The Day My Two Year Old Ran Away

As a mom who gave birth to three children in 3 1/2 years, I’m no stranger to chaos!

I’ve learned to keep my head on a swivel as my kids run in all different directions and I rarely venture out by myself with all three. Shortly after my youngest was born, I decided to take them all to a local women’s group by myself. I had been attending weekly before giving birth and my older kids had been begging to go back to see their new friends. It went SO well the first time we went back, I couldn’t believe it.

I thought to myself, “Wow, maybe this transition to three kids won’t be so hard after all.”

The second week we went, everything began smoothly. I got the kids checked into their classrooms and met with my group. Afterward, I headed to the children’s area to pick up my older kids first since the infant room already had a line of moms waiting. After wrangling the big kids, we went back to the infants’ room. Both kids lagged behind, staring at a cool painting on the wall. I had them in my line of vision and figured they would be fine about twenty feet behind me while I grabbed the baby.

It took me 30 seconds to walk to the window and pick her up, and by the time I turned back around, I couldn’t see my two-year-old anywhere.

The Day My Two Year Old Ran AwayThe church we were in was quite large, and we were right in the middle. I wasn’t nervous at first as I scanned the area, assuming I would see him at any moment. I decided to head back to his classroom area, figuring he ran back to play some more. To my surprise, he wasn’t there.

As I continued to search, I held the baby in one arm and held my three-year-old’s hand on the other side, so I wasn’t able to cover much ground very quickly. I started getting nervous after a few minutes had passed with no sight of him.

By now, I was basically dragging my three-year-old along as she could not keep up my increasing speed. Seconds later, her shoe flew off and she fell to the ground. Cue hysterical crying. This scared the baby and she began to cry loudly as well.

I stood there with a wailing baby in my arms, an inconsolable three-year-old throwing a tantrum on the floor, and no clue where my third child was.

This was the moment panic set in.

It must have shown on my face because another mom came up and asked if I was alright. I managed to whimper “I can’t find my son” and she could tell that I was scared. She firmly told me, “I will watch both of your girls. Go find him!”

I started to run around the building frantically, checking every empty classroom.

Still nothing.

I found his classroom teacher and enlisted her in the search. Before long, five people were actively searching the building for my son. Around fifteen minutes had passed at this point and I began to think the worst. What if he was taken? What if he’s hurt? My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking.

It was the scariest moment of motherhood I’ve experienced so far. We had searched every part of the building, and I had no idea where he could be.

Then, I caught a glimpse of his teacher by the entryway…. WITH MY SON IN HER ARMS. My entire body relaxed with relief. I hadn’t cried yet, but now, the tears began to flow.

She called out, “He was in the parking lot!”  WHAT?! I still to this day don’t know how he managed to get that far that quickly.

At that moment, I felt so many things.

Immense relief that he was okay.

Elation that he was safe and hadn’t been injured.

Embarrassment that I had let this happen and that a group of women whose opinions I cared about were witnessing my incompetence.

But then, one by one, all the women who had gathered began to share stories with me about similar situations they had been in.

Each woman told me about a moment where they, too, feared for the safety of a little one that had been in their care. We all lamented how unbelievably quickly it could happen. It was at this moment that I had a revelation.

I had gotten to know each one of these women on a deeper level in this twenty minutes than in the countless hours I had spent with them previously. Each time things had gone “well” and I presented the polished version of myself I wanted them to see, I really only made superficial connections.

It wasn’t until I messed up, until I was VULNERABLE, that I did more than scratch the surface in these relationships.

We hear a lot about mom-shaming, but in my most soul-bearing moment, I felt no judgment from this tribe of moms and instead felt immense support. No one asked me my political affiliation or my church denomination before jumping in to help in the search. No one said, “How could you have let this happen?”

When it really mattered, every single woman was ready to help without question and without comment.

The day my two-year-old ran away, the most important lesson I learned was a lesson in judgment. If I had heard another mom tell this story before it happened to me, I may have smugly thought to myself, “I would never let that happen. I’m much too careful.”

Instead, I learned that empathy is always the best response.

I’m thankful for the group of moms who showed me that. I’m thankful our outcome was positive, that he was safe. And I’m thankful for my sweet, wild son who teaches me just as much as I teach him.

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Alicia is a stay-at-home mom to Claire (5), Drake (4), and Kate (1). After growing up in western Iowa, Alicia ventured east to attend the University of Iowa and graduated in 2014 with a Political Science degree, and a minor in English. When she isn’t chasing kids, she loves finding time for scrapbooking, going on walks around the neighborhood, and watching any and every home renovation show! Alicia loves staying involved in her community, mainly through spending time in her church and volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters. With three kids under five, her advice to moms with young kids is: “prayer, coffee, and then a little more of each!”