She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

Hi bhdiknfyei
Folks! This is a good one to take to heart…and to the playground. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve known for a while that Free-Range is a great way to raise confident, independent, capable kids, but I never knew how much this approach would help me as a parent until last night.

I was at a local park with my boys.  They are ages 2 and 4.  My older son has just recently mastered monkey bars and after his probably 10th or 12th time cruising along them, his hands slipped and he fell down pretty hard.  He’s generally a tough guy when it comes to injuries, but he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him as well as a fat lip and was quite upset.  I was consoling him for a few seconds when my 2-year-old apparently wandered off.

This park is quite large.  It has two separate playground areas, some soccer and baseball fields and a woodsy area with trails to walk through.  I had no idea which direction he’d gone and was pretty panicked.  He was only missing for about 5 minutes, but it felt like days.  Immediately several complete strangers essentially organized a search party and they put one of them in charge of staying with my screaming, injured son so that I could go help look for my younger son without the older in tow.

I found my little one down on the lower playground around the corner out of sight from me.  He was happily talking to a man with a dog.

After I got home last night and was somewhat settled down from what had been an absolutely terrifying ordeal to me, I had this moment of clarity where I was so thankful that I’ve found your blog and have become a proud, self-proclaimed Free-Range mom.  During those scary 5 minutes, at NO time did it even occur to me that my missing son had been abducted.  I instinctively went with the most logical scenario:  He’s 2.  He probably saw something interesting on the other side of the park and had wandered over there (there was a Little League game going on, lots of kids down there and as I mentioned, people with dogs…he LOVES dogs).  It was the most likely scenario and it allowed me to find my son much quicker by following my instinct instead of the standard worst-first thinking.  It also allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable leaving my older son with strangers while I searched for the other.

Thank God for common sense and the kindness of (perfectly safe) strangers!  And thanks for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of raising Free-Range kids.


Karen Miller

A toddler, a dog and a frantic mom (not pictured).

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43 Responses to She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

  1. Tim Gill September 1, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    Karen, your story is a model of how to take a balanced perspective on these kinds of events. As a parent myself, I know that they can seem tortuous when they are happening. But the truth is that 99.99 per cent of the time these ‘near misses’ are actually beneficial for all concerned, because both parents and children learn valuable lessons.

    Your point about not focusing on the rare risk of abduction reminds me of a terrible story I was told when I was in Australia a few years ago, about a mum who lost her child in a park. As I was told the story, the child was in a buggy, which rolled out of sight when she got distracted. But rather than look around to see where it might have rolled, she was convinced someone had abducted her child, and ran off to find help. The tragedy is that the buggy had rolled into a nearby lake or river, and the child drowned. While we can never be sure – and I would never judge or blame the parent – it was suggested to me that if she had made a more realistic assessment of what had happened, she might have saved her baby’s life.

  2. Sarah September 1, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    My boys are same ages, and I know first-hand how easy it is to get distracted by the older one while the younger one wanders off. (Two is the perfect age for that, after all.) My four-year-old is fairly independent on a playground, but if he does need help it doesn’t take long for the two-year-old to take off if he has a mind to. I so understand this scenario and the horrible feeling of not knowing where your two-year-old is, even for five minutes!

    I’m glad you were able to stay calm enough to find him and to rely on the help of people at the park. And of course, I’m glad your son was okay. This is a good reminder of the importance of not panicking. This sort of thing does happen all the time, even to the best of us!

  3. Elisabeth September 1, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    (re the picture) A boy and a dog? Why no mention of the donkey? Wait!! Should children be left alone with PACK ANIMALS?!? 😉

  4. Holly September 1, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    I’m glad that your first reaction was not to yell at the man with the dog for talking to your child. So many people would.

  5. redpenmamapgh September 1, 2012 at 12:59 am #

    My gosh, a similar thing just happened to me this week. I sent my three kids into the backyard to finish dinner. My oldest (7) was to keep a close eye on my youngest (21-months) for five minutes. When I came outside, the two girls (my middle is 5yo) had gotten totally into their pretend play, and M, my son, had wandered off. I took the 5yo with me to canvass the neighborhood (where we are known & recognized) and made the 7yo look around the yard and at our neighbor’s house. I had a similar thought: he didn’t get scooped up by someone in a white van, he probably went to go visit a neighbor’s dog, or wandered into a nearby parking lot where we sometimes ride bikes.

