Sidenote: I previously published this on my regular blog https://jasonstadtlander.com to which the operators of King Richard’s Faire responded and I am grateful to attend locations like this where the owners take the status of children seriously. Thank you King Richard’s Faire.)
It was September 19th, 2016 in Carver, Massachusetts. The air had that cool damp feeling of autumn and the smell of freshly fallen leaves was strong among the trees. My oldest son was dressed in his ninja costume and I was dressed in my Scottish warrior getup – kilt included, both in the spirit of the renaissance festival we were going to at King Richard’s Faire. My youngest son chose not to dress up as he thought it drew attention to him. Little did he know that not dressing up drew more attention than dressing up. However, my sweet boy had been through enough over the last year with my divorce and the stresses of my moving out, so I wasn’t about to press him to “get into the spirit”. I just wanted us to have a good time.
We spent a few hours going from vendor to vendor and watching the amazing acts of the magician, the tiger trainers, and the jousting all the while munching kettle corn and cotton candy as we walked. At one point we stopped so that my boys could get onto a swing ride operated by a couple of medieval carnies hand-cranking the contraption that accommodated about fifteen children. I took photos as the boys swung around in circles rotating in their chairs. Then they got off and stepped around the side of the fence to me. My oldest saw a crossbow game next to the swing that he wanted to show me and possibly play. So we walked over toward it. Out of the corner of my eye, I was certain that my youngest was following. My oldest showed me how the pseudo arrows went into the chamber and it was at this point that I glanced behind me to see what my youngest thought of it. The eight-year-old was nowhere in sight and I was instantly jolted to high alert. “Where’s your brother?” I asked. He looked around and shrugged.
“I thought he was right here,” he replied.
I looked at the swing ride which was less than fifteen feet from me and I couldn’t see him anywhere. I then yelled for him. No answer. I had lost my son. My heart was racing as I told my oldest to stand by the crossbow stand and not move at all. I began a spiral-style sweep of the area widening as I went through the tree-covered clearing. I couldn’t see him anywhere and I was fighting the desire to panic. I began yelling as loud as I could for him and other parents looked at me with concerned expressions, knowing the pain I was going through. Two other fairegoers joined me in the search and I began to look at the perimeters.
I stopped a faire worker and notified them and just as they radioed to have the gates closed so no one could leave or come in my mobile phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number but picked up to hear my son crying on the phone. “Daddy? Where are you? I can’t find you.”
He had followed someone wearing a similar shirt to mine near the swing ride and hadn’t looked carefully to make sure it was actually me until it was too late. Fortunately, he had only gone as far as the archery game which was about two hundred feet away, but it was far enough that he couldn’t see me anywhere. If I had not been so careful to ensure that my children always knew my mobile phone number, the situation could have been a lot worse than it turned out.
Tips to Prevent Losing Your Child
- Put one of your business cards in their pocket, preferably with a mobile phone number on it.
- Force your children to memorize your mobile phone number (something I have done since they were very small).
- Teach your child to look for a police officer or fireman in a crowded gathering such as a public event.
- If you are in a public setting (such as a fair, store, or movie theater) immediately contact a management member, most locations have protocols in place to close the entrances so that no one can escape with a child and scenarios set up to help parents find their child.
- When you know you will be in a crowded place, have your children wear bright colors so you can quickly identify them from a distance.
- If your children are very young, take a small length of rope and have them always hold onto the rope or have one of the leashes attached to a small backpack they can wear. (I always used to think this was demeaning, but I don’t think so now, having gone through the terrors of losing my child.)