I couldn’t find my son…

82 days down , 283 to go.

Dear Orange Rhinos,

One day on vacation last week I had the fright of my life. I couldn’t find my 5.5 year old son. Below is my story. I share it with you so you can learn from my mistakes and hopefully not have to experience the gut wrenching fear that I did.

The Orange Rhino…


It was a beautiful sunny day. My husband generously offered to stay in the hotel room while #3 and #4 napped so that I could enjoy the day. So I took #1 (we’ll call him Gregory John in this post) and #2 to the pool for some serious splashing and swimming. I will tell you now that that morning I dressed the boys alike – bright orange swim suits, bright blue swim shirt, white hat and yellow life preservers. It’s important to note that I INTENTIONALLY dressed them this way so that they were easy to spot and easy to count. 1? Check! 2? Check! 3? Check! 4? Check! It’s a great system. And always works well for me when we are out in busy places. But it didn’t this day. Sigh.

It’s also important to note that I always, and I mean always, make my boys stay close to me (kidnapping is a huge fear of mine) and to tell me if they are walking away. Even if it is just a few feet. I am probably over the top on my rules with them but I would rather be safe than sorry. They are good boys, truly. They follow these rules 99.9% of the time, always checking in, always staying close. I have never had a fright until now. And it was a FRIGHT.

I was sitting pool side watching #1 and #2 play together. #2 asked to go on the water slide. I acknowledged him, said yes, and watched him like a hawk walk the 7 feet to the waterslide. Mind you it took me four days to feel comfortable with him going up without me. That is how anxious I am about these things.

Then I got up, told GREGORY that I was walking to the lounge chair, about 10ish feet behind me and that I would be right back and that he needed to stay put. I had done this several times before and NEVER had a problem. Mostly because I walked backwards to the chair so I could see him (no joke) and because Gregory isn’t a wanderer. So I didn’t worry. Until today.

I walked backwards to my chair, turned around for ~ 30 seconds to get a sip of water and then headed back to the pool. But Gregory wasn’t there. He couldn’t have gone far I thought to myself. He never walks away.

“Gregory? Gregory?” I called.

I turned around about five times. Scanning left, right, up, down, in the water. Everywhere. Gregory was NOWHERE to be found. I started walking away from our location. This time calling my son’s name a little louder as I walked. I was sure he was in the pool and that I just didn’t recognize him in the sea of yellow life jackets.


Time passed. Probably only 2 minutes. It of course felt like more. I called again, this time with his middle name added, hoping that maybe there were two boys named Gregory and my son was confused.


I was no longer calling him as a question, knowing I will get an answer, but calling him with fear. And it was escalating. My heart started racing. And then I started racing, running around the pool deck SCREAMING his name in a way I have never experienced.

My voice rattled with every “GREGORY JONH!” I screamed.  My voice reached as loud as it could, quickly becoming sore, quickly becoming more panicked. “GREGORY JOHN!” The tears started filling my eyes. Even though the pool was enclosed, I feared the worst. That someone had taken him, a hotel guest, and nonchalantly slipped out. I feared that he was gone.

I ran to the lifeguard.

“My son is missing. I can’t find my son.”

The lifeguard did NOTHING. That’s right. NOTHING.

So I started running around faster, hoping people would get off their lazy asses, put down their margaritas and help me.

NOTHING. That’s right. NOTHING. No one moved. They all just watched me, a crying, desperately afraid mama wearing a bathing suit that was half falling down due to small boobs and half way up my ass due to a large well, ass, and did NOTHING. I could not believe it. Did anyone have a heart?

Finally one nice man got up. “What does your son look like? What is he wearing?”

And I froze. Absolutely froze.

I didn’t know. I couldn’t answer him. In the moment of pure stress I couldn’t tell him what Gregory looked like and what he was wearing DESPITE all my intentional efforts to dress him in a particular outfit for this exact reason.

So I kept running. And so did he. Both of us screaming “GREGORY JOHN” at the top of our lungs.

Someone said to me “Don’t worry, you’ll find him, he didn’t just disappear.”

I know she was trying to be reassuring. But would have been reassuring is if she got up and HELPED me.