    It turns out, he had wandered down a steep hil in our yard, and was just digging up some worms. I gave his sisters a good talking to anyway because it was pretty scary. But I didn’t panic and I didn’t think the bogeyman had him.

  6. Havva September 1, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    Sounds like a great community and a great rational search.

    My husband and I lost our toddler for a few minutes a little while back. After a very quick look around, I grab the employee working that section and sent him to keep an eye on the front door. Then went back to help my husband preform a carefully search of the area our daughter was last seen. I found her on a low shelf that my husband and I had both checked before. She had crawled behind the boxes of car seats. When I found her she had a twinkle in her eye and broke into a huge smile. She was playing hide and seek.. we just didn’t know.

    The only heart stopping concern for me in these scenarios are streets and water.

    That buggy tragedy, Tim mentioned, is just horrific. I’ve seen my nephew roll away in his stroller. We were on a gentle incline. One moment there was no perceptible movement in the stroller, next thing I knew, it was moving too fast to be grabbed, and headed down the nearby hill. I shouted to my sister, who didn’t respond, and started running. I was halfway back up the hill with my nephew before she notice he was gone. She didn’t understand what was happening and questioned what I was doing, and why. So glad it was my sister’s stroller that started rolling instead of the other mother she was chatting with.

  7. Frau_Mahlzahn September 1, 2012 at 1:17 am #

    I think that is an important lesson to remember: almost all people are kind and friendly and will help.

    My youngest one got lost in Legoland when she was 3 — and two adults aware of a little crying kid and came to help her and took her to a security guard. All three of them were male btw — and I was very thankful for their help.

    So long,

  8. craig September 1, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    Omg, he was talking to a…. a…. MAN. I think you were supposed be incredibly alarmed and call the police or something. (sarcasm intended).

  9. Havva September 1, 2012 at 1:32 am #

    @redpenmamapgh… your story (from your daughter’s perspective) reminds me of the American Girl’s book “Meet Kaya.” Kaya lost track of twin brothers. If your daughter has read/reads that, she will be glad there aren’t many dangerous wild animals about these days (One of Kaya’s litany of fears). Kaya’s brothers were fine, BTW, just like normal kids today, they had wandered off.

  10. Maggie Evans September 1, 2012 at 1:46 am #

    My four-year old wanders off all the time. My rule is that if the kids want to go outside, they have to ask me first. 4YO son will sneak out without checking with me, and nothing short of tying him to a chair will prevent this. He can unlock the door, he can climb to access a lock out of his reach, and he even went out a window once. I don’t panic when I can’t find him in the house. I know there’s a 99.9999% chance he’s either playing in our yard or at either of the two neighbors we’re friendly with.

    One time, my children had been playing upstairs and when I called them down, 4YO wasn’t with them. We look throughout the house, we looked outside, we looked at the neighbors….no sign of him. So we thought maybe for some reason he tried to walk to our church (2 blocks away) his aunt’s house (2 blocks away) or the library (6 blocks away) Nope. So we went to the police, not because we really thought he’d been kidnapped, but because we thought if he had been out walking, someone may have called the police and he might be at the station. He wasn’t, but they helped us look. In the end- he was asleep under my bed, between a box of clothing and the wall (I had looked under the beds but hadn’t thought to move the boxes.

  11. Warren September 1, 2012 at 1:50 am #

    Kids and dogs, they go hand in hand.

