The day I lost someone else's child

My most sleepless night

  1. #my most sleepless night
  2. #lost
  3. #child
  4. #park
  5. #party

When Aly Ganney held her daughter's birthday party in their local park, it proved unexpectedly stressful

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The day of my daughter’s birthday party came and I had been up since dawn, baking homemade everything, so as not to incur the scornful looks of my fellow parents. I exhaustedly turned up at the school gates to be confronted by my daughter’s teacher looking rather cross.

I had purposely planned the party to take place after school, to make it easy for the parents. To add to this, the party HAD to be on a weekday, as my daughter couldn’t understand why anyone would celebrate their birthday on a day that wasn’t actually their birthday. So a Wednesday party it was.

So, back to the cross teacher. Apparently a number of parents had decided that by not turning up to collect their children, I would be forced not only to take their children to my daughter’s party, but also look after their children for them, giving them the next few hours off! An extra couple of hours of free childcare, you could call it.

Thankfully a couple of responsible parents helped me heard a gaggle of eight excited children to the park along the main road. On arrival at the park Harry the entertainer from the subsequently amazing ‘Amanda’s Action Kids’ had set everything up and was ready for action (no pun intended).

More parents and children were there, some parents stayed, others went and the party started. By now we were up to about 15 to 20 children, in a park, with some parental back-up from friends of mine with small babies, and my parents and grandparents (92!) all quietly sipping prosecco and watching the party unfold.

At 5:30pm I went back to the rendezvous point, to collect the wayward parents who had left their children with me, and was talking to one mother (a rather intimidating one) about how lovely her daughter had been during the party.

On arriving back, the kids had left the party games and had started the piñata under the watchful eye of my mother-in-law. It was then that the mother I had been speaking to said “Well, where is Sophie*?”

At that moment I did what every other mother would do. I stood and carefully looked at all the children, and waited for Sophie to drift into view.

She didn’t.

I kept looking, and the mother kept asking. I started to ask the other mothers “Have you seen Sophie?” The response was a sea of blank faces, followed by frantic movement.

Harry, the entertainer, was looking around him and the games area, but she wasn’t there. My father looked over at me and said “What are you so het up about?” And then I finally realised that this was actually happening, this was actually happening under my watch, as I yelled back at him “We’ve lost a child!”

The words rang out across the park, making it real, making time stand still. I kept looking, kept hoping she would float into view. She didn’t.

I decided that I couldn’t stand next to the mother, so went over to the other side of the search area, stopping joggers, dog walkers, anyone, asking “Have you seen a little girl?” As I turned with my hands in my hair, I looked back at a scene from something out of those missing-children news segments every parent watches, with the arrogant certainty that they will never go through that. Parents fanning out, frantically searching.

It had been ten minutes now and no sign of her, so I decided I needed to take action. I needed to gather the parents together and send them to the gates of the park, getting them to stop anyone leaving with a child, while I called the police.

As I was dialling 999, wondering how on earth this had happened, I saw my Dad flapping in the distance like some huge multi-coloured bird. He was shouting something too, but I couldn’t hear him.

Then I saw her next to him, he had found her. She was safe. I spontaneously but very completely dissolved into tears.

In front of the mother whose child I had lost. In front of the other parents who, being a working mum, I had never met before. In front of all the children who thought ‘Blimey, Lucy’s* mum is totally nuts, we won’t be going for a play date at hers again!”

In front of Sophie, who looked at me as if I was mad, as I scooped her up and clutched her like she was the most important thing alive. I looked at my watch, and in total it had been 13 minutes. Thirteen minutes of pure hell and Sophie was completely oblivious.

In fact, as I was talking to her mother and apologising over and over, she did it again - ran off and hid! Because that is what kids do.

Will I be doing another party in the park? NO is the answer.

In the desperate quest as a working mum to get to know as many parents and children at my daughter’s school, I had bitten off more than I could chew. And to all of you planning a party in the park: make sure that the parents stay, so that you have those extra pairs of eyes.

That evening, needless to say, I, in the words of one of the fabulous Up All Hours resident parents, Mrs Mullen, #gotmywineon. And when in the wee small hours was still up, worrying about how I could have let it happen, I got a text from a friend telling me not to worry as she once failed to notice a child of hers had got on a bus, until she saw her waving from the back window as it pulled away!

It was #mymostsleeplessnight because of a truly awful day, but being a parent it is always good to know you are not alone. Someone has always already been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, and has a few words of wisdom or humour to make you feel like you are never alone.

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