My child went missing

23 May 2016

Dear friend,  

My tired old brain seems to be shutting down a bit at the moment. I find myself walking into rooms 3 times, trying to remember why I went upstairs and opening the fridge, only to forget why I am looking inside (not great for the diet either). I just about excuse these things but is it ever acceptable to loose your child? Keys maybe, children, eh, probably not... I have struggled to write this post but here we go. In honour of national missing children's day, let me tell you about the day my child went missing.

I lost my son I didn't know where he was, I didn't know who he was with. It was quite simply, the worst, most frightening, most excruciatingly terrifying day (well hour) of my life! One I will never, ever forget. 

The Dutch don't helicopter parent, they trust their children, give them independence. My Dutch hubby and family told me I was too "English." 

Everyone plays outside here. Fresh air is good for kids, he needs to be given a bit of freedom, all the other kids are playing outside, it's summer, he is with his brother and friends. 
Laat hem los (let him be free).

This was the kind of upbringing I wanted for my boys. The same one that I experienced and that I look back on with nostalgia. Warm summer days playing with friends, riding our bikes, eating ice lollies that we made in those funny plastic moulds, splashing in the paddling pool, playing football or rounders, hide and seek, having water fights and chalking on the pavements. Coming home at dusk tired and happy. 

I let myself be persuaded and (against my better judgement) I relaxed my control, which was unbelievably difficult for a control freak like me.

I did impose conditions, he was only allowed to play out with his older brother. I took both of them outside and set the rules. I walked around showing them where they were allowed to go (no road crossing involved) no running into the street after balls, don't talk to strangers etc 

The first time the little man went out to play I was terrified. I paced the floor and after 5 minutes decided that the dog really needed a walk. I kept doing that for a while. I would invent trips to shops or visits to Oma to shorten the play time. The thing is nothing happened, he had fun, he was happy, he kept popping in every 10 minutes anyway to tell me things or for a drink or cookie. I could hear him in the neighbours gardens or in the pedestrian only street next to our house playing, having fun, being a kid.

I began to relax. It was ok. Nothing was going to happen. My boys were happy, having fun, making friends. They were safe in our small village. What was I so worried about? 

It was a beautiful warm day and the big lad was playing with his friend (neighbours son) in his garden, hubby had just arrived home and we were sitting on the sofa, doors wide open on the garden, chatting, catching up on our day. The little man asked if he could go and play with his brother so hubby helped him get his bike out from the shed. We could hear the kids playing next door. Around 15 minutes later I reminded hubby that the little man had a physiotherapy appointment and that we should get him.

But little man wasn't with my big lad and the neighbours children. 

Initially , I was only slightly worried as hubby set off saying he's probably just gone round the block on his bike. I expected him to whizz through the gate shouting Mum as usual. 

15 minutes later and the worry had turned to panic. Hubby called the police. My baby had been missing for half an hour...

I waited at home while hubby and all the kids from the neighbourhood searched everywhere. I paced the house like a caged animal. I screamed his name from the front door and back garden gate. I prayed and made every kind of deal that I could think of with god. My main panic was that he had fallen in the canal and drown or that someone had taken him. 

The more that time progressed the tighter the grip of terror became. The pain was physical, I could hardly breathe, think, see straight. At the heart of this was the overriding feeling of guilt, that this was my fault, I had allowed this to happen. Only a crazy person would allow a child of 5 to play outside!

Hubby arrived back, there was no sign of him, anywhere. By now I was hysterical. 45 minutes... 

We stood on the front doorstep staring down the street willing him to turn around the corner, smile on his face, wondering what all the fuss was about. The desperation was crippling, I couldn't sit, stand, walk, think, talk. Where was my baby? What should we do? Somebody help us!

Every minute felt like an eternity... 

A police car turned the corner. At first I thought they'd just come to take a statement. I was shouting, maniacally, please find him, please help us. 

But then I spotted something, a face in the back window still wearing his tiger mask (hubby hadn't mentioned that in the description). He was safe!

I was a mess, crying, screaming, laughing, repeating; Where were you? Where were you? I pulled him to me and enveloped him in a huge hug of relief. The emotions are so difficult to describe because on one hand I was so relieved that he was safe but on the other I was so mad that he had gone and I was also petrified that maybe someone had attempted to take him. He was scared, he was confused and sorry and he was crying. 

The police had found him on the other side of our village close to a children's playground. Perhaps he was on his way there to play? He was upset and they thought he had got lost on the way. 

I tried not to give hubby the "I told you so!" speech but I couldn't help it! As a teacher I have given the; If your friend asked you to jump off a bridge would you? Speech, so many times. Why did I let myself be influenced? I was not the overprotective English mother, I was right. He was too young to be trusted yet. Now he was grounded until his 18th and I would never listen to anyone else ever again.

Parenting is hard, really hard. Add cultural differences and it becomes even more complicated. Naively, when I married a Dutch man I never expected to encounter cultural imbalances but I guess when you fall in love you look at similarities not difference. What binds you together not what can pull you apart.

Which approach should we follow, the English style of helicopter parenting or the more relaxed dutch approach? Research tells us that Dutch kids are the happiest in the world. The freedom children are afforded here must have a role to play in this. But letting go will remain a struggle for me. I guess we will have to find a compromise.

Whenever we mention, the day little man got lost, he gets really upset and says; don't talk about it mummy. I guess we will never really know what happened. There is a period of my son's life that I know nothing about. That terrifies me but the alternative haunts me more.

It took a very long time but I have learned to relax again. I have learned to trust. Not only to trust little man again but also to believe in my parenting skills. To put aside my feelings of guilt. I am not a bad parent, I am just a parent who made a mistake who should have listened to her gut and not to others opinions. 

My son was missing for around 45 minutes and it felt like an eternity. My heart goes out to all those parents who are still searching for their missing children.

In the UK a child is reported missing every 3 minutes.
National missing children's day is held on 25th May every year.

For further information regarding missing children:
Missing kids UK
Missing people.
National centre for missing and exploited children (US)
UK Missing Persons Bureau 

I thought long and hard about sharing this experience. It was a difficult decision. But I know there will be other mums out there who have lost their children and who experienced the same guilt. You are not alone. 

Please feel free to comment but I ask that you please be kind!

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