  12. ECSartain September 1, 2012 at 2:11 am #

    I have a 14-year-old daughter who has Down Syndrome and is about like your average 8-year-old developmentally. She’s capable of doing normal kid things, though not normal 14-year-old things. She was lost at a parade (among thousands of people) this summer. Looking for her was frustrating. She had a cell phone with her but was in panic mode because she was disoriented among all the people and all the corndog stands that looked exactly alike and didn’t know what to do. All I could get her to say on the phone was, “I don’t know where I am,” no matter what I asked her. I never thought she would be abducted or taken advantage of. It just didn’t cross my mind. I eventually told her to find an adult and tell them she was lost and give them her phone so I could talk to them and find her. The man (yes, MAN) she approached talked to me and told me exactly where my daughter was, then stayed there with her until I could walk the few blocks in between to find her. When I tell this story, people are completely shocked that I a)instructed my daughter to approach a *stranger* and ask for help, and b)she wasn’t abducted and raped by the man she approached. Give me a break!

  13. Adrienne September 1, 2012 at 2:35 am #

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one! When my son was 3, my in-laws came to visit (staying at a resort) for Thanksgiving. We went to their place which has a clubhouse. While we were all there, my MIL and son stayed at their apt and soon came to where we were. MIL went back to the resort and I had assumed son went with. Soon after, hubby, BIL, and FIL went back. About 15 min after that, SIL and I headed back. Hubby was outside and asked where son was. I said with MIL. He said no. SIL and I raced back to clubhouse where son was playing with two separate families. One family thought he belonged to the other family while the other family thought the same thing. The whole time, not a thought crossed my mind he was kidnapped. I was more afraid he got in the pool area and at the time he couldn’t swim.

    Then a few years later when my daughter was 3, we went to son’s back-to-school night. As I was signing up for P-T Conferences, daughter decided to leave the classroom (in a matter of seconds). My biggest worry was that she had left the building and was laying in the street. I know it sounds crazy, but with all of the people coming and going and knowing my daughter, it seemed possible. Well, she ended up journeying into the library to “read” books. Figures! I think I’m cursed with the age of 3 and losing kids!

  14. missjanenc September 1, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    In the summer of 1980 my son Graham, who was five, and the next-door neighbo, had signed up to participate in McDonald’s sidekick soccer and had gone to the school playground, on the other side of the fence, to practice. My younger son, Alistair, who was turning three that August, wanted to go too, but I said no as he had been sick. He asked if he could play outside on the doorstep and I consented. I was sitting on the couch and dozed off as I had been up late the night before. When I awoke, Alistair was gone and Graham and Aubrey were just returning, but no little brother in tow. I jumped in the car and started driving towards the back entrance of the school, knowing the little rat had gone looking for Graham, however, there was no Alistair. I drove around the block and pulled into the driveway where a police car was parked. Turns out the officer had seen this little blonde boy walking down the busy street about a half-mile from our house, so he stopped to find out what he was up to. He asked his name which was provided, and his age, which he was told was four. I laughed and replied that he wasn’t yet three (he was a big kid from birth.) The great thing was that Alistair was able to tell the officer where he lived and was brought straight home, and we all had a good chuckle. No lectures, no recriminations, just a kids-will-be-kids moment. I’m just glad my little guy knew the way home and wasn’t afraid to talk. Of course, that was no surprise. I once admonished him for talking to strangers and he said, “Why? I like to!” I think I said it more out of sympathy for the people who would have to hear his motor mouth than any fear of “stranger danger!”

  15. Jen Connelly September 1, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    I’m lucky that when my 2yo wanders off or “disappears” I have a crew of 4 other kids to fan out and find him. Also that’s 5 sets of eyes watching him. We were at JC Penney’s the other day (me, my 3 girls and the 2yo) and the kids were just there. I wasn’t really watching them because I knew they were watching each other (the girls are 12, almost 10 and 6). When I would notice they weren’t around I’d call for one of them or I’d ask loudly where Jack was and one of them would answer me.

    There was 1 moment when no one knew where Jack was. It was right when we were leaving and we all started towards the door but after 2 steps I counted heads. The girls kind of freaked, spreading out through the girls clothing section. They found him in a corner, sitting on a shelf and giggling like mad. He was hiding.

