What I Learned The Day I Lost My Son

I looked behind me, expecting to see Jack hopping along.

I didn’t see him.

The only children I saw were my nieces, Oliver (who was in my carrier) and countless other children who were visiting Disneyland with their families. I looked back and forth several times, certain I was mistaken.

I wasn’t. No Jack.

What I LearnedAfter (1)

A few weeks before we went to Disneyland, my sister had texted me about some identification bracelets she was ordering on Amazon. She had told my mom about them, who told her to make sure she told me about them.

I wasn’t sure if they would get here in time, and I figured I would come up with something on my own.

Until we went to Disneyland, I kept thinking that I needed to come up with something. Even minutes before we left for our character breakfast, something in the back of my head was telling me to make sure he had our phone numbers with him.

But, I forgot. I’ve been really forgetful lately, and with the craziness of rushing out of the house, I just forgot.

The moment I realized he was missing, I felt like time stopped. It felt like I instantly went into shock. How could he be missing? My kids don’t get lost, I thought.

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I immediately started retracing my steps, not caring who I was running into or how crazy I looked. I started yelling his name, hoping that he wasn’t that far behind.

I couldn’t help but start to think the worst. How on earth would I find him in such a huge, busy place? How could I trust that there weren’t bad people lurking in the park at that moment? Jack is such a social, friendly kid…would he go with someone he didn’t know? Had I even talked to him about not talking to strangers?

About five minutes after I started looking, I heard a small sob about 30 feet away. I couldn’t see him, but I knew it was him. I ran over, and thankfully, one of Disney’s workers was there trying to help him.

For the rest of the trip, we were all hyper aware of where Jack was at every moment. His sweet little cousins kept saying, “Where’s Jack?!” or “Grab a hand, Jack.” He was shook up by it too. He told me at  church a few days later he told me, “Mommy, I want you to hold my hand so I don’t get lost.”

Even a month afterward, he said he’s afraid of getting lost forever.

He was only missing a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. It was probably the scariest thing I’ve experienced as a parent. And from it, there were a few things I realized from this experience:

I truly feel that we are interconnected with our children. When he was lost, I felt like part of me was lost, too. It made my heart hurt for people who have lost their children in this life – I can’t imagine feeling the way I felt for those five minutes for the rest of my life. As I listen to him play in the other room, I can’t help but feel gratitude that we didn’t lose him forever. It may sound dramatic, but the thought did cross my mind that maybe we did.

It reminded me that he’s only four.

Sometimes I treat him like he’s older than he really is. But he’s only four. He told me that he stopped because he wanted to go on the Dumbo ride. We had talked about that ride for months, and when he saw it, he thought he should stop. He didn’t know he was going to get lost. He’s only four.

Scary things can happen in an instant. Jack is fast. And he sometimes wanders. He doesn’t really think about it – like I said, he’s only four.

(and I certainly wish I had one of these before he got lost, because, well, he wouldn’t have gotten lost if we di. You can get 15% off using the code Clark15 until September 3rd…maybe you won’t end up with a story like mine.) 

I realized you should never assume.

I assumed that since we were with several other adults, he wouldn’t get lost. But he did. And it was my fault for not making sure I knew where he was.

No matter how young your child is, it’s important to teach them what to do in situations like this. I never really have talked to Jack about what to do when he gets lost. I asked him what he did, and he said, “I started looking for you and cried.” It broke my heart. He didn’t know what to do. And that was my fault. We need to talk to our children about what to do in scary situations, even if we don’t think they will happen.

We need to talk to our children about what to do in scary situations, even if we don't think they will happen.Click To Tweet

Now he knows to stay where he is. And I now know to have some kind of identification on him. For the rest of the trip, he had my phone number written across his arm.

Good parents make mistakes.

This is something I keep learning time and time again, and I have to remind myself that I’m not a bad parent just because I make mistakes. I take care of my children. I love them more than anything. But I still make mistakes. Fortunately, this one ended well. But it’s one that I’ll never forget.

