Upset child sits on steps.


I Lost My Kid And I Feel Ashamed To Talk About It

Oct 12, 2018

The first thing you need to know is that my daughter was wearing zebra ears. So when I say she should have been easy to find, I mean especially easy.

My daughter rolled down the not-hill and didn't come back.

We're Halloween fanatics — it's one of the few holidays I get excited about. We go all out with decorations, crafts and costumes — or as all out as possible given my kid's distaste for what she deems "creepy things." This means we go to a lot of events: trick-or-treating, parties, school events, all of it. One of our favourites is the pumpkin parade which takes place the evening after Halloween, when local parks have jack-o-lanterns lining the paths. We go to a very elaborate one, with lots of very impressive carvings.

It's also a very large and very populated event.

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It takes place in a park my daughter has grown up in: we go to a weekly farmer's market there, she's played soccer there, we go to the playground there.

When we got to the park the sun was still up. My kid happens to be particularly paranoid about getting lost, so we always make meeting spots, just to be safe. She chose a water fountain at the top of the park as our meeting spot, and we started out to check out the pumpkins. At some point into the evening, as it was getting darker, my daughter asked if she could "roll down the hill" because she saw a bunch of other young kids doing it.

I was screaming for her, in a huge group of people, being ignored.

You need to know that there is no hill at this park. There's a very slight incline. My kid was six, very competent and very cautious. I said yes, she could roll down the so-called hill. For sure. I pointed to a distinct-looking pumpkin along the path at the "bottom of the hill" and said we should meet there, so I could keep walking and we'd end up at the same very nearby spot. 

My daughter rolled down the not-hill and didn't come back. She wasn't at the pumpkin. She wasn't at the water fountain. It was weird, but I wasn't too worried. Until I was. It was dark by then. I started interrupting parents' conversations, asking if they'd seen a kid in a coat covered in hearts and zebra ears. Every single one of them said not to worry, she was probably playing with the other kids somewhere. "You know how kids are."

The event was packed. And everywhere, from every angle, looked the same at my eye level.

When you lose sight of your kid at a grocery store you can find a cashier and have an announcement made. When your kid goes missing pretty much anywhere that is not an unsupervised beach or the woods, there's someone to check in with. Even at this very park, when we'd usually be there, there'd be market staff, soccer coaches or city staff working the indoor areas. But not that night. Presumably some organizing went into the event, but there was no info booth, no obvious volunteers. I ran into people I knew, panicked. They told me not to worry, you know how kids are. There was a theme developing.

When I think back on it, I remember this intense fear. And the confusion of being told to ignore it.

I couldn't figure out what to do. Would she have gone to the playground herself? Did she run into a friend? Did she make a new one? Any kid's parents would by this point have asked where her parent was, no? Was I best to search everywhere or stay where I could see both of our meeting spots? (Yes... both... one of the things that went wrong.) Of course I had no idea how long she'd been gone, it's not like I checked the time when she went a few feet away and I thought I'd see her within a minute. Had it been five minutes or 20? Is this when one contacts the police, or was that overkill? I felt like I was going insane. I was screaming for her, in a huge group of people, being ignored.

What happened in the end is that a couple with a baby found her lost and stayed with her until they found me. She actually knew my phone number and told it to them correctly, but I hadn't been keeping track of my phone in all of the chaos.

The whole ordeal was terrifying. And I got very, very lucky.

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When I think back on it, I remember this intense fear. And the confusion of being told to ignore it. But then also this secondary fear that I’d be in trouble if I sought out official help, because I was the adult and it was my fault. I remember the judgment afterwards when I’d tell this story. Which is not to say I don’t think I should be judged or that this was a minor oversight or no big deal. But, in contrast to how people reacted at the time, the judgment feels complicated. 

If there’s a moral to the story it’s not to make a single meeting place or be sure your kids know your phone number from an early age — though that’s not bad advice. It’s not to make sure your kid is easy to spot in a crowd (the zebra ears were 100% about post-Halloween markdowns, if I’m being honest), or to keep them on a leash until they’re ten. Was this incident entirely beyond my control? No. I definitely could have kept a better eye on her. But if there’s a lesson here, it’s that none of us are exempt from things going wrong, regardless of how much good will we have and good planning we do. The other lesson is glow sticks, lots and lots of glow sticks.

Article Author Tara-Michelle Ziniuk
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a writer and editor based in Toronto. She’s a queer single mom to a 7.5-year-old. She’s overshared about her daughter for Today’s Parent, Bunch Family, Baby Post and various other print and digital publications. She’s also a poet (her kid says “of sad books”) and book reviewer (for Publisher’s Weekly, The Canadian Children’s Book News and more). You can find her on Twitter @therealrealtmz.

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