    On the topic of hiding in stores. I remember the one time my parents ever freaked out about one of use missing. My brother was around 3 I guess and it was right after the Adam Walsh thing. I would have been 5. We were at a department store and we realized my brother was “missing”. We called and called for him, my parents getting more panicked by the second which left me in tears. The employees even got involved and after 15-20 minutes of searching they found him hiding in the clothes racks. It had been a joke until they started screaming for him and then he got scared he was in trouble and was afraid to come out or say anything.

    Despite that we were always free-range kids. I feel bad now thinking about how I would get on my bike at 13/14 years old and just go, never telling anyone I was leaving or where I was going. No cell phones, no money on me. I’d ride for hours and hours. My mom never seemed fazed when I’d get back. I’m sure inside she was frantic every time. At 16 I was taking the L into downtown Chicago on my own (my dad made me the 1st time). I’d tell my mom I was leaving and might have a few bucks for food, some bus tokens and a couple quarters for the phone but I never knew when I’d be back. I don’t know how my mom wasn’t a constant wreck, lol.

  16. backroadsem September 1, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    When I was little, my family was vacationing in California. One day I wandered too far down the beach (I remember thinking I just hadn’t walked far enough to my family). Freaked out my parents, who did the proper thing of notifying lifeguards and… strangers. I remember the guy who found me. A perfect stranger who was just helping out. Wound up becoming a long-distance friend of the family.

  17. Steve Verdon September 1, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    Why…is that….a pit bull in that picture. My GOD the horror!!!!!

  18. Kim September 1, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    We lost track of our 8 year old a few months back when she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. She didn’t come home on time and we started to scour the neighborhood. An hour and a half later after most of the neighbors got involved, we decided to call the police (the neighbors were aghast that I had waited that long.) We were just about to start a true door to door search ourselves because she has been known to go into houses of “friends” of whom we are not aware. Well, this was the case again. One of her other friends on the street recalled another girl down the street where she might be so they went over there and found my daughter happily watching a movie. They pulled up with her just as the police pulled up to the house. Even though I knew/hoped that she was just in someone’s house, I still admit I definitely started to panic at some point, especially with the judgemental attitudes of my neighbors. They seem to think we just let her wander the neighborhood alone all the time. In fact she does have rules, she does know where she is supposed to be and what time she is supposed to be home. However; like most children, she doesn’t always follow them! I had the police officer talk to her about it, and she was grounded for two weeks. Since then she is very good about coming home on time and calling me if there is a change in plans. Sometimes it takes a good scare to make the rules hit home. It is horrifying to go through this (not only the worry about the kids but knowing you are going to be the talk of the neighborhood), but we can’t live our lives trying to avoid every bad experience because it doesn’t really teach our kids anything!

  19. KMary September 1, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    I’m the Karen who wrote the original letter about my lost son at the park. It makes me feel so much better that this scenario has happened to so many people! Even though you know these things happen and it ended well, there’s always that guilt in the back of your mind for not keeping a better eye on your kid.

  20. cheryl September 1, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    My mother and a neighbor lady, each with several kids, would alternate driving to the kids to schools. One time it was my mom’s turn and she loaded up the van w/ all those kids. When she arrived at the third school and the last kids unloaded, there should have been one left, ME, who was not in school yet.
    She checked with the kids she had just dropped off, no, I wasn’t with them and they didn’t know where I was. She went into the school and used the office phone to call the neighbor and asked her to check the house for me (if I had been left behind). Retraced her route to the previous school and then the first school. There she called again and found out that I was indeed still at the house and happily watching TV. Completely oblivious to having been left behind.
    She didn’t panic (too bad). She never thought I was abducted, just… misplaced. 🙂

  21. Sarah September 1, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    Karen, I know exactly what you’re saying about guilt. I feel it all the time, even though I know rationally that I’m doing the best I can and there isn’t anything I could do differently, etc. Your four-year-old was hurt. You weren’t off having your nails done! But still, I know, you feel it.

    Personally, I just try to think about the fact that it won’t be like this forever. They’ll grow up and become more reliable and independent, whether we like it or not. Until then, you do the best you can, and that’s all you can do. (That, and be thankful that most people are good and will help you in these inevitable situations!)

