Suburban Snapshots

My Kid Went to an Amusement Park and All I Got Were These Gray Hairs

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anna's cousins are in town from Colorado, so we've been doing lots of family activities with multiple kids in crowded, summer fun spots with festering bathrooms that the girls don't ever seem to need to use at the same time, of course.

Yesterday 4 adults and 3 girls aged 3, 4, and 7 went to the local zoo-slash-amusement park figuring that maybe morning weekday crowds would be reasonable. We didn't anticipate that every recreation department within 50 miles would be having a field trip, and so we arrived to lines and busloads of kids wearing matching t-shirts. I immediately went into perpetual inventory mode, taking headcounts of the girls every 20 feet or so, hoping to lure them into our wagon with Rice Krispie Treats and gummy fruits.

We'd done most of the zoo and gone on all the rides, and were standing near the ferris wheel getting ready to pack it in. My sister had met up with us, and as we stood with our kids between us I leaned over to hug her goodbye -- it wasn't an especially lingering hug like that one creepy uncle gives, so no more than 5 seconds must have passed. I stood up and Anna was gone.

Over the course of the day I'd had those little shocks of, "Where's Anna?!" to find she'd just moved  from one side of my body to the other, but as I scanned our group, our immediate area, then down the crowded stretch that led to more rides, and in the other direction to lines of people getting cotton candy or heading back to the zoo, she wasn't there. She wasn't in any direction -- there were so many bodies.

The adrenaline I was barely keeping at bay flooded my arms and legs, my hands were trying to shake, my knees jittered. I called her name, I saw a hundred heads that weren't hers. And then from the wagon, my beautiful 7-year-old niece said, "She went that way, she went over there." I followed her pointing finger and found Anna, about 100 feet from us in a group of kids playing a driving game.

I may have grabbed her too hard by the arms as I stooped to reprimand her in the calmest tone I could manage (I think I did fine, though I'm sure every single passerby heard me telling her to never, ever run off ever again without telling someone.) For good measure, my sister helpfully added a little parable about a man who kidnaps little girls and forces them to live in his basement and eat dog food.

Some of you responded to my post on Facebook with stories of losing your own kids for far longer than Anna was out of my sight, and I don't know how you remained functional. Is this one of those things that gets a little easier once you're on kid #2 or 3? Does that immediate feeling of helplessness dull after the second or third incident? Do you think it'd be weird if I sewed leashes onto all of her clothes until she's 18?

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