It’s the nightmare for all parents. You’re somewhere, you turn around, and your child is… gone.
And it happened to us yesterday.
One of the things that I like about being the parent of a special needs child is that you – and everyone like you – slips into clinical language whenever something happens. As one of my Twitter followers asked yesterday when I mentioned that I’d found him at “Lost Parents”, “did he elope from you”?
A NT child would have been a “lost child”, in the sense of, “how could you lose your son at the water park?!” But the Monster has special circumstances, and he “eloped”. Active on his part, as opposed to active on our part.
We didn’t lose him – he eloped from us. Entirely not our fault. 😉
Yeah… that doesn’t work for me either.
For some strange reason, we decided it’d be a good idea to go to Sesame Place yesterday. It was a hot day, and we’d be able to enjoy the waterpark… and never mind that it was the weekend after the park’s 35th birthday, that it’s a Saturday in August and that the park would obviously be packed.
Furthermore, the day started off inauspiciously – the Monster was already having meltdowns at half-past midnight, with variations on a theme easily through 3 AM… so by the time we got up at 6:30 AM so we could prep for the two hour drive, both of us were exhausted, and it didn’t help with the way the day went. We didn’t reach the park till nearly 11 AM – 90 minutes later than we’d planned – and after a few dry rides and a trip to see “Elmo the Musical Live”, lunch took forever to get for the kids… and then the Monster had another meltdown about our trying to get him into his aquashoes for playing around…
So, by the time we managed to get him participating again (and me changed into a swimsuit so I could chase him in the water), we’d already taken R into some of the water activities that he liked. After one or two more, we moved the action over to the Count’s Splash Castle, which the Monster rather likes (and R detests). It’s a large play structure on one end of the park with a few bigger water-slides and a bucket that dumps water on everyone, and it sprays water everywhere… and on a day like yesterday, it was packed. Hundreds of people going this way and that, and…
I think this is probably the point where I point out what most parents know. It’s very hard, with a child who is determined to get on a water slide, to do full coverage. It takes both of us – one at the bottom and one keeping a close watch on the child – to keep him safe… and we can’t do that with both kids. Instead, my usual MO is to stand at the bottom, keep an eye on him while he’s going upwards through the structure, and be ready at the bottom to grab him when he comes off the slide.
Except this afternoon, he didn’t come off the slide.
After being 100% sure that he’d been in line, that I’d seen him getting closer to the top of the slide, I couldn’t figure out where he’d gone to… but I’d decided not to panic. Surely, he’d not get far – he’s a child with Autism and follows a given pattern. If he rides a slide once, he’ll do it fifteen times (or until we make him stop), and so he had to be somewhere at the splash castle. Once I’d found the wife, and had her stand where she could see anyone leaving the pool area to keep an eye out for him, I scaled the structure looking for him and…
Nothing. He’d disappeared. He was nowhere in the area.
So… I still didn’t panic. Kids go wandering all the time at an amusement park, and… I’ve thought before about what to do if the Monster went missing, because inevitably it’d happen. The key thing to me was to make sure he didn’t get out of Sesame Place.
(To be fair, I also wasn’t too worried about his safety at the park, despite the fact that there is the waterpark. None of the water features are more than 3 feet deep, there are lifeguards keeping a good eye out, and hundreds of people swimming. There are fences and the like to keep children from wandering into dangerous areas, and he’d be noticed if he tried to get onto a ride alone. My big concern was what might happen if he got out of the park, since he doesn’t think about stepping off the curb…)
I came back down, found the wife again, and let her know that I was going to grab my phone (with the picture of the Monster above, taken that morning – I tend to take one of him whenever we head out on these kinds of outings, specifically for the blog) so I could share it with them to make sure that they alerted everyone to watch for him. That he has Autism, and wasn’t the person wearing our RAP bracelet (the wife was). That he has low verbal skills, but can identify himself if prompted, things like that.
Lost Parents is fairly close to the Count’s Splash Castle, so it took me two minutes at most to walk over there, cellphone in hand. I pushed open the door, and started to say that I was looking for a lost child when… I noticed the Monster sitting on a chair nearby. They’d already found him.
Yes, suddenly we were the parents that they’d been paging over the PA system.
“I see you found him,” I said dryly to the folks in the office, after I’d made sure he was none the worse for wear for his experience. One of the saving graces, perhaps, is that I don’t think it occurred to the Monster to be afraid that he was wandering, that he’d not known where we were. He seemed right as rain, and came over immediately when I came fully into the office. I explained to them that he has Autism and that we’d not known where he’d gotten to, and asked where they found him as I spent a few moments pulling up pics to prove that he’s mine (because, duh, I’d forgotten to grab a wallet with ID in it).
“Oh, over by the lazy river,” said the young woman. The lazy river’s halfway across the park.
They did reassure me that we’re hardly the worst-ever parents they’ve had at the park, in terms of losing a child. And I was alright after we’d found him… the wife was a bit of a wreck, but I think that’s also very understandable.
We’re clearly going to have to shift things up in the future, to make sure we do a better job of keeping him safe and under watch at all times. For starters, obviously, we’ll be using more things that identify him and give folks who find him a way to contact us. (It wouldn’t have helped as much, since our phones were in the bag, safe and dry.) And, likely, we’ll avoid the more crowded days at the water park in the future…
But it just goes to show that maybe, we’ve been a little too lax about how we’re keeping an eye on him, and we were lucky this time…