  22. wendyww September 1, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Thank you for sharing this story and putting it in Free Range perspective. You just relieved years of (minor) guilt for me.

    When my 18yo son was 2.5, we made a cross country trip along with my 9yo daughter, my sister, and her 2 boys, ages 9 & 11. On the way home we stopped at one of those huge truck stops in the middle of nowhere. It had the sit-down restaurant, gift shop, arcade, truckers store & lounge with showers. A HUGE place with lots of corners. After we placed our dinner order, I took all the kids to the gift shop to stretch our legs, and to look for some state collectables that my daughter was collecting. One of my nephews took charge of my son, and when the boys all came back to me a few minutes later, the older boys walked off again and I thought they still had my son. There was no verbal exchange of responsibility and I was still engaged with my daughter sorting through the collectables. I looked around a few minutes later, saw my nephews, and my son was nowhere in sight. I stayed calm on the outside while freaking out on the inside. I envisioned someone grabbing him and taking off down the interstate, never to be seen again (and envisioned my husbands reaction when I had to tell him I lost our son!) I sent one nephew back to the table to check if he had gone there. My sister put him on table duty and came to help look. We found my son 5 minutes later in the arcade, not 20 feet from where I had been, but inside one of the driving games that had a seat with walls around it.

    Although the concept of free-range had not yet been named, I’ve always had a FR parenting style. None the less, for all these years I have felt guilty for NOT raising a ruckus about my missing child. Society says that should be the FIRST reaction. Until reading the story Lenore posted above, I never thought to put this incident into this perspective.

  23. mollie September 1, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    I was in the middle of a pretty nasty custody battle six years ago when my then-five-year-old son decided he was bored with the craft fair we were attending and left me standing at a booth admiring some paintings. I ran up and down the street yelling for him, telling everyone I could flag down his description, over and over again, panic rising in me by the second. The panic was not that he would be abducted. The panic was that this would be the last straw, the thing that his father would use against me so that I could never care for him again.

    The police were called in, and his father was contacted to help with the search. Again, what was in my heart was not fear for my child’s welfare, but fear for my role as his mother! Unthinkable 30 years ago in the same circumstance, honestly.

    We searched the playground at the nearby school, we searched the whole fair… no little boy of mine. Then I started to worry about him. Not that he’d been snatched, but maybe that he’d gotten run over, since there were a few busy streets around. The female officer with me took me home to the house we all still lived in, about a mile or so from where I had lost track of my son. “How could he be here?” I wailed. “Protocol,” she said.

    She told me to act as naturally as I could coming in the door, and I called out, “Hello?” and my boy answered, “Mom?”

    He was asleep on the sofa. He’d found his own way home, amazing kid that he is, even though the crowds and tents and everything else would have disoriented any adult enough to lose sense of where they were. He’d crossed two roadblocks to get there! He told me later that he’d heard me calling for him but ignored me! Cheeky little $#!&?!

    It all had a happy ending. He’s a thriving free-range 11-year-old now. And Dad and I are sharing custody in a very amicable way.

  24. Betsy September 1, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    I agree that I don’t worry about abduction – for toddlers it IS streets and water that are the big concern. When my (currently 6 year old Dennis the Menace!) son was 2, we were visiting a small resort town with other families. We played at a park; took our eyes off Speedy Gonzales for a couple of minutes only, and turned around to find him standing in the middle of the street (on his way back to the balloons or something on the other side) with a car stopped 2 feet away from him! It had happened so quickly that no other “strangers” had had time to get him out of the street. My husband and I just about had simultaneous heart attacks after I ran and scooped him up. We have talked many times since about putting a GPS system on him!

