our way through the crowd of elementary schoolers, and the docent helped the girls touch some sea stars (formerly known as "starfish") and sea cucumbers.  Cobra was into it, Butterbean didn't want any contact with the slimy critters.

I held Butterbean up so she could stick her hands in the water, and when I looked back down, Cobra was gone.

I looked looked left, right, and behind me.  Usually when I don't see one of the girls, it means they're lurking in a blind spot one inch from my legs.

I did a 360-degree scan.  A sea of children and a dozen adults.  No Cobra.
fuck.  wherewherewherewhere...
"Okay, kiddo.  Let's go find Sissy..."

 I picked up Butterbean and started first in one direction and then another.
fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.  wherewherewherewhere?  don't panic.  what to do for a missing kid?  don't panic.  panic bad.  look look look look.  check immediate area first.  look behind possible concealing objects.
what are you doing? are you a recon expert now? you don't have any idea what the fuck you're doing. it's about time to panic. start yelling for someone to lockdown the facility.
shut up shut up shut up.
you don't have a plan! why don't you have a contingency plan for this? you should have read a book about child abductions! but you haven't even taken the child CPR class.  idot. terrible parent.
shut up shut up shut up.  calm down. i've got this. just...look around some more.  but everything is all woozy.  am i reeling? is this what reeling is like? she probably went back to the stroller. maybe if I called out for her...
"Sweetie?  Where are you?"
idiot. do you think she's gonna run to you like a dog? this is not the time to be cool and collected. this is the time to FREAK THE FUCK OUT AND START YELLING
shut up shut up shut up. okay.  maybe i could ask the nice lady with the badge.
START YELLING, ASSHOLE!  the kidnappers are loading her into the van RIGHT NOW. repeat after me, "MISSING CHILD! MISSING CHILD! AMBER ALERT! LOCK DOWN THE FACILITY!"
shut up shut up SHUT UP. okay. just wait until the lady with the badge is done talking about spotted Garibaldis and then ask her.  come on, lady. she's talking too long. c'monc'monc'mon.  shut up lady! shut up and look at me!
"Um...excuse me...did you see the other little girl that goes with this one?  She was petting the starfish...the sea stars...a minute ago?  They're twins, but, um, they don't really look like each other?"

 "No...I didn't she..."
don't say "missing"...
"She just wandered off.  I'm sure she's right around here."
idiot.  you think she knows something because of her ten cent badge? at least make an announcement. stand on that stone wall over there and yell at every one to look for a toddler.  tell them what she was wearing. you remember what she was wearing, don't you? oh my god.  you don't even know, do you? and you dressed her! idiot.
 shut up. everything is just...kind of swirly right now.  shut up. i've got this. shit--everyone is looking at us with that concerned "oh my god he's a terrible parent" face.
really? you're worried about what other people are thinking about you right now? holy shit. you're thinking about how to spin this into a blog post, aren't you? ASSHOLE. YOU. ARE. AN. ASSHOLE.  well, at least you're going to get a shitload of pagehits, because your kid is  HALFWAY TO TIJUANA IN THE BACK OF AN '87 WINDSTAR.  ASSHOLE.
shut up.  lavender shirt with a butterfly.  pink pants with a little embroidered flowers on the pocket.  also, you are racist.
As calmly as I could, I asked the other couple of adults in the area to look out for her, and described her outfit.  No one sprang into action though.  They just looked at me, a little sadly.
what is that look? is that "aw, how sad. this imbecile is losing his shit"? or, "aw, how sad. this guy will never see his child again"?
it's both, asshole.
With Butterbean under my arm, I jogged to the other side of the exhibit, where the stroller was parked.

No Cobra at the stroller.

I scanned the lobster pools.  Nothing.  The carp pond.  No toddlers with butterfly shirts.

Then I looked down about four feet ahead of me, and there was Cobra, serenely playing with a plastic octopus, oblivious to everything around her, especially her jittery father.

oh, thank you god!
you believe in god now, dipshit?
shut up. i found her.  no harm done.
you got lucky.
I knelt down and deposited Butterbean next to some plastic lobsters.  I gave Cobra a hug and asked her sweetly why she wanted to give me a heart attack, explaining that I'm a frail old man and didn't she want Daddy to make it to her high school graduation?

