Here’s A Story You’ll Love…About a STRANGER and a GIRL

Hi Readers — Just read this lovely little essay and wanted to share it. It’s about a dad who accidentally loses track of his daughter on a bike trip, and what happened next. Enjoy! — L.

Two Stories You Won’t Hear on the News

Hi Readers! Here you go! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I live in a small town (less than 300 residents) in Southwest Pennsylvania,  and regardless of the image the local-ish news channels portray, it is VERY safe. I grew up in the house I am living in, my  parents live next door.

The other day I was working in the yard, repainting some furniture. I heard my 2-year-old come out  then turn around and bang on the door she just exited. My mom came to the door and asked Gwen if she wanted to come in. I didn’t hear anything else, and when I looked up a few minutes later and didn’t see my daughter, I assumed she had gone in with my mom. A couple minutes later, I went in to clean up. When I didn’t see my daughter, I asked where she was. Mom said she thought Gwen was outside with me. This started a search of the yard (large, nearly 3/4 acre, all fenced in), something that happens a couple times on most days. When we determined Gwen wasn’t there, we started walking up the street. Mom found her standing in front of a neighbor’s house three homes away, looking for the back-hoe she’d seen the day before. The neighbor who lived there was just walking over to Gwen to bring her down and see if she was ours. My next door neighbor, who was leaving for work, was also just coming out to see whose child it was.

Total result? A minute of semi-panic when we realized my two-year-old wasn’t in the yard. A five-minute conversation with a normally anti-social neighbor about her grown daughter at the toddler stage. And when my father came home, he moved the gate latch to the outside of the fence so Gwen can’t open it again. Nobody called the police or child protective services, no injuries occurred, and Gwen wasn’t even fazed  — though she WAS disappointed that the big machines were gone.

This is a big deal to me because Pittsburgh news (our closest “local” news) runs nearly weekly reports of parents going to court-mandated parenting classes or even losing their children because of similar occurrences where toddlers get out and wander unsupervised. In all of these occasions, when neighbors find random children, they don’t look for a parent, they seem to START by calling the police.

Then, today we went to our nearest park to play on the big swings. The park is right against the Youghigheny River, so there are a lot of water fowl. Gwen played until she realized the ducks were there! She wanted to go look. While there, she had a lovely conversation about the ducks with an older gentleman (75 or 80 years, probably), who was sitting on a bench watching the ducks, too. I actually walked back to the car (about 20 yards away) to get her drink while she sat and watched with him. She probably sat still for longer than anywhere else today. He was polite, patient, and seemed to find her constant observations about the ducks adorable.

Thankfully, the local city has not succumbed to the temptation to bar adults from enjoying the same areas as children, because both my daughter and the gentleman had a wonderful time.

Moral of the story: There are some areas of the country that haven’t completely succumbed to insanity, and I am SO happy to live in one of them, since we have been Free-Range with Gwen since she first became mobile. — A Happy Pennsylvania Mom

WTD? What happens when a toddler watches ducks with someone other than her parent?

Losing Track of My Kid — And Staying Calm

Hi Readers! You’ll like this! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to thank you. On Saturday I misplaced my 6-year-old son for half an hour, long enough that we had the museum staff and state park ranger looking with us–long enough for most people to completely panic themselves and everyone around them. But I reminded myself that he loves being independent and was likely not freaked out, and most importantly, I remembered the point you make over and over: People are kind and caring. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t help a misplaced child, including people I know who’ve gone to jail. That thought was a mantra for me to keep calm, so that when we did locate him (after walking to the nearby park that was not the park we were planning to go to he went back to the car, figuring we’d show up there eventually) I wasn’t out of my mind. If I’d started freaking out, I would have made him think the world is a scary place when really, nothing bad had happened. Thank you! — A Calm Mom

Happy About a Lost Kid

Hi Readers! This nice note just in:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I couldn’t be happier! Tonight my 7-year-old daughter got lost in our neighborhood while riding her bike. She had two out-of-town cousins with her, and they wandered about one block further than she recognized (we’re new to the neighborhood). And then she did a very smart thing–she asked for help.

She found a couple sitting on their porch and asked them to help her find her way home. She knew her address and phone number, so they called us to let us know she was on her way back. I had a nice little conversation with the husband, and then his wife walked the three kids back to our place.

