Tonight, I am incredibly indebted to the kindness of strangers

I had turned my cell phone ringer off, so it wasn’t until the conference lunch break that I noticed I had a half dozen missed calls waiting for me. When you have kids, and you get 6 calls in the course of a few hours, you get uneasy. I phoned my wife.

“What’s up?”

“The police called me this morning and said there was an incident with G at preschool.”

Immediately my stomach drops, coming to rest on the floor of my pelvis. It is amazing how fast the synapses can fire in less than a second, and how many random scenarios you can play out in your heard before you hear the line after that one. Accident? Hospital? Injury? Anyphylactic reaction of my 3 year old allergic son?

“He’s okay,” said my wife, her voice quivering on the other end of the line. “The preschool forgot him at the playground.”

“What?” My stomach lurches.

“They went to the playground for a Sportball lesson. While they were there another parent dropped of their kid, and they miscounted before they walked back to the centre. He got left behind in the park.”

She goes into the details. He was playing, looked around and realized he was all alone. Everyone was gone. He started crying. We’ve talked to him about this scenario before – if he gets lost he should look for a Mom with kids and ask for help. So, he does. Crying, he manages to find a Mom and tell her his preschool has left. So the Mom calls 911. Police are on the way. Meanwhile, another Mom in the playground notices the commotion and comes over. She somehow manages to figure out that the preschool G goes to is the same as the one her nephew goes to. Lucky. The police arrive. A phone call is made back to the preschool, and a few minutes later a breathless preschool teacher arrives back in the park. Both she and G are given a ride back to the preschool by the police, who spend some time talking to the staff.

My little guy is okay. By the time we picked him up, the incident was becoming distant. His first words to us when we walked into the preschool playground was “Dad, guess what? Today I climbed a tree!”  This was followed by “…and got to ride in a police car.”

I am so full of mixed emotions about this incident. We have had an incredible relationship with this daycare/preschool for the past 5 years (The Girl has been going there since she was 14 months old) and know the staff to be nothing but competent, caring and committed. We love these people like we do family because they ARE family. Our children spend many hours a week in their care and we know and trust them. It goes without saying that they were as upset by the whole incident as we were. I have no doubt that steps will be taken to ensure this never happens again. Our relationship, and my trust in them, is still solid.

But it’s that brief split second between “there was an incident” and “he is okay” that I can’t seem to shake, and which has shaken me. For it is in that brief split second that you come face to face with your worst fear as a parent. It is a brief second that lasts an eternity and replays in your head long after the moment has passed. The moment when you believe that the worst has happened. I know that everything turned out well in the end, and I should focus on that. But still, it will take some time for the power of that split second emotional burst to fade.

Mostly, however, I am feeling gratitude; gratitude that this did have a happy ending, and immense gratitude to the kind strangers who, upon seeing a child in distress, got involved and helped.

Thank you.

7 responses to “Tonight, I am incredibly indebted to the kindness of strangers

  1. Clint, that's a brilliant story about a frightening experience! It's great that you've talked about that scenario with him before and that he sought out help. My boy will be three in a few months, so we'll be following your good example and talking with him. Thanks for the story.

  2. Such a wonderful story. I always believe in the goodness of everyone.

  3. Yeah, about that stipulation…

    Clint: our mutual friend, Anne D, told us about that andand it made sucha big impact that I shared it with every parent I could think of on my email list.

    But why not a dad with kids? You'd think that as long as there are kids with the adult they would be not only helpful but safe to approach.

    I am a little bit offended by the implication that I'm unsafe to ask for help just because I'm a man. I present no more of a risk than my wife, especially if I have one or both of our boys with me. More to the point, I'd hate to think that some kid is lost or disoriented or distressed for even a minute longer because they don't immediately see a woman with kids in the vicinity.

    In talking about this, Anne raised the elephant in the room of men being statistically more likely to abduct or abuse a kid, but I reckon the odds of a kid asking a man with kids for help and getting into further hot water is pretty negligible.

    What are your 2 cents' on this?

    Either way, many many thanks for sharing this tale and spurring discussion on this very important issue.

    ~Robin

  4. That's terrible!! But it's a good thing that you've taught your child what to do in such a situation… huge pat on the back to you.
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  5. That can be very traumatic but good thing he is doing well. I was left on my bus as a child and I didn't do so well. I'm fine now but I can remember being really upset for so long.

  6. I was in the same situation with my child some years ago when the school make a mountain trip and they lost my son in the wood for 2 hours. I has in shock , I go straight to the mountain and when we arrived they found him . What a trip !!

  7. Thanks for the story and thanks for highlighting the benevolence and good intent of other people. It is so easy to forget that most people, almost everyone really, is fundamentally good and will try to do the right thing.
    We had a similar situation in the town we live near here in northern California. My wife was out with the 3 year old and 15 month old we had at the time. The 3 year old asked could he look at the train he remembered seeing in a store window on his last visit. My wife said yes, we'll go there in a minute when I finish here. But all he heard was yes, and headed off alone in the wrong direction. When my wife realized what had happened it was all of a minute or less later and she ran to the store. Of course he was not there. She went up and down the street looking in every store with no luck. She called the police from a store and they were there in a minute. She was very upset at this point, crying and close to panic. All the store owners were looking around as well as the police. Then a woman came round the corner of the alley to the post office with him in hand looking for his parent. Everyone in the street burst into applause and the police brushed away my wife's apologies saying that was what they were there for.
    Assume good intent is an action that seems to become self-fulfilling.
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