And most importantly, I realized how important it is to listen to that voice in the back of your head telling you to do something. I’m a big believer in mother’s intuition, but sometimes I don’t pay attention as close as I should.

What I felt that day is something I never want to feel again. I can’t even describe the panic, shock, and fear I felt when I realized he was missing.

What I Realized (1)


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  • Thank you for sharing this story! It's so important. As a mother, I can't imagine the fear and panic that must have overtaken her the minute she realized her son wasn't there. That would be terrifying! It's a good thing that a Disney cast member was right there and was aware. I remember getting lost in the DFW airport when I was 9 years old. I calmly went up to an airport personnel wearing a uniform and told them I couldn't find my parents. At 9 I knew what to do, but I'll still never forget my mom's reaction of relief and joy when the airport staff walked me to the terminal where they were.It's always good to remember that Disneyland is a place to have fun as a family and enjoy a memorable vacation but, as with any vacation, we can't be unaware of the potential dangers that accompany a big city and a populated area.As an OC resident, I can say that there's a reason why Anaheim has the nickname "Anacrime." It's one of the higher crime cities in the OC along with Santa Ana. Also, the area near and around Disneyland is one of the OC hot spots for human trafficking. I don't say this to make people abnormally afraid. Living in the OC, it's not at the forefront of my mind all the time. But I say it because it's good to know the area in which we are when we travel to a place. Maybe we more commonly think of theft or pickpocketing, but knowing all the dangers helps us be aware of anything fishy or unusual. Not just for ourselves, but also for the sake of others.Amongst all the Disneyland family vacation planning tips, safety should be #1.
  • So scary! I'm so glad you found him so quickly, even though I'm sure it felt like an eternity! Thanks for sharing your story! We were lucky enough to have five adults and two kids who were basically buckled in the stroller the whole time, so we didn't have any scary close calls. I definitely wrote my phone number on their arms, though. And tomorrow I'm definitely having a talk with my son about what to do if that ever happens!
    • I think having a stroller is such a smart thing. We had one, but Jack didn't want to be in it at first. He sat in it most of the rest of the trip! I wish I would have thought to put his phone number somewhere!
  • Katie, thank you sharing your story. As I was reading it, I could feel the fear and panic you were experiencing for what must have seemed like an eternity. I felt that way every day that my son walked to school - and we lived across the street from his elementary school. As soon as he left my sight I would panic, thinking what if…. Every day for 6 years I memorized the clothes he was wearing when he left in the morning. I would wait for him to come home from school at the edge of the driveway. Until one day he asked me if I would stop waiting for him, he was grown up enough not to have his Mom watching for him (he was all of 7 or 8 at the time). I reluctantly agreed, and that first day was pure agony. I couldn't stand not watching, waiting for him. My heart couldn't take it any more so I hid inside a grove of Eucalyptus trees in the front yard so he wouldn't see me. As soon as he rounded the corner from the school he immediately pointed in my direction and yelled, "I can see you, Mom!!" Busted! We both got a good laugh out of it. I continued watching out for him until he was in maybe 5th grade and even after that, my heart wouldn't stop racing and my thoughts wouldn't' stop wandering until he came safely through the front door. I guess the thing that struck me the most about your story was when you said you always considered your little boy older than he really is. I've felt the same way about my son at times, assuming he was old enough to make sound decision when the need arose. But, like you said, he was only four. In one week, my son will be 21 years old, but the worry and the fear is still there. Whether they walk to school, or go away to summer camp, or drive themselves to work every day, you never stop worrying. That's a mother's love. <3
    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I guess as mothers we will never stop worrying about our children no matter how old they get! We just have to hope that we have raised them right, and taught them the best that we can so that they will be okay when they are out on their own =)
  • How terrifying! I am sure it felt like an eternity ? When we lost Tori at Pirates Cove it was so scary. There were so many thoughts that went through my mind in those few moments before we found her. She was nervous about getting lost for months afterwards ?

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