The kids were exultant: they’d gotten lost, found their way again, and made new friends! When my daughter got home, I congratulated her on being so smart. To make sure she was clear about boundaries, I asked what she would have done if they’d invited her inside, offered her cookies and lemonade “just inside the house,” and so on. She said that she would’ve said no, she just wanted directions home.

Now I feel even more confident about my daughter’s street savvy and the kindness of adults in my neighborhood. A Free-Range kid is a safe kid–a kid who makes it back home again! Best — Caitlin

Guest Posts: Why I Didn’t Help A Lost Girl (And Troubled Boy)

Hi Readers — I got both these letters today and felt that together they make the point: We must start letting men know we TRUST them around kids. Thinking the “worst first” of all males is not only insulting, it is damaging the fabric of our society, pulling men away from their age-old jobs of  protecting and mentoring. (Yes, women fulfill those roles, too.  But the more the merrier!)

“You like kids? You must be a creep!” is a weird, paranoid, Nancy Grace-induced attitude. No one’s saying we should be naive about child abuse. But to have child abuse top-of-mind every time any man has anything to do with a kid is, well, perverted! Talk about ironic! — L.

Why I Didn’t Help a Lost Little Girl by Alan, in Utah

Our city had a carnival today.  While my 3 youngest boys were off at the dunk tank. (*Gasp* — by themselves!  With money even!) I was sitting at a table with all of the boys’ stuff (shoes, socks, stuff from the parade) when I noticed a little girl separated from her mom.  It must have just happened because she looking around bewildered at first, but within just a few moments she was crying pretty hard.

My first instinct was to go and see if she point out her mom, but Iwas worried about someone accusing me of something and being arrested and my boys coming back to an empty table.  So I sat and watched uncomfortably while this poor little girl became more and more agitated and crying more and more loudly.

Now, the part that bothers me the most about this is that there was a group of three women standing not 5 feet from this little girl.  They ignored her completely.  I finally decided to get up and do something and had gotten just a few feet from this little girl when one of the women butted ahead of me and asked her if she’d lost her mother.  As she escorted the child past she hissed, “Pervert!” at me.

I kept thinking of that poor man in England who saw the little girl walking who ended up drowning and was too afraid to stop and help her. I remember thinking when I heard that that there was no way I’d just drive off and leave her … but I know better now.  I’m much less likely to help a distressed child because I’m too afraid of what might
happen to my own kids.  And that’s just sad. — Alan

And here’s the other note

Why I Didn’t Help A Lost-seeming Boy, by “Philosodad”

“Stranger Danger” does cut both ways. Over the fall and winter I used to take my son to a playground closer to my daughter’s daycare. The kids there would ask me to play quarterback in the pickup football game (and let my three-year-old play, which was awesome). This was a lot of fun for everybody and gave the kids an unbiased referee (me), a quarterback who could throw deep passes (me), and a kid with a *brand new football* (my son), which is more or less pickup football nirvana.

One of the kids, who didn’t have a dad at home, got very attached to me… told me all his stories, wanted to stand close to me, wanted approval, Dad stuff, I guess. And because of this whole “stranger danger” mentality, I could just sense this sort of wary disapproval from the few other parents at the playground (none of whom were playing with any kids, not even their own) who just sort of watched. Watchfully.

I felt weird about the situation, so I just stopped going to that playground. Which was probably the wrong thing to do. It’s sad that even though I knew that I wasn’t a creepy stranger, I was so worried about being seen as a creepy stranger that I gave up a perfectly good opportunity to mentor a troubled kid for a few hours a week. — Philosodad

Oh no! A grown male near a child!

Good News! Lost 5-Year-Old Helped by Strangers

Every parents’ fear — that their child will get lost, far from home, and come to harm — was turned on its head yesterday. I have a feeling it’s turned on tis head every day, actually, but how nice to read this story about strangers. It shouldn’t even be news: most humans care about children and want to help. But as long as we’re talking about kids, school buses and getting lost, it’s nice that a story like this gets some publicity. — Lenore

Has Anyone Seen My Son?! One Mom’s Story

Hi Readers!
Here’s a story most of us can relate to, from mom of two Kelli Oliver George, whose funny, addictive blog is
Rancid Raves.

