I walked into Central Park yesterday. It was a busy day, filled with tourists, many filling the lanes of the road in rented bicycles. Standing in the middle of the bicycle lane was a woman screaming, the look of terror visible on her face. At first I thought she was another crazy person in New York, but then, despite the fact that she did not speak English, I suddenly understood: SHE COULDN’T FIND HER DAUGHTER.
We mobilized. Mainly, it was women who gathered together to help, each feeling the mother’s terror as if it were her own. Spanish-speaking people joined in, so they were able to help interpret the woman’s words, between her screams and gasps. We all collectively held our breaths, but tried to gather information. Also, there was an off-duty policeman visiting from Albany, New York, who jumped in and quickly became the organizer.
Here are the facts as we learned them: the woman and her 9-year old daughter were visiting from Spain. They had rented bicycles at the bottom of the park and were riding north on the East Drive of Central Park. Suddenly, the daughter was nowhere to be found. That is when the woman got off her bicycle and began screaming for help.
The Albany police officer was really helpful. He took charge and knew all the things to do and say. He had the woman describe the daughter: her name, her height, her weight, her hair color, what she was wearing, etc. Some people in the group on bicycles went off in search of the girl, others went running loops looking for her. The officer phoned NYPD and reported the girl missing, and gave the information. The NYPD said they’d be right there, but in reality, it took more than 10 minutes for them to arrive.
Fast forward: it was now about a half hour since the woman’s first screams. She was now beyond hysterical. Other women tried to console her: we knew in our heart of hearts that the daughter was probably fine. But, we’d all heard the horror stories of abductions, and none of us could really rest easy until we knew for sure that the girl was safe.
Then, the woman’s phone rang.
It was her daughter!
The child was about two miles further north in Central Park. As best I can tell, she had realized that her mother was no longer with her, and gotten off her bike. She too was crying, and people came to help her, and she remembered her mother’s phone number (an international phone). Eventually, the NYPD located the girl and drove her to us to reunite the mother and daughter.
The mother and child reunion was tearful. We were all so shaken but so relieved.
There are lessons to be learned. If you are a parent and travel with a child – rehearse what to do if you get separated. I was able to think of a few tips, but I’m sure there are more.
1. rehearse the scenario generally. Explain what being lost means, and tell the child that, if s/he does get lost, to stay in one place, and not go anywhere with anyone. Maybe look for a police officer or even another mommy who has children.
2. rehearse the scenario specifically. When entering Central Park, review what to do if you get separated. Point out the police call boxes throughout the park.
3. Identification. The child should have information on how to contact the parent in the event s/he gets lost, preferably in writing. A phone number, the name of the hotel, a photo. So too, the parent should carry photos of the child.
Have you become separated from your children on vacation? What is your story? What additional tips can you offer?
Stay safe, enjoy your travels.
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