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I Lost My Kids In A Crowd. Here's What I Learned.

At the end of the day, I was even glad it happened.

Two little boys trying to use a telephone in an old fashioned phone box
Sally Anscombe/Moment/Getty Images

It happened at the theater. The kids and I had just seen a 90-minute Peter Rabbit production and my 10-year-old said he was going to the bathroom. I told him there’d be a huge queue. We were heading to the library next, which was practically next door, and so he could go there. In retrospect, I should have made sure that we were on the same page before I turned away. Instead, while I gathered my bag, their drinks, and my four-year-old’s hand, he and his middle brother left the stalls and went downstairs. By the time we reached the crowded foyer, they were gone.

I didn’t panic; I headed to the library, scanning the street, feeling slightly more cross than worried. We went upstairs to the men’s toilets. The four-year-old peeped in to see if they were there, but no luck.

I headed to the holds section. We always have a stack of books to collect and it’s usually the first place that we go. The boys weren’t there, so I left a note with our holds, telling them to STAY PUT! I was checking the theater but I’d be back. As we left the library, I said a hurried prayer.

At this point I remembered to turn on my phone, which I’d put on flight mode for the show. As I approached the foyer it started ringing, and as I walked inside I saw them: my eldest holding the theater’s old-school telephone, his eight-year-old brother holding back tears, three workers looking on.

I hope the staff saw the gratitude in my smile, because I didn’t use words to thank them. Words followed, but they were all directed at the kids. Still hugging the eight-year-old, who was now letting himself cry, I explained that I’d been looking for them at the library. Then I listened.

My eldest said that after I told him to wait for the library loo, he’d told me that actually, he was still opting for the theater. He knew now that I hadn’t heard, he didn’t know it then. They went together and upon emerging, realized I was gone and asked for help. I said I was glad they’d stuck together. I was glad they asked a staff member for help. I was glad the middle brother remembered my phone number.

And ultimately, I was even glad it happened. The whole saga probably lasted less than ten minutes, I was never really worried, they were never really scared, and we’d learned a thing or two.

I tried to reinforce every important takeaway from our scary moment on the way home (and when we got home, and over dinner, and after dinner, and… you get the picture) I talked about the importance of staying together, of knowing my phone number, of obeying instructions; the problem of countering one statement with another; the problem of not making sure that a message, once delivered, was actually received; the benefit of asking then listening, versus telling then doing.

I also tested the kids on my phone number. I’d tried to teach them it before. I now knew the eight-year-old had it memorized, but it turned out that the ten-year-old did not. “I hate memorizing numbers,” he said. “They’re slippery and they fall out of my ears!” I pondered this.

He needed motivation. The experience of getting lost would help, but dusty numbers might still “fall out of" his ears. To retain my number, he needed to need it regularly. This gave me an idea. I would add a password to the kids’ account on my computer — a number. A number they needed to know, for more than just screen time.

The memory of this day and the things I tried to teach my kids might fade, but I’m willing to bet that if they have to type in my phone number to access my computer — that memory won’t.

Emma Wilkins is an Australian journalist and freelance writer who currently spends more time wrangling children than words, but enjoys both pursuits immensely. Topics of interest include friendship, parenting, food, literature, culture and faith.