One of my biggest fears is losing the girls. I have nightmares about physically losing them in public establishments.
Sam is fearless. Remember the diving board story? She’s also nimble and quick, good traits to have; and they will serve her well in her later years. But it poses many challenges for me. She likes to walk independently, sometimes way ahead of our pace. Sometimes she’s so caught up in exploring that doesn’t know where we are when she looks up. What can I expect – she’s five right? I’m just a nagging mom. “Yes mom I know, I know,” she says to any or all my statements. What do you know? I want to ask. (I do know this is my karma…)
Jamie has been very much more assertive of her independence. Lately lets go of me in an attempt to catch Ate. The advantage with Jamie is that she’s petite and her steps are much smaller. But it’s still challenging to run after two increasingly mobile kids (whose confidence levels also increase by the day). It’s not a bad thing, and I do want them to be independent, unattached and free… just not at this point when they could potentially get lost.
I. will. DIE.
I know it’s not along the progressive parenting philosophy to scare children about the natural consequence of getting lost or kidnapped, but I really can’t help it. It’s a fear I have, and a valid one at that. There are so many reports of missing children these days it’s truly scary. At the same time, I try to hold back. I think of Marlin in Finding Nemo, and Queen Elinor in Brave, and all those other movies with lessons for overprotective parents and I am equally afraid my non-progressive ways will backfire on me in the years to come.
It’s quite the inner struggle, and often the non-progressive ways win over (It’s work-in-progress, I’m only human! #DefensiveMuch?). And even then I try really hard to find ways without really being so Marlin-like. Maybe my saving grace is that I’ve latched onto their budding independence and have been using it to teach them presence of mind and responsibility over themselves and their whereabouts. Here are some of the things I’ve tried over the years:
I talk about tricky people. Just trying to keep it real. That there are “bad strangers” and we don’t know who they are, so we have to be extra careful. I don’t know how a kid can distinguish a good stranger from a bad one; but I’m hoping against hope that the knowledge that they are around and they could potentially take Sam or Jamie away from me is real.
I’ve put stickers with their names and my phone number on some of their garments and shoes. Before flying back to Manila I ordered a gazillion and one Name Bubbles with my phone number on them. I’ve attached them to various pieces of clothing that the girls wear, like the inner bottom hem of a dress. Sam knows that it’s there, and so if in case she cannot find me, she can easily access the information to give someone.
I make it their responsibility. Instead of saying “I don’t want to lose you,” I say, “Please don’t lose me.” Sam’s sense of responsibility over a task is incredibly strong so I use it to my advantage.
I show them what to look for and who… just in case. When we enter a theme park or a mall or any public place, I show the kids where the Customer Service desk is, or the Information counter is. If there’s a lost child center, I point that out too. At least they know what to look for and the people there are paid to help reunite straying kids with their parents. And then I pray they remember how to get back there.
I also point out who to talk to if in case they do get separated from me. What is the person wearing, does she have long hair or short hair? Is she wearing glasses?
ChecklistMommy’s blog post on Tricky People had a very good suggestion that I use too: Tell the kids to look for another Mom with kids. So I’ve been doing that too. “Look for another mommy and tell them to help you find me,” is another line I use often. Jamie has it memorized already.
I have them memorize my cellphone number. In one of my college psych classes, I distinctly remember a teacher saying that the brain has difficulty memorizing over 7 or 8 numbers. But my kids know my cellphone number and it has 11 digits in it. That’s because I created a song that has as its lyrics, my cellphone number. And kids can learn anything through a song. Now in the car or before bed we sing it like repeatedly. This for me is THE most crucial part because if they give out the wrong order of the numbers, then I will never get that call.
I quiz them about it randomly. Occasionally they will bring it up, “What happens if I lose you mom?” I throw it back to them and have them answer their own question. Even if it’s a repeated jumble of words and it sounds like a litany, my hope is that subconsciously it sticks. “If I can’t find mom, I go look for another mommy and say Help I need my mommy. Please call…”
Sometimes the quiz is specific to a place that we frequent often. What color are the uniforms of the people-in-charge? Is it an information center, or a customer service? Near where? Anything to build that presence of mind.
I bring a yaya. Sometimes. Yayas have been the biggest adjustment for me (I’m still crafting a post on this one). In fact I still prefer to go around without one. However, I’ve realized that specific occasions and areas call for an additional warm body, so I concede. Yaya is properly briefed too: where to stand, where to walk and what to watch out for.
We had a recent incident which tested the effectivity of my “methods” and Sam thought she was lost. I was fairly sure she wasn’t, but she had run off as I was giving her the run down of who to approach in case she couldn’t find me. I reminded myself that it might be too much to expect her to remember anyway.
Yet minutes after she got “lost”, I heard my name over the loudspeaker being called to the front. I found Sam there with the attendant that I had pointed out to her looking panicked. Sam ran directly into my arms for a tight hug, and that was the only time she broke down crying. Later she told me she was calling out for Jamie and me and we didn’t come. I assume that was when she remembered to go down and have me paged.
When I recounted the experience to my husband, he told me I should have scolded her for not staying close liked I had asked. I couldn’t do it. I felt the natural consequence of being lost was enough of a lesson.
I did tell her though that I was so proud that she remembered what to do. I really was. It’s a big thing for an almost 5-year old to have that kind of presence of mind and self-control when what she obviously wanted to do was just breakdown and cry. And I was very very relieved to learn that all the subconscious reminders had paid off. Now to make sure that it’s reinforced and it sticks — for both her and for Jamie.