Wednesday, February 26, 2014

To the Lost Little Girl in DC: Watching You Find Your Mom Made My Day

Her eyes darted back and forth, not looking at any of us in particular, just searching for something, anything, that seemed familiar. She was walking in a circle, almost pacing, avoiding direct eye contact with all the strangers, at one moment wringing her hands and the next nervously scratching the roots of her wavy blond locks. Tears were welling, and starting to roll down her cheeks. The look of panic was unmistakable.

She couldn’t have been much more than 7 years old, maybe 8.

Whoever she was looking for, amidst the massive crowd that had descended on the marble columns and stone walls of the World War II Memorial in the nation's capital on a 6o-degree Saturday in February, was not there.

I was the first to notice her. As a parent, I know well the look of the lost child – and have seen it on my kids’ faces when they’ve gotten away from us for a spell. I also know the terror that goes through the parent’s mind and heart when we can’t find our kid, even for a moment.

“Dear,” I said to my wife, who was standing nearby, surrounded by our offspring. “This little girl looks lost.”

I intentionally addressed my wife loud enough for the little girl to hear, knowing that if she’d ever been briefed on what to do when lost, she’s likely been told to find a mom or someone in a uniform. Fathers and good men could begrudge that advice. I remembered reading something by a blogger friend on just this thing in the past few days. But it was no time for such misgivings.

“Honey, are you lost?” my wife said.

The little girl barely acknowledged us. She was too scared and panicked to know we were trying to help her, that we were going to help, that we weren’t going to leave her side until she was safely with her family again.

It was a rhetorical question anyway. We knew the answer.

And here's a photo of the inscription inside
the Lincoln Memorial, with someone's rude
child disturbing my shot. ...  Oh, wait.
That's my kid.  
Looking around at all the people we could see – which was quite a few – there were some young couples, a group of foreign tourists, a handful of college students, a jogger, a Hispanic family, and an older African American with a VFW hat. More importantly, there wasn't a panicked parent within sight.

We’ve all been there. At a fair or a mall or a department store. One minute the child is by your side. And the next, they’re not. After it happens a few times, the panic doesn’t come immediately. Rather, it builds, as you look behind racks and down aisles, and still can’t find them.

The World War II memorial – at least at the side entrances – seems almost designed to be a place where a child could slip out of a parent’s view, where walls and columns come together, obscuring the convergence of sidewalks just feet away. It looks open to adults, but if you're less than four feet tall, it’s a maze.

We searched around the South entrance for a minute, looking along the sidewalks leading up to the outdoor memorial, behind the walls, down the ramps. Nothing.

“What’s your name?” my wife asked. She kept crying, and pacing.

“Do you know your mommy’s name?”

“... or what color jacket she’s wearing?”

The girl didn’t respond. 

I wanted her to talk, but totally understood why she didn’t. That’s exactly how our second daughter would be. Our oldest daughter would hike to the closest store, convince them to lend her a megaphone, then climb the tallest column of the monument and call out to us, with an attitude. But our second would turn inward, paralyzed by fear, sadness and worry.

We decided to get away from that maze-like entrance and go to the center of the memorial, where it’s flat and open and we can see quite a distance in almost every direction. Without the girl engaging us, we herded her toward the open area, all the while enlisting our daughters to try talking to her.

“My name is Chloe. What’s yours?” said the one.

“We’re going to help find your mommy,” said another.

The girl didn’t speak, but seemed to understand.  

There were ten of us in our group in total. Me, my wife, our four kids, my sister-in-law who we were in town visiting, her two kids, and our adopted lost, little girl. 

The rest of us had spent the first part of our day visiting the monuments, as she likely had. And the whole time I'd worried about losing one of mine in the crowd -- mostly, I chased and corralled our 3-year-old boy.
Now we had a new purpose.

We all stood in the middle of the memorial looking as far as we could see for the one panicked parent that was most certainly out there. It felt like a few minutes. An eternity to a lost, little girl.

I started to wonder about "what ifs." What if the parents didn’t know she was lost yet? Or, what if she’d already been here for hours, searching? Or, what if she’d wandered here, aimlessly, from one of the other nearby monuments or museums? I started looking around for someone in uniform instead: A cop or a park ranger.

And then, it happened. From the far entrance on the North side of the memorial, I saw that panicked look we all know: A mom, running as fast as she could muster, her jacket falling-off one shoulder, her purse dangling behind, her eyes scanning the crowd, her head on a swivel. Nothing else mattered.

The girl saw her before we did, and set out as fast as she could. Across the open space, around the wall, up the ramp and into her mom’s open arms. The mom picked her up, and didn’t scold her, but just kissed her and hugged her. Behind the mom, two other daughters came running – one older, one maybe younger – with their looks of concern quickly turning to smiles. The older sister patted her on the head, and rustled her hair.

I felt instant relief, even joy.

They turned and left together, without ever seeing us, or even knowing we were there. My wife stood waving. And she kept waving as they went out of sight. Nobody waved back, or even looked.

“Why are you still waving?” I asked.

“I wanted her mom to know she was okay,” my wife said. “That we were watching after her.”

They’ll certainly never know it, but we were. And knowing she was back with her family made my day.

 Like the article?  Here's others you may enjoy: One Smiling Moment -- The Truth Behind an Okay Photo, My Kid Wants and iPhone, and I Don’t Know What To Do, and Learning Lessons From a Little Boy


Larry said...

Glad the story had a happy ending. You guys did a very nice thing even if no one knows it.
Well told.

Cort Ruddy said...

Thanks, Larry. I'm sure we did what most parents would do... at least I hope they would.