I experienced the most agonising 6 minutes of my parenting-a-3-yr-old journey this morning. Liam had just finished Berries class and while waiting for the husband to finish his tennis session, I decided to let him do one of his all-time favourite activity – lift watching at the mall.
We watched about 15 lifts stop and go at the level we were at before I suggested going for a walk around the mall. I was not taking well to the first 3 hours of my juice cleanse, I was exhausted from a cumulative lack of sleep, and my shoulders were aching from carrying his berries bag, my heavy diaper bag and a cooler bag filled with bottles of cold pressed juices. And the only thing that could possibly save me raging into a grumpy mum was walking into one of those shops with a big ‘SALE’ sign, even if it was to do a spot of window shopping.
My 3 year old is a clever one. As I pulled him towards the direction of the shops, he requested for ice cream. And being the “yes mum” that I tend to be whenever I’m solo parenting (just to make my life easier), I told him “only if you let me go into that shop” then we can think about it.
My 3 year old is also a stubborn one. My suggestion of walking around didn’t sit well with him. I was about to take a step into the shop when he stopped in his tracks resisting his next step forward and yelled “I want ice cream NOW” like a brat. I had exercised the “you better listen to me bcuz I’m your mum” reasoning this morning and it worked, so it was tempting to use it again. Tugging his hand towards the shop, I told my son off sternly, “give me 5 minutes in this shop and we can go to the ice cream shop, Liam. You had 20 minutes of lift fun. Now’s my turn”.
How much I regretted saying those words.
As I took another step into the shop, Liam slipped his hand out of mine and ran. I assumed he ran further into the shop. I always keep him within my line of sight, so I said “Liam, come back here right now.” Why couldn’t my son let me shop just this once?
There wasn’t any response. I called out to him again, this time taking quicker steps towards the heart of the store to do a quick scan. No response again. Not even a faint hint of the usual haughty laughter that he pulls on me whenever he successfully hides himself only to “scare” me moments later.
Alarm bells start to go off in my head. My heart begins to sink deeper. I start to search the store systematically from the way in to the back of it, while asking around if anyone saw a little boy run in. I get quizzical looks back in return and that’s when I knew my son had ran out.
I sprint out of the shop and start pacing up and down of its perimeter calling out his name. “Liam, Liam! where are you Liam?”, I yell repeatedly, raising my volume each consecutive time. I could feel a panic attack closing in. My breathing gets heavier and my steps get quicker. I start walking in circles, aimlessly, looking at the upward moving escalator, downward moving escalator, passageways to toilets. I just wanted to hear my son shouting back. Come on! Shout back my son! I strain my ears to hear his voice amidst the weekend crowd. I don’t hear him. I start to panic more.
I start to get the attention of onlookers with my increasingly loud yells. But I couldn’t care less about what they thought. I was exasperatedly desperate. I then stand at a spot and shout my loudest, hoping Liam could hear how serious I was about wanting him to respond to me. A nice lady soon keeps pace with me as I make my round to the nearest lift and escalator before looping back to the shop. She asks if I had lost my child and for his clothing description.
Franticness turns to anxiety turns to fear. After making about 4 rounds to the 3 spots and still not being able to catch sight of him, I started to fear the worse. All those viral posts on Facebook on kids going missing start to play in my mind. I felt despair. I just wanted to see my son again.
I was back at the shop when the kind lady’s friend waved for my attention. The lady found Liam and it turns out that he was chasing after me when he saw me leave the shop. He tried to keep up but was blocked by the crowds between us. I sighed in relief, threw him a big squeeze and told him “you know how worried I was? Mummy thought she lost you for good and will never see you again. Don’t ever do that again. Always make sure that you’re around me okay? You know how scared I was a not?”. I saw the look in Liam’s eyes. He seemed indifferent to the fiasco, but he could tell I was scared.
He asks for ice cream again and I take him to the ice cream shop. I needed to sit and calm down. I was still shaking from the episode and was pretty much in a daze as he dug into his cup of strawberry ice cream with colourful sprinkles.
The husband calls to ask where we are and it is when I answer that I breakdown a second time. I couldn’t even manage a “hello” properly. I update the worried husband as much as I can and he tells us to stay put till he gets to us. The husband has a firm word with Liam on how upset he made me and reiterates the dangers of running away from us on his own. It took me most of the afternoon before I could come to terms with what happened.
Then earlier this evening while making our way back to the carpark after grocery shopping, there was a mum who suddenly ran past us frantically shouting her son’s name. I recognised that all too familiar look of despair, fear and worry instantly and got the husband to quickly help her search based on her description of her 1.5 year old. Thankfully her husband found their son shortly after.
Before bedtime, I asked Liam where he ran to during the episode. He said he went to watch the lifts because he really didn’t want to go into the shop.
This episode got me thinking. What do we do in the event of losing our kids or our kids losing us? Do we stay at our “last seen location” trusting our kids to make their own way back? Is it also time I start training Liam how to navigate his way back? I definitely need to work more on managing his expectations especially when things don’t go his way. He’s been having too many instances of instant gratification and he now needs to learn and understand delayed gratification as well.
A good friend said to know what to teach, you first got to let go and follow to learn his navigation habits. The husband and I are aware that Liam is good with remembering places even if he’s been there only once. During this morning’s episode, he knew how to trace back his steps to the shop except that I flustered and started running around and hence the chase.
Perhaps I’m the one that needs teaching and trust my son’s understanding more. But he’s like 3???
[Editor’s note: I meant to keep this experience private but decided to share it on the blog as an important parenting lesson and to raise awareness on how easy it is to lose sight of our kids]