A mom with two kids looked at me with the same sad look as the others had earlier.

"She's yours?"


"Oh wow.  She's been here for a while."

"She just got away from me.  I looked down and she was gone."

The lady gave me a wan smile.

"Usually they stick right by me," I said.  "Like, too much so.  Hanging on my pant legs."

"Well, those days are over," she said.

"I guess so."


  Here's some video from after I got my pulse rate back down:


 I also have a post up at Aiming Low, where I ask people to tell me that it will someday be fun to travel with children.  Please read it and leave me some advice.  Thanks!


  1. It's terrifying when children start becoming self sufficient & decide that they can just do their thing...I'm almost 35 and my parents still don't like it!

    Your girls are adorable and I'm thinking this isn't the last time they give you a heart attack.

  2. Dude, if its any comfort, u aren't the only one to have a heart attack when it comes to kids... We've all been there... I remember the time we were at the mall at Xmas time and u know how crowded it gets.. I just remember one lady who couldn't find her child.. would u believe that whole mall got quiet while she and a security guard walked from shop to shop calling her child's name?? We all had that sick feeling and NO one gave a 'wan' look at the mother...We all helped her look.. The ending was good, she was found and we all were happy for her.;

  3. I can't tell you how long it took me to get through this post. Once your inner dialogue started, I was laughing so hard I had to stop every couple sentences.

    No witty comment from me today, just a big ol' "thank you" for making my day better.

  4. Same thing happened to me at a very crowded car show recently.

    Except my missing one was the 6 yr old. He just wondered off on his own.

    Found him after 3 heart attacks and a stroke.

    Then fought the urge to kill him on the spot.

  5. My one word response to this story:


    I know that feeling. In fact, I know that feeling at that exact aquarium. And when I lost my kid there, it's not like I had a second one to blame for distracting me. Nope, I misplaced by kid alllllllll on my own, thanks.

    Glad you were able to bring your pulse rate down. This sort of stuff happens.

  6. More scary than anything you could ever imagine isn't it?

  7. Mine wear ID bracelets with my cell phone number (and their names, and our address....) for exactly this reason. I've never actually LOST one, but had enough moments of misplaced panic (and needing to sprint after a bolting escapee in nice crowded places like airports) to make me feel much better for them wearing them. Also, I figure most people would treat a lost child like a lost dog, and if they can see that it just lives down the street from them they're more likely just to walk it home than to turn it into the authorities. Or so I'm hoping.

  8. OMG - this is the worst feeling in the world.

  9. You need kiddie leashes!
    Just don't drag your kids through any stores...

  10. How long did this episode last? I'm sure it seemed like an eternity. NO harm no foul! Learn child CPR though.

    On the flip side, one time when I was about 10 I thought my dad had left me at the library so I called my mom to come get me. Obviously my dad was still at the library...I saw my mom's car drive past us as we were on our way home...


  11. I lost my teen son once when he was a toddler. My wife thought I had him and I thought she had him. Your interior monologue was quite funny but I know how panicky that is and you also expressed that feeling very well too. I can still recall that day like it was yesterday and it was only about two minutes until we found him. TWO DAMN minutes felt like forever.

  12. That's awful. Happened to me in the Science Museum. I was there with a group of other dads and their kids, watching my boy take his jacket off, then hang it on a hanger, and then I'm thinking, "Wait, you're not old enough to do stuff like that!" I circle around him and it's a kid twice his age. And no one has seen my kid leave the coat area. Makes you feel like the worst human being in the world, I know.

  13. So far we've managed to keep hold of Kathryn and Elizabeth (but there's still plenty of time yet) possibly because they make so much noise we'll always be able to at least hear them.

    I have,however,been "The lost child" myself at Heathrow Airport.I wanted to look at all the planes,so off I wandered.Growing up where we did,in a rural area,wandering off for a mooch about was de rigeur,so I didn't give it a second thought.I was happy looking at all the strange new sights of planes (and no,I wasn't 27 at the time.More like 5) Needless to say my parents didn't spare the rod...