I LOST MY SON AT THE FAIR, BUT I FOUND HIM — SUPRISINGLY! NOT

by Kelli Oliver George

I thought about Free-Range Kids long and hard last night when I lost my 3.5-year-old at a huge, dusty county fair with thousands of folks milling around.

 My baby! Lost! The entire time I hunted for him, I kept repeating to myself what this site has been preaching: the statistics are actually LOW and realistically, he was going to be fine, just fine. Here’s what happened:

 I went to the Leavenworth County Fair in Tonganoxie, Kansas with my sister and her kids. It was the typical fair scene — flashing lights worthy of a seizure, cheap stuffed animals hanging by their necks, chaotic bells, buzzers and carnival music blaring, the smell of grease lingering with the heavy scent of livestock. The fair.

It is a fair that was the highlight of my summers for the seven years I lived in Tonganoxie because everyone was there — even that cute boy you spied from a neighboring town at that track meet last spring. You begged your mom to make sure that your new school clothes were bought before the fair. THE FAIR. Ah, yes! This was a place I knew and loved!

And none of that mattered one damned bit when Arun went missing. He was with my sister and headed towards me, but at some point disappeared. He was gone, it was dark, and the population of folks seemed to be multiplying before my very eyes.

I leapt into action. Handing Anjali over to my sister, I told her to stay put. Then, methodically, I marched back and forth looking for my boy.

The entire time, I was fighting back the rising panic: After all, who has posted endlessly about “letting our children go”? Who has been shamelessly taunting child predators everywhere? Was this the universe’s lame attempt at bitch-slapping me?

I  saw some police officers and told them the situation. Meanwhile,I kept reminding myself of all of the sensible statistics that I have been reading on this site and in Lenore’s book for the past year. I grasped those facts and figures tightly as my talisman while I searched.

And then, after the longest 10 (15?) minutes of my life: there he was. As my sister had stood in place, she told everyone she encountered about Arun being lost. Someone brought him back to us.

Arun was not really aware that he was lost — in his mind, he was just hanging out by the super slide. What’s the problem, yo? I explained to him what happened and told him to thank the police officers for helping. We also had a very long talk about it on the way home.

What would I do differently? Last night, I had dressed Arun in a dark green shirt. I will definitely do brighter colors next time. And I will snap a picture of each kid on my cell phone at the beginning of events like this. And maybe I’ll use a good, old-fashioned Sharpie to write our phone number on their forearms. But that is it.

Afterward, my sister told me she was shocked at how calm I was during and after the whole thing. 

I wasn’t calm. But I’ll go to the fair with my kids again. I want my  children to grow up with SPIRIT and a love for discovering. I know that means that sometime, I may have to deal with another situation like this. But I refuse to be afraid. I refuse.

Kid Slipped Away From You? Share Your Story!

After yesterday’s story about a 5-year-old who slipped away from his mom and rode the subway alone — emerging just fine — here’s a great idea that came from a comment below:

Let’s share our stories of when WE lost our kids for a short time. So much is made of any time a child goes missing – including those statistics you hear about hundreds of kids disappearing each day – that it is good to remember that 99.999% of the time they pop right back up. (And that perfectly fine parents lose track of their kids from time to time.)

Here’s my story: A couple years ago our family of four was on 34th Street – yes, the street with the miracle, but about a block from Macy’s.  We’d been looking for backpacks at K-Mart and, finding nothing great, had emerged onto the sidewalk and were trying to decide where to look next. I took our older son, then 10, to a shop across the street and thought my husband was hanging onto the younger one, who was 8. My husband thought I took both. So when we met back up and there were only three of us, I became (yes, Free-Range me) hysterical.

“WHERE IS IZZY?”

We looked and looked and I shouted his name at the top of my shaky lungs. Believe me, it is no fun having strangers stare at you as if you’ve lost your mind…or kid. Several horrible, harrowing minutes later, he came walking down the street, asking us, “Where were you?”

We asked him the same thing. Upon somehow separating from us all he’d gone back to K-Mart to look for us. He’d searched all three floors, including the bathrooms.

I told him he was the only human to EVER find the bathrooms at K-Mart.

Then we went back to backpack shopping and that was that.

Now let’s hear your story, to remind ourselves that even one of parenting’s biggest fears – being separated in a public place from your child – usually ends up with a big sigh of relief. And, when possible, ice cream.  – Lenore