We recently visited Sea World in Orlando on a day in February that was rather cool and rainy in the morning. Due to the weather, Sea World was not as busy and we really were having a wonderful day exploring, learning and making memories. All that changed so quickly, when my sweet four year old boy disappeared and I lost my son at Sea World.
It was getting late in the day and dinner time for our family. We decided to split up and conquer, which we do often. My husband and my older three children went for our dinner, while my four year old and I headed for the children's play area. My son was so excited about the Net Climb and I was excited for him, but knew that his siblings would LOVE to explore this area with him, so I told him that we will just enjoy the slides together, while we waited for them.
My son tends to be an obedient boy and because of this obedience, I gave him some liberties to enjoy with my supervision. The photo below (provided by viajaretudodebom.com.br) is the Net Climb at Sea World and the pink, purple and green slides were where I gave him permission to play. I watched him climb the steps, as I waited by the bottom of the slides. From that area, I could see his feet and see where he had entered. He loved coming down the slide and peek through the openings to see me waiting with a smile.
This routine continued for six turns, two trips down each of the colors of the slide. He was heading for the steps again and I wanted to be sure he remembered that he could only go down the three sides and he replied ‘yes, ma'am'.
So again, I watched from the bottom of the slides and moved with his fee to the green slide, which was the furtherest slide from the stairs. I saw his feet disappear and waited to see his face through the openings on top of the slide… but NOTHING! I popped my head into the slide and called his name. NOTHING! Seeing the light at the top, I popped up and thought that he must have changed his mind in went into the next one. I began scanning the top and looking through the other slides. NOTHING. I called his name again. NOTHING.
I ran up those steps as fast as I could to only find NO ONE at the top. I began to scream his name, as I spun in all directions trying to spot where he went and the only options was into the Net Climb through a yellow tube. Once entering this tube, there is a large rope floor that leads to the next level. I scanned that area to the right and I saw nothing… NO ONE!
As I began to scan more to the left, while screaming his name, I saw an area that lead to the left side of the Net Climb and I didn't see him, but I noticed a stair way down the other side.
My mind went wild…. ‘SOMEONE TOOK MY SON!'
I ran down the stairs that I came up and began to look frantically in all directions for a glimpse of my son and couldn't! I called my daughter's cell and began to cry into the phone, “I lost Manoah and I need y'all to help me NOW!”
I ran back up the stairs and a young father stopped me. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Ma'am, what does your son look like and what is he wearing?” I began to try to get a photo from my phone and I couldn't even stop from shaking. I stopped and prayed out loud, “Lord, help me!” Immediately, I started to remember what he was wearing.
We both started scanning the second level and the young father pointing to the stairs between the second and third level said, ‘Is that him?'
“YES!!! YES!!!!” was all I could say. I screamed his name and told him to come to me right now. He was coming in my direction and everything hit me. I hugged the young father, thanking him again and again. I watched as my little boy was making his way to me, just as my family arrived.
I couldn't stop hugging my boy and then my husband, bawling the whole time!
This experience of losing my son has taught me somethings, even after 20 years of parenting and I wanted to share them with you.
- Paying full attention to your child isn't enough – I was not distracted with my cell phone, talking with another parent or looking around. I have full attention on my child, but the obstacles in my way from a full view wasn't enough for me to know where my son was at all times.
- It really only does take a few seconds – I have gone through this time again and again and can only expect that he was in the Net Climb for about 1 minute before I was at the opening. We are still puzzled of how he got where he got without me seeing him, but there are tunnels inside and although we can't get a full understanding from him, we believe that he was inside one of these obstructing my view of him.
- First time obedience is crucial – My son is obedient most of the time and he admitted that he willingly disobeyed because he really wanted to go inside and play. Even if your child is characterized to be obedient, situations can be more temptation for them then we realize.
- Current photo is crucial – From now on, I will be taking a photo of my son and putting it on my screen shot when ever we go to anything that can obstruct my view from having full knowledge of where he is at all times. If I could have pulled that up immediately, he may have been noticed sooner.
- Dress in something that stands out – Bold colors or in his case, a polar bear on a black sweater was helpful to spotting him quickly.
- Ask for help before freaking out – No one stepped up to help me when I called his name several times and I didn't ask for it either. I was freaking out before someone offered to help me. If my son was taken, that was precious time lost because I tried to do it on my own.
- Train my son who knows no strangers safety rules – He talks to EVERYONE and immediately tells them his name and age. He just loves people. In today's culture, this could be harmful to him. We have already started to train him about stranger danger and walking away from us. I have even gone so far as to have a family password, so he learns that if someone tries to get him to go with him, he can only go with them if they know our secret word.
I hope these tips help you to never know the fear that gripped our family that day. Meanwhile, we look forward to go to Sea World again and build more memories that bring smiles to our faces.