  25. Jenna September 1, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    On “Take Your Kids to the Park and Leave Them There” Day we had an incident. I let my three older boys (ages 9, 7 and 5) ride their bikes to the park near our house and then a half an hour later I met them there with my two younger kids (ages 4 and 1). My 4-year-old has a little bike with training wheels and it takes her forever to get anywhere on it. I was pulling my baby in the bike trailer. After we’d been there about ten minutes, my oldest son was riding his bike on the bike path down a hill and crashed. He ended up breaking a tooth and scraping himself up pretty badly. He wasn’t able to ride his bike home. There I was at the park with a baby, a 4-year-old, two other kids and an injured child. While I helped him stop bleeding, a couple of strangers watched my baby and 4-year-old for me. Then it came time to take him home, and he couldn’t walk his bike home and there was no way to get him home with his bike. So a perfect stranger put my injured 9-year-old and his bike in his car and drove him to my house, following me on my bike while my other two boys rode their bikes home by way of the shortcut. If I hadn’t let perfect strangers help me, I wouldn’t have been able to get my son in to his dentist, who was able to see him within the hour and fix his broken tooth, and we probably would have had to wait until Monday. Since he needed a root canal, he would have been in pain for two days.

    When I was 8, we were visiting friends at their house in San Antonio, Texas and my 4-year-old brother wandered off. After about an hour of scouring the neighborhood, some of us on foot, some in the car, we found him a few blocks away with an elderly gentleman who had found him wandering around and was helping him look for his family. Another stranger who helped without hurting.

    Although, it is very scary when a child wanders off. My first instinct when a little one wanders off is to think of any bodies of water nearby and any roads and look there first, rather than assume someone has taken them.

    I’m so glad for this site, that I’m not the only one who parents this way.

  26. dnry122 September 1, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    I’m reminded of the small boy who wandered off in a large railway station, and after searching high and low, his parents found him with a group of nuns. After reuniting with the wandering boy, mom said, “I hope he hasn’t been bothering you.” And the Mother Superior smiles and says, “Oh not at all. In fact, it’s been rather amusing. He thinks we’re penguins.”

  27. LRH September 1, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    I hope it is okay to share a similar story.

    I live out in the boonies surrounded by about 80-odd acres of woods. I let my kids ages 3 & 5 play outdoors unsupervised in an outdoors fenced-in area all of the time. I also periodically take them for walks in our woods. This one path at this time had become quite a regular routine for us. It goes for about 3/10ths of a mile and then you hit a pretty quiet back country road, from there we tend to head in a particular direction to the house of a friend we sometimes visit. At that point, you’re about half a mile from our house.

    Typically, just before we would venture out, I would say “get your shoes on” and then a couple of minutes later we would take off. I didn’t yet realize, however, that this had become a “trigger” for them–that is, they took my saying “get your shoes on” as a statement that we were absolutely for sure about to go that particular way and to start doing this immediately. Also, at this time, our door had no lock on it. Understand, I had never had any problems with them wandering off or with any burglaries etc.

    Well, on one occasion I said “get your shoes on” but then went to doing some things in a backroom for a bit. About 8-odd minutes later, I looked around–the kids were gone! I freaked out. I looked everywhere, there was no sign of them. I yelled out their names, my voice cracking with more agony & despair each time, but again, nothing.

    Finally, after about 4 more minutes–and like you, poster, it seemed MUCH longer than that–I deduced that they had probably not just put their shoes on but that they had taken my asking them to do so as a statement to go on down that particular path. I took a shortcut & quickly journeyed down to where that path meets the road, and sure enough, there they were. They had journeyed the entire 3/10ths of a mile or so down the path and were now, in fact, on the paved highway itself (which, again, luckily, is a rather low-traffic road).

    Yes I scolded them about going without me, and for a good hour or so, back at home, I held them close to me. I almost cried. Had I not caught them just a bit sooner, they might have gone to that friend’s house and been out of my sight.

    At the same time, though, once I got back, I settled down, and went back to business as usual. However, I did rectify the door problem, and installed a lock–one high up, which they can’t defeat. I now am in the habit of keeping it locked when I’m home with them and I’m not expecting my wife or whoever to show up anytime soon (the lock engages from inside & effectively locks everyone out from outside as well as in from inside). Now, I could rest easy, knowing that there was no way they could get out of the house if I turned my back.

