A Statistic Waiting to Happen

With the sun shining on our backs, my children and I were trying to grab a little bit of shade in the picnic table area of Lake Fairfax’s Water Mine as JavaDad stood in line to grab us an early dinner.  We were trying to squeeze in a little bit of summer fun — after a summer that felt swallowed up far too much by my two surgeries and recoveries.

At a table immediately across from us was a young family with a boy who looked to be about 3, and an 8-month-old baby who was so sleepy she kept nodding off, and yet apparently so hungry she kept waking up, trying to gnaw on a French fry she clutched tightly in her fingers.  My children and I were delighting in watching this scenario and I kept looking off to my right to monitor my husband’s progress in obtaining our food, so it took me a while to register that the heaving sobs coming from the left were not from a baby, but a boy.

A young boy, who I started to realize, appeared to be alone.

Although a sign clearly stated the area was for “Temporary dining only!  30 minutes maximum!” there were coolers and towels and other items abandoned by people enjoying the slides and lazy river of The Water Mine.  Another family had been eating at a table off to my left and I had thought the cries had been associated with them.  But now, there he sat, a boy bigger than JavaGirl and smaller than JavaBoy, crying his heart out.

And no parent to be seen.

No one was in line at the food area behind my husband.  No one else was hovering near the picnic area.  No one seemed to care about this boy crying.

Having exchanged friendly banter with the mother of Sleeping Baby, I asked, “Have you seen any adults around this boy?”  She realized she hadn’t either and she went over to talk to him as did I.  (Java Kids were mere feet away, in clear view.)

It was a little  hard to understand him, between sobs and a bit of a language difference, but the garbled tale was that he was five years old and he was crying because somehow his older brother had caused him to lose one of his swim shoes.  This caused a big problem and it “embarrassed” him (his words).  For some reason the entire family was swimming without him now.  It was unclear whether he was saying his father “kid” (kidded) him or “hit” him during the incident.  We asked if he was on time out and he said no.  But at this point, he had been sobbing his little  heart out sitting on his own for 20 minutes.  His father and brother were apparently riding the lazy river, a circuit that allowed only an obstructed view of the picnic area about every six minutes.  He said his mother was “with the baby.”  Apparently that was all the supervision his family felt a five-year-old needed in a crowded water park that was at or near its capacity of 760 patrons.

It just so happened that father of Sleeping Baby had seen a blue water shoe when they were getting out of the pool, and he ran over to find it — it was indeed Crying Boy’s.  Wow, I can tell how hard his family looked — you know, while gleefully tubing past on the lazy river.

At this point JavaDad came to our table with our food so he watched our kids while I took Crying Boy towards the lifeguard station with the idea of having them call out for his family on the loudspeaker.  This also happened to take us mere feet from the exit — imagine if I had been a pedophile instead of a concerned citizen.   Just before I reached the guard station, his father happened to get out of the pool and approached us.  I asked the boy, “Is this your father?” and he said yes and happily reached towards him.

Not once did the man ask me who I was or why I had his son by the hand.  Nor where the missing shoe had reappeared from.  No, he simply took his son by the hand and walked off.  I was frankly too stunned to speak, though I would’ve like to have given him a peace of my mind.

I later asked my husband, “If you ever saw a stranger holding one of our kids’ hands in public, how would you react?”  I’m not even certain his answer is publishable.  The fact is, he would first freak out, and then ask questions.  Crying Boy’s father did neither.

All night tonight I have thought about how easy it would have been for me to have walked out the door with that child if I had wanted to.  He talked to me.  He trusted me.  He held my hand.  Somewhere, out there, I hope his family is as restless about this as I am.  Playing the “what if” game.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, every 40 seconds, a child goes missing.  He so easily could’ve been one of those statistics.

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  1. This was a very sad story and a really great post – right up until the last paragraph. Ending with that statistic was either careless or a purposeful ploy to scare parents to death.

    According to the same website you referenced, in 2002 115 kids were the victims of what we all tend to think of as a typical kidnapping – a child snatched by a stranger who kills the child, or demands ransom, or other really horrible things. And I’m not in any way trying to minimize that 115, because it’s 115 too many. And to those parents that went through it I’m sure it didn’t matter how many other kids were or weren’t abducted.

    But throwing around a statistic like a child going missing every 40 seconds is the kind of thing that has led to parents who hover a few feet away from their children in playgrounds and 13-year-olds who have never ridden a bike farther than a block alone.

    Roughly two children a week getting kidnapped is awful, but it’s a world away from a child every 40 seconds. And in a country of about 300 million people it’s a sad but not surprising reality.

    We’ve got to be smart (and for the record I don’t think the parents in your post were at all smart, and I think you did the absolute right thing). But we’ve also got to stop propagating the myth that there’s a scary stranger lurking around every corner just waiting to grab our kids.

  2. I found the paragraph you were referring to, it is not what came up last night when I quickly looked for a recent statistic on the number of children who go missing:

    “In the United States, Justice Department research found that approximately 800,000 children are reporting missing each year, the largest number of whom are runaways, about 200,000 children are the victims of family abduction, about 58,000 children are the victims of nonfamily abduction, and about 115 children are taken by strangers and either murdered, ransomed or taken with the intent to keep.” http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/NewsEventServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=4109

    I’ll let readers decide for themselves how they want to parse the numbers.

    Regardless of which stat you use, the point of the story is that I can see no reason to leave a 5-year-old sobbing and unsupervised at a crowded water park. It was cruel at best and dangerous at worst. Regardless of how many (or few?) corners those scary strangers may lurk, none of us know around WHICH corners they lurk, or else the stat would be zero kids kidnapped each year.

  3. Wow, statistics aside, leaving such a young child alone at a WATER park is crazy. Forget kidnapping, a child of that age should not be left unsupervised around all that water. Good for you and the other adults that tried to help that boy.