My good friends at The Dad posted this on Instagram the other day:
"I just came home after a long day, so I was pretty tired, and a bit stressed. I headed upstairs and was surprised when I stumbled across this chaos when I got to the top. I asked my daughter what she was doing. She told me that she was playing School Of Rock, and then proceeded to start singing for her 'audience.' Clearly, she put a lot of time and effort into putting this all together. At that point, all I could do was laugh at the ridiculousness. Well, laugh, and tell her that she was going to have a lot work to do, cleaning up the hallway. • Children's imaginations, man. They never cease to amaze me." • Mike Armstrong, @daddyrealness • Want to share a story about fatherhood? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pretty cool, eh? Yep, it’s me catching J in one of her random creative moments a while ago. The feedback to that post was very positive, towards both her and myself. She’s such a vibrant child, and I’m an A-OK pops, right?
This is why it sucked so much later that same day when the post came out. I flushed all that positivity down the toilet, because J went missing, and we couldn’t find her.
It started off innocently enough. Mine and three other families (so picture lots of kids, and lots of adults) were at Great Wolf Lodge for the weekend. While back at our room, B and J went off on their own, to find some ice for our ice bucket. K and I ended up in another room with the parents, discussing dinner plans. I have no idea how long we were chatting. Eventually, I saw B stroll by, alone. I asked him where J was, and he told me that she was still getting ice.
Weird, but alright.
A few minutes later, J still hadn’t returned. I asked B again where J was. He said that he didn’t know. They had ended up on the third floor, and they couldn’t find ice, so he left her, because she still wanted to look.
Judge me now if you want, but only at this point did warning bells go off in my head.
Our rooms were on the fourth floor! It’s one thing if they were wandering off down the hall, together, but now J was on a whole different floor, alone, in a giant, busy resort. She also doesn’t have the greatest sense of direction. A million bad scenarios immediately ran through my mind, so I left everyone without a word, to go find her.
This particular Great Wolf Lodge was very spacious. I know that they take great precautions to make sure everyone is safe and sound, while keeping the atmosphere cheerful. At that time, however, all I could think of was how perfect a place like this was, crawling with young children, for a sick creep to try to do something vile. I ran down the stairs, and down one of the hallways, but didn’t see J. I texted K, to see if, hopefully, she had made her way back. She hadn’t. I think everyone else in our party started to panic then, so they went out to search for her, too.
I then took off towards another hallway. I rounded a corner, and, thankfully, I saw her, finally. J was standing in the middle of the hall, holding the ice bucket, crying hysterically. I ran up to her, and gave her a big hug. She then, through her sobs, said the exact same thing that I had been thinking, as irrational as it seems now:
“I thought that I would never see you again.”
It took everything in me not to burst into tears right there, dude. Shoot, my eyes just got welled up typing that sentence. Like, what’s more heartbreaking: losing your kid, or finding your kid, and hearing them say that to you?
As we walked hand in hand, back to our room, I again felt a lot of stuff. Relief. Winded, since I was running around like Usain Bolt with a dad bod. Anger, towards B, for ditching J in such a savage way. Anger, towards me, for not just getting the stupid ice myself, and not cluing in sooner to J’s whereabouts. Mostly, though, I felt like a shitty parent (and yes, for good reason, I can hear you saying #guilttrip).
I can only imagine how scared and alone J must have felt in those few minutes, and it’s something no six year old child should experience. That’s all on me, though, for putting her in the situation. Among all the people and commotion, it was so easy for J to go missing. How messed up is that? I guess this is how Kevin’s mom and dad must have felt in Home Alone. It’s a parenting fail, pure and simple. You should always go above and beyond to protect your kids. I did not.
Luckily, the story had a happy ending. J was pretty upset, but not traumatised or anything like that. She was back to her normal, vibrant self soon after. And yes, dear reader, I promise to do everything in my power to not let something like this happen again. Word to Joni Mitchell, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. However temporarily.
Don’t lose your children, people, even for a little bit of time. And always get your own ice!