    All of that said, I have to say that, in a way I was actually proud of my kids as well. They had walked that exact path, correctly choosing it out of the many options for walking that woods presents, and had stayed together and even did as I had instructed before and stayed on the left-hand shoulder of the paved road once they were there, just as I have them do normally. They didn’t get off-path and go in other areas of the woods, they stuck to the path precisely.

    I think it is important to point out several things. One, I fixed the problem, in terms of the door not locking. I realized that, free-range goals aside, this was not an okay thing to be experiencing on a normal basis, once was enough–too much, really. I saw the need for a door lock, and immediately took care of it. Two, at the same time I didn’t overreact & start locking them in the house all of the time the entire day long, no more outdoor play at all. Three, I didn’t get all into the “I’m a horrible father” guilt-trip and start questioning myself and/or free-range philosophies in general. I realized this was an oversight, the story ended well and the oversight was immediately addressed & has been utilized fully in the routines ever since.

    There will come a day, when they’re older, that I intend to let them roam about the woods on their own. That day is not here, it’s too soon for that, but even after that incident I continue to strive toward free-range goals of that type.


  28. Ghost September 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Completely off topic, but I was just reading a write up of you over at The Agitator when I realized you were the mom featured on Bullshit with Penn and Teller! I always thought it was awesome that you had given that freedom to your son, and I admired you for it. Now knowing that you’re the same woman whose blog I’ve been enjoying sends the respect even higher.

    Keep up the good work!

  29. Renee September 2, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    I almost wish I’d had a little moment of terror when mine was small; it might have made it easier now that she’s older. Last night, I texted her because she was still gone at 10:30 pm. She’s 17, and had gone to the school dance less than a quarter mile from home. I was only concerned because when she left at 7, she’d indicated she probably would only be there the first hour or so. Apparently, the kids had fun, so when she wasn’t home two hours after I had expected, and I could see the traffic from the dance letting out, I worried a bit.

    She walked in the door with her friend 5 minutes later.

    I’ve had a few of those moments as she gets older, where she gets busy and forgets to let me know she’s going to be later than planned. Or she misses a bus, can’t get cell reception, etc. I suspect there are also moments I don’t know about (and won’t, for years) where she was slightly lost or a little afraid, but managed it just fine on her own. My point being that these moments of not knowing where your kids are will be coming more and more often as they age. I suspect these moments (handled well, as in the above examples) can be great growing moments for kids and parents alike, making the teen years a bit less of a horse pill when they come.

  30. Taradlion September 2, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    When my son was a toddler I used to dress him in orange. If we were going some place particularly crowded, he sometimes looked like a construction pylon- so I could find him easily and it easy to remember what he was wearing. At age 8 he still loves orange. Made it easy to spot his bathing suit at the water park.

  31. Jeff September 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    40 years ago this was me. And my mothers reaction is why I am so free-range now.

    We lived in Brighton Beach. I was pushing the carriage with my baby brother in it, when my mother stopped to talk to a friend. I did not notice. I already had a rule stuck into my head that I could not cross streets alone so I turned the corner.

    When my mother finished her conversation and noticed us missing she did not panic, she just figured that I had walked on. And found us a few minutes later with me watching a construction site.

  32. Heather September 3, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    Stories like this, about children wandering off – ok, maybe not quite so young as 2, but slightly older children – remind me of the classic Golden Book “The Poky Little Puppy” :). In the story, not just 1 but all 5 ‘children’ go wandering off. Yet the mother never panics but rather simply scolds them when they return, and takes steps to try to prevent them from wandering off too far again. I wonder that Random House has never rewritten this story – after all, shouldn’t the mama dog be calling the police instead?? 🙂 (Dear Random House, that was a joke – please please don’t ever rewrite this classic!!!)

  33. Heather September 3, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    I forgot to say, the mother doesn’t panic even when 4 of them return, having ‘lost’ one!

