It was possibly the worst three of four minutes of my life. We were at a public event with a few thousand other people. One moment my toddler was there, beside us. The next he wasn’t.
We looked in our immediate vicinity, but no sign. We looked again, expecting to see him at any second, but still no sign. Nowhere.
My child was lost.
I felt physically sick. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. I grabbed my other two kids and went one way, while Cardiff Daddy went the other, all of us shouting his name.
Random people said they would help us look. Someone asked me if I wanted her to look after my other children so I could get about more quickly. I politely declined. I’d already lost one child; I couldn’t abandon the others. I held their little hands as tightly as I could as we walked up and down, calling for him, asking people if they’d seen a little two-year old dressed in blue.
I told an event steward, who radioed to ask her team members to look out for him.
I saw Cardiff Daddy telling another warden. He’s always so calm and chilled but I could see the worry on his face.
I bumped into two friends who sensed what was up by the frantic look in my face. They tried to comfort me and I promptly burst into full-on tears. I was shaking.
And then suddenly there he was. Wandering around with a smile on his face, content in his own little world. Completely oblivious to it all. I picked him up and hugged him as tightly as I could. “You mustn’t wander off,” I told him. “We didn’t know where you were.” The tears – this time out of sheer relief – prevented me from saying much more.
It was only three or four minutes but it was the longest three of four minutes. Every worst case scenario went through my head. If I’m honest, they’re still running through my mind. All those what ifs; knowing how lucky we were that everything was okay.
I’ve been debating with myself whether I should write about this, because I realise I am putting myself up for all manner of criticism of my parenting skills.
But so many other parents told me that day, and since, that they have lost a child in public, and just how easily it can happen. “I’ve no idea how it happened,” seems to be the common refrain. “One minute he/she was there right under my nose; the next minute they’d gone.”
That’s pretty much what I said too. I don’t know how it happened. But it did happen. And it was absolutely terrifying.
I’m mortified about what happened. I’m angry with myself.
But it doesn’t make me a bad parent. I might not be perfect, but I am definitely not a bad parent.
I am the kind of mum who often finds herself apologising while talking to people, because I am constantly watching my children, rather than looking at the person I am talking to.
I am the kind of mum who wouldn’t dream of leaving her child in a car while she paid for petrol or popped into the shop. I am the mum who, once at a party in a hotel, stayed in the room when her children went to bed, while the other parents left their babies alone in their hotel rooms with baby monitors and laughed at me for being so paranoid. I don’t judge other people for their parenting decisions, but that’s the kind of parent I am.
I didn’t think I would be the mum to lose her child in public. But it turned out, I was.
And it scared the life out of me.