"The First Time I Lost My Child"
While in TN, we went to the Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg with my sister and her family. One of the last stops on the tour was the "Discover Center". In this 1800 sq. foot room there were open tanks with horseshoe crabs for the children to touch, a rainforest playhouse-type thing and lots of WATER activities. On the far end of the room there were large cylinder tanks that the kids could crawl underneath and pop up in a small section in the middle to look from the inside out...I'll just show you a picture.
It was pretty awesome and the boys had a blast, the only problem was that there were 2 different ways the kids could get out underneath...If any of you know my child you know that he needs to be monitored 24/7. So with that in mind, I instructed my husband and my sister's boyfriend, Rowdy, to help me monitor all the tank exits Alex might use to escape. My sister was standing in front of the tank keeping an eye on the kids, taking photos of them, etc. She turned for a second (NO JOKE-NOT HER FAULT AT ALL!) to take a photo of a seahorse and...
Me: "Um, where's Alex?"
Robin: "He was just here."
PS This photo was taken before Alex went missing,
but it works well to show what it was like.
It took the four of us about half a second to drop to our knees and see if my son was underneath the tanks. Nope. We got up and took a quick look around. Nothing. He was officially lost.
Not even 2 seconds after we realized he was gone Miguel rushed to tell a security guard our son was missing, I couldn't even find Rowdy to tell him to start looking because he was already on the opposite side of the room...looking near the open water...(Oh Lord, protect my child-keep him away from that water) and Robin was beginning to tell people he was missing. 1 min. I put Camron in the stroller, told him not to get up and wheeled him to a security guard who was staying near the tank in case Alex came back. 2 mins. I ran to the nearest bathroom, Alex's usual run-away route, and recruited 3 mothers to help.(Thank you, God) I gave out the necessary info: 21 months, light brown hair, brown eyes and wearing a red shirt with peace signs. Oh and he's probably running. 4 mins. As I came out of the bathroom and continued looking under tables, inside the men's bathroom and...(deep breath) in the water, I noticed that at least 2 more guards and a few more parents were involved in the search. 7 mins. I couldn't see Robin, Rowdy or Miguel anymore so I think, "they must be in the tunnels looking...the tunnels that are dark and full of hundreds of people." That's when I started panicking. If he had made it out of this room then he had access to the rest of the aquarium, and my kid is fast. Just then a guard came up to me saying someone thinks they found him. As we run up to the big, fake tree to retrieve my baby I realize whoever they thought was Alex was in the arms of their own parent. Defeat. Okay keep looking. 8 mins. I see my family, we all realize none of us has found him and really start to panic, it's almost been 10 minutes. 9 mins. Just as we are about to get the entire aquarium shut down, the first guard walks up with Alex in his arms and hands him to me. (Thank you, God! Thank you, God! Thank you, God!) That's when I started shaking, I couldn't even buckle Alex in the stroller, the stroller that he is going to be buckled in for the rest of his LIFE! Sheesh.
Apparently Alex had been running around in the tunnel, more specifically, in Shark Lagoon. (Of course he was. Where else would my ninja be?) When the guard, unable to catch his breath, said, "Ma'am, you have a fast little boy." I almost exploded in hysterical laughter, but I managed to keep myself under control. The guard explained that it had taken him about 3 minutes to catch him because Alex would run away whenever the guard got close. A good thing, I guess? I could just picture Alex looking like Speedy Gonzales, running down the shark tunnel with a guard in tow, resembling an escape prisoner more than a frightened, lost child. What was I even worried for? Sure Mom, keep telling yourself that.
Red arrow is where we lost him. Black arrow is where the guard found him.
It all happened so fast, and the search was (in normal minutes) over quickly, but it felt like HOURS. Have you ever been in a situation where it was so important to have your mind perfectly clear and focused that afterwards you remember every single thought you had and breath you took? That's how this was for me. Everything was happening in slow motion...or maybe it just seemed slow since my mind was working so fast. I could hear the clock ticking on the wall, to me it sounded like a countdown timer, I only had a certain number of minutes to find Alex before he was gone forever. I know that sounds morbid. I'm not trying to be. It's in a mother's nature to think about all of the terrible things that could happen to her child, but I can't even express how terrifying it is to have those fears so close to coming true. It has taken me a couple of weeks to write this out, but it will take a lifetime to get over it.
The 9 minutes my son was missing are by far the most stressful minutes of my life, I swear I'm experiencing some post traumatic stress even writing about it....but I am so grateful to have had such an awesome family unit to help me find him. It would have been so easy for us to panic, get all hysterical and lose precious minutes. We could have fought over who was to blame...could have blamed God. Instead we went on instant search mode, stuck together and trusted God to keep him safe.
Thank you so much to Miguel for being smart and alerting the security guards within seconds of our baby being missing.
Thank you so much to Robin and Rowdy for keeping your cool and loving my baby as much as I do. <3