Finally, and I mean finally after what felt like forever, chills going down my body right now as I recall that moment, some wonderful gentleman yelled down from the top of the water slide, holding a sad looking boy, and said “is this your son?”

I looked up. It was. Tears fell even harder, as much as they are right now reliving this, as I ran, not walked, but RAN up the 50 stairs to get to my Gregory John. I lifted him up and held him so tight. I didn’t want to let go. But he made me. He pushed me back and looked at me, sad, scared, and embarrassed.

“Mommy, you yelled at me. You yelled at me all over the pool. I want to go home right now. I don’t want to swim ever again. I am so embarrassed.”

I KNEW he felt badly. I KNEW he knew exactly what was up. There was ZERO point yelling at him. And besides, I didn’t want to. I just wanted to hold him forever and make sure he knew why I was yelling like that, that I wasn’t yelling at him, but that I was calling his name.

“Gregory, look at mommy’s face. It isn’t mad. It is sad. And scared. I love you so much. I really thought I lost you and that I would never see you again.”

“Let’s go home mommy.”

I picked him up and carried him down the 50 stairs. It was the longest yet easiest flight of stairs I have ever walked. Just knowing that I found my son, that he wasn’t missing, made all the hard work feel like nothing.

We collected #2 as he flew out of the water slide and went to the lounge chair to talk. At this point, I am still crying, out of sadness, joy, and quite frankly, embarrassment. I shared my son’s embarrassment, not only did I look silly running around, but I looked like an a*shole for not knowing where my son was.

So we sat down on the chair and held each other and cried. And snuggled. And cried some more. Finally, we were both clear headed enough to talk. Not yell, but talk.

“Gregory, why did you walk away from me? I was so scared that someone took you?”
“But mommy, I told you I was going on the water slide.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did. I whispered it to you.”

And that is when the light bulb went off. I had taught him to tell me if he was walking away from me but NEVER did I teach him to make sure I heard him, to make sure that I ACKNOWLEDGED what he said and said okay.

And that is where I failed here. He did everything I had taught him to do. I just didn’t know I had to teach him the other piece. Because I have never been a mom before.

Seeing as I was calm and not yelling, I was able to clearly explain this important piece to him, that he needs to be acknowledged before leaving.  And seeing as I hadn’t yelled at him, he was calm and able to understand and internalize what I was saying.

“I get it mom. You need to hear me and tell me it is okay to walk away.”

“Yes, that is right. I’ll give you a thumbs up and say OK.”

The rest of the day and STILL, almost 10 days later, if Gregory John wants to walk out of site, he asks, then waits for the thumbs up and the OK! And I credit The Orange Rhino Challenge for that. Because before The Challenge, I would have yelled. Maybe not horrifically, but bad enough so that Gregory wouldn’t have been receptive to learning, and internalizing, the important lesson at hand. And trust me, he got the point. Oh did he get it.

I got the point too, lots of them actually.

1)      It really does just take a second

2)      It really is important to know what your child is wearing…and when it matters most is when you will forget. Mental note to self: when on vacation, or anywhere that is crowded and new, and extra susceptible to shady behavior, TAKE A PICTURE of your kids before you start playing. With phones these days, that is a 5 second habit that is totally worth it.

3)      It really does pay off to not yell…because most of the time when I want to yell the worst, is when I need to teach them the most and who learns well when being yelled at? Who remembers “the lesson” when being yelled at? I know I sure don’t. I know my son doesn’t either.

And I also know that I love my son immensely. And I am so grateful that this story turned out as a learning opportunity, and not the other way around….

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1 thought on “I couldn’t find my son…

  1. So scary!  I lost my three-year-old in Costco once.  I had gone with my mother-in-law and all five kids, and we went around a corner and didn’t realize that my daughter hadn’t made the turn with us.  A second later, I noticed she wasn’t with us, but she had already wandered off trying to find ME.  When I counted and noticed she was gone (I’m always counting, everywhere I go) and went back and looked for her, she was gone.  Gone.  I panicked.  I looked all over and couldn’t find her.  I panicked even more.  Just when I was about to have a complete break-down, and employee came with her in her arms and found me.  It was one of the most terrifying moments of my motherhood so far!  Thanks heavens you found him, safe and sound!

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