A scary thing happened this week; I lost one of my children. I was in a large mall down the street from our apartment, when my six-year-old went missing. We were at Müller, a Target-like department store, picking up supplies on the way home from school. Per usual, I let him and his older brother scatter, testing their freedom in more appealing areas of the store until it was time to reconvene at checkout. Only this time, Augie was nowhere to be found. I assigned a meeting place and sent his brother on a mission to the Lego section while I zig-zagged through office supplies. We came up short and agreed he must have snuck off to the candy aisle, classic Augie. But still, he wasn’t there. A thorough scan of one floor led to another, my volume increasing as I called out his name. I felt incredibly self-conscious. Is it possible to fear kidnapping and public humiliation at the same time? I implored apathetic employees in poorly-pronounced German, “Hilfe bitte, mein Kind ist MISSING.” They showed a surprising lack of concern, though an unsupervised child in these parts is nothing out of the ordinary. Their solution was to hand over the microphone for the store AV system, sending my choked up plea BOOMING over the loudspeakers. At that point, any humiliation was overcome by anxiety. He simply wasn’t there. Waiting for mall security to arrive, I began to cry. All the fears and emotions of living in a foreign country were amplified by 1000%. I felt paralyzed in my ability to communicate and problem-solve. My child was missing and I had NO idea what to do. What if something really bad happened? He wouldn’t leave with a stranger, would he? My husband was out of town and when I pulled out my phone to call him, I saw a string of text messages from our neighbor:
I have Augie here with me! He got lost, but he came home!
He did WHAT? My little boy, alone and scared, walked all the way home?? I rushed to our tearful reunion, where he explained that he thought we left the store, so he went where he could find us. In all my panic, it hadn’t occurred to me that he might find a solution. I praised his courage and assured him I’d never leave him behind. We also reviewed the family protocol on what to do when you’re lost, i.e. DON’T MOVE. Though it’s an experience I’d never want repeat, there’s a bit of triumph in facing one of our biggest fears and finding each other on the other side. And in time, I’m sure I’ll be able to walk into Müller again.