  34. linvo September 3, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    I remember that panicky feeling. But like others, I only ever seriously freaked out if there was traffic or water involved. Or a crowd and a strange environment because I couldn’t bear the thought of my toddler suddenly realising she couldn’t get back to mum and this lasting for an hour or so. I had her go hysterical only a few months ago (at 7!) because I’d gone out to get something from the car while she was having a shower and she thought I had vanished. I could hear her scream for me and her panic simply cut through my soul. But that’s another story. (She is not clingy or anything – just has a vivid imagination)

    I once lost her when we were walking along the creek when she was about 2. She was walking behind me and when I turned round, she was gone. That was scary! No idea in which direction she wandered so all I could think of doing was to start walking in the direction of the creek first. She was hiding from me in the long grass a bit down the track… It still took me another year or so before she really got that playing hide and seek in places like that was just not on and that it might cause mummy a heart attack.

  35. Jynet September 3, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Heather, my friend lived that book. She shoo’d the kids (4: aged 5-11) out of the house in the morning and they were expected to be home by dinner time. They are in their 30’s now and she is only just learning where they went and how often they split up and wondered off in different directions!

  36. Jim Collins September 4, 2012 at 2:03 am #

    I went to the Cleveland Air Show on Saturday and saw something that people might consider for any events that they might be a part of. When you went through the gate, children were given a wristband that had their parents cell phone numbers on them. They were told that if they were to get separated to look for people in a bright pink shirt. That person would then call the parent’s number and tell them where their child was. If they had no cell phone, the child was taken to a big pink and white tent, where there were games, toys, cookies and juice, to wait while there parents showed up. I’m pretty sure that some of the kids ditched their parents in order to get taken to that tent. my seat was near there and I’m pretty sure that I saw one little guy 5 or 6 times.

  37. lskenazy September 4, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    what a great idea!   Lenore Skenazy Author of the bookand blog, Free-Range Kids Host of Discovery/TLC International’s “World’s Worst Mom” (the title is ironic!). Here’s a 2-minute sample. Busy twittering at FreeRangeKids And while we’re at it, also author of the trivia book that puts the fun in short term memory loss:”Who’s The Blonde that Married What’s-His-Name?”  646 734 8426 (cell)


  38. Yan Seiner September 4, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    @linvo: We’ve taught our kids to never, ever play hide and seek. We had a case here of a boy who ran off and was never found (this was at a national park, and chances were high that he froze to death before he was found. He also apparently had some other behavioral issues that made rescue a problem.)

    This happened at a time when my kids loved to run off and hide so we used it as a teachable moment on why you never do that, and also on how to stay found.

    Since we spend a lot of time outdoors, teaching our kids basic survival techniques, staying found, and helping recuers locate you is important to us. There are organizations that teach classes in this.

    I really wish that there was a comparable “staying found” class for the urban environment, to counter the “stranger danger” stuff that’s thrown at kids every day.

  39. Lin September 4, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    @Yan, my daughter’s dad forgot to pick her up from school the other day. She ended up taking herself to after school care and they contacted me at work. So I told her that if something like that happened again, she could just walk up to any parent and give them my mobile number and ask them to call me on their mobile. Her eyes just lit up when I said this. Mostly because she is so proud of knowing my number by heart. So when I mentioned that she could also just go to the school front office and ask the staff there to call me, she insisted that she wanted to ask a complete stranger who didn’t yet know my number. Bless her…

  40. Lauren September 4, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Sorry to be off topic, but I had an odd thought. I was watching the national news and they were showing photos of kids frolicking in the waves at the beach. My local news does this all the time. How long until that gets banned because pedophiles might be watching the news?

  41. Samantha September 5, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    The best thing about this story is the fact that you felt no need to overwhelm yourself in a ton of guilt – every news story you hear about tragic events involving kids has someone saying ‘the parent should have…’, which is ridiculous (most of the time, anyway). Sometimes bad stuff happens – and I love that there are still people out there who don’t feel the need to always point fingers.

  42. Cindy September 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Before all of you mock the parents who distress when their child is missing, take a moment to think about the parents who have lost a child in dire circumstances…don’t pretend that it doesn’t happen.

  43. David October 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Before Cindy mocks the parents who make their children wear thick rubber soled boots everywhere, she should take a moment to think about the parents who have lost a child to a lightning strike.

    Don’t think it doesn’t happen…