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When Kids Get Lost in a Crowd

I went to a church fair this weekend. It was the last night of the fair and a Saturday night, so it was fairly packed. At one point Big Girl walked over to a garbage can to throw away her food wrapper. She came back and said, “Mommy, there’s a little girl over there who looks like she is lost. She looks like she’s crying.”

I immediately walked over to the little girl just in time to see two men talking to her. One of them took her hand. I jumped in front of her and started asking her if she was lost. She was, she said. The one guy, by this time, had her hand firmly and was trying to solicit information from her — how old was she, what was her name. I looked at him, told him I had it, and he could leave. He refused to let go of her hand so I grabbed her other hand and said we should go over to the ticket booth. He tried to get us to leave. He had it, he said. He and his friend were karate guys, he said. (He was wearing a karate school t-shirt. Whatever.) I looked at him and told him — no offense — but a 5-year-old lost girl should not be alone with a 20-something man and his friend. And I tightened my grip on the little girl’s hand.

We got over to the ticket booth to find her hysterical grandmother. The child’s parents had already called the police. (My question: WHY wasn’t there an announcement made? Why wasn’t anyone doing anything to find this kid, who had been lost for a while we learned.) The guy let go and left. I turned to the grandmother and told her that she should tell her daughter-in-law that if her child ever got lost she was to go find a police person. If that failed she should look for a mommy with a stroller, like me. She certainly should NOT talk to a strange, single man in his 20s. Again, no offense to the men, who were probably just trying to help, but no. Just NO.

During this discussion the father came back and took the little girl to find her mother. Soon after, the frantic mother came back to the booth to thank me. I repeated what I had said to the grandmother. We left the carnival once the girls did a few more rides, but the memory of that little girl stuck with me. It really, really bothered me, actually. I kept thinking what if. What if my daughter didn’t see that child and those men — who I am sure were nice, upstanding citizens — had taken that child away? What if she had wandered onto dangerous equipment? What if she had walked onto Merrick Road, a busy thoroughfare? The possibilities were endless. I am so glad that little girl was okay and that nothing happened to her aside from getting a good scare. Still, there are so many what ifs that I quizzed my kids on the way home that night.

They had heard me chastising the grandmother and mother so they replied they would have looked for a policeman first and then a mommy with a stroller. In retrospect, the little girl probably should have made a beeline directly to the well-lit, busy ticket booth. Or maybe the church rectory. Even better, the parents (and all parents) should have created a meeting place that they could have met up at if anyone got lost. I plan on doing that the next time we are outside or in a big public place because the what ifs aren’t just what ifs sometimes. Sometimes they become reality.

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