What had been planned to be an evening of food, fireworks and fun, quickly turned into thirty minutes of terror.
My fabulous little family of 6 was attending an ENORMOUS Independence Day event along with my parents, 2 sisters and their families. We were quite the sight: 8 adults and 8 kids (2 in strollers) trying to maneuver through a sardine-packed crowd of at least ten thousand people. We decided to grab some dinner and headed inside our private party room filled with delicious Mexican food, drinks and best of all, air conditioning.
As I began making a plate of food for my 20 month old I turned to talk to my oldest. She wasn’t there. “Where’s Riley?” I asked out loud to no one in particular. Rob and I stepped outside the room into the sea of 4th of July revelers to look for her. No Riley. Rob told me to get my dad and brother-in-laws to help us look for her. As the 5 of us set off in different directions, a sick feeling of terror and panic set in: I began to sweat, my eyes filled with tears and I felt nauseous. Two minutes of no Riley turned to 5, which turned to 10, which turned to 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes of my daughter missing. I kept checking back to our private room to see if she managed to be there, each time waves of disappointment and panic crashing over me.
With one last glimmer of hope, I began walking to our room to “check in” again. My sister was walking towards me and began shaking her head “yes.” She was found! My husband had her and they were heading back to our room.
What could have been the beginning of a horrific nightmare thankfully had a happy ending. Later, as I rehashed the incident over and over, I began thinking what I could have done to prevent this. I am no expert in these situations, however, with hindsight being 20/20, here are a few things I thought of that we should all do if we will be somewhere with the slightest possibility of a child wandering off:
1. As soon as you arrive, find an easy general meeting spot: identify this to everyone in your group that should they become lost, they should immediately head to this location. Make it someplace easy to find: a first aid station, the fountain at the middle of the event; someplace everyone can remember and get to easily.
2. Know what your children are wearing. Since she had on a hot pink and black shirt, I knew Riley would be easy to spot in a sea of red, white and blue. If possible, take a photo of your kids before you arrive so you have immediate access to what they look like right then.
3. Contact info: If your child isn’t old enough to know your phone number, use a sharpie and write your phone number on the inside of their wrist, then cover it with a coat of clear nail polish. This prevents it from rubbing off.
4. Cell phones: In my distraught state, I forgot my phone as I left to look for Riley. There are fabulous walkie-talkie type apps (ie: Voxer) that allow you to talk to others in real-time. Make sure all searchers have their phones and that you are in constant communication. Also, carry your phone in your hand. This eliminates not hearing the phone ring or not feeling it vibrate.
5. Involve the authorities IMMEDIATELY. The sooner you have more people looking for your child the better. They have been trained for these type of situations…let them help you.
6. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. I’m sure people watching me thought I was a crazy woman as I walked and was praying out loud for God to protect my daughter and return her to us safely. Nonetheless, if it keeps my kids safe, I’m all aboard the crazy train.