  14. I'm a teacher and once lost a kid on a school excursion. The internal dialogue was similar to yours except it included OH MY GOD HIS DAD IS GOING TO KILL ME! ACTUALLY SLICE ME INTO PIECES! Except I found him and so I didn't get cut. Phew.

  15. Yes, it's a real panic. I lose things all the time. Little things: my watch, my gloves, my little list of things to make absolutely sure I remember. And my kids. Numerous times. Your internal monologue is pretty verbatim, and I suspect most parents recognize it.

    The good news is, once they hit 18, if they wander off they're someone else's problem! If you even keep them alive that long.

  16. I lost my, then preschool, now teen, daughter on our property. I kept calling her name, but looking at the pond.

    I also had your same internal conversation, plus "How am I going to tell my husband I lost his child." reeling through my mind.

    Long story short, she followed the dogs off the property and went on a "venture".

  17. you know, why don't people think something like that is hard enough without acting like judgmental assholes? do they think parents are all stoked or nonchalant about their toddlers wandering off? yeash.

  18. Have I asked this before? Is there a post in which you explain how the nicknames "Butterbean" and "Cobra" came to be? Also, do you find yourself calling them by those names instead of their real names by accident? Just curious.

  19. Favorite line: 'also, you are a racist.'

    HA! and yes. The prevailing question of 'when is it time to make a scene?' is always a tough one for me too. It's tough to come back from an incident that goes: "He's bleeding, HE'S BLEEDING! OMG CALL 911. oh wait, hold up. I was wrong, it's strawberry sauce from his sundae. Nevermind."

  20. I've lost my Girls plenty of times over the years...huh, I was going to give you some advice but, upon reflection, I'm probably not the proper go to person on this one.

  21. I've had a few heart attacks when looking around and not seeing my son. He's a little old for that now fortunately.

    The worst one was when we were in a crowded subway station in Tokyo. I lost him in the sea of commuters. I panicked and asked my husband if he could see our son. My husband replied relax, he's up ahead a few feet. It helps to be taller than most of the people there.

  22. You're a riot.

    Best of luck to you with Butterbean and Cobra. lol

    I HIGHLY suggest you start makin nice with God.

  23. No parent is immune to that situation or that panic. Those who think they are will be only more floored by the situation when it happens.

    My 6 year old wandered off for 10 minutes at Target about a year ago, and she saw how devastated I was when I found her. She asked me why I was so upset, so I used the only analogy I could think of in the heat of the moment:

    "You know how I always have my purse on my shoulder, or if it's in the cart I keep my hand on it? It goes everywhere with me, and I never leave it unattended?"


    "Well, you're more important to me than my purse."

    (eyes wide) "Oooohhh..."

  24. Your internal dialogue is so coherent. Mine, when something similar has happened, was a nonstop stream of the f-word punctuated at times with a stream of f-me.

    The other heart-stopper scenario (one of many) is when they shake loose your hand and run forward into the busy parking lot, street, take your pick. The other night I witnessed a mom ripping her son (may be 8-9 year old) a new one when he apparently had walked off ahead of her out of the grocery store. When she caught up with him just outside the door and I caught snippets of "your skinny ass...", I thought, you tell him!!!


  25. Agh! Blood pressure. So, so glad she was safe.

  26. Little late in leaving a comment but being a mom of twins as well - when I don't have one of them I fell like a broken trike (even now when they are almost 13). I constantly have to say to myself where the other one is...

    But on a different note: Twin B was lost in large store the end of Jan (yes, usually 12 year old normally not a big deal but this 12 year old has Down Syndrome) and she was gone for 30 minutes before husband alerted me. I was like - did you tell the management to lock down the store. All I could think of was some perve got her! He was like ahhh... holy crap, I'm running to the front of the store giving a description of her and told him to keep looking. He ended up finding her in the clothing section (yes, she's a tween in that way). But I wasn't all right for some time and of course, she had no idea or understanding that she shouldn't leave. Being on high alert constantly does get the better of you! Rest assured - it will happen again. Saw the comment about the dog leashes... highly suggest it. We did it.


Don't hold back.


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