In the last couple of days, we have celebrated the wonderful gift of independence that this country has been blessed with since our founding fathers signed the piece of paper that would forever change and mold the United States of America. At that point in history, the American people had reached a time of readiness for independence. As a Christian, I believe that it was with God's help that our ancestors were able to achieve and maintain independence over the years. And the gratitude that I have for all of our service men and women is indescribable. Brave men and women who gave their very lives to protect their country and its independence.
Much like a parent who would go to any lengths and even give their own life to protect the life of their own child.
Today, my heart (and the knot in my stomach) is heavy with the thoughts of my own child's attempt at exercising his independence, if that's what you want to call it. I know he is getting older, and I know there will come a day when he won't rely on me as much or need to ask my permission before doing things, but today, he is 8 years old, and his independence has not been won yet. **I share this personal experience only because I know many of you who read this are parents, too. And I know this will raise your awareness as it has raised mine.**
Yesterday, as we were enjoying time on the beach and the boys were riding the waves, my husband decided to walk down the beach with our 3 year old daughter. When John Owen, my 8 year old son, saw them walking, he asked if he could join them. I could still clearly see them, and I agreed that he could run and catch up to his dad and sister. He took off, leaving Jonah with me. I watched as he caught up with them and then turned my attention back to Jonah. Several minutes passed, and eventually, John Owen made his way back to me. I could see Jan and Mary Claire were trailing behind John Owen, as a 3 year old who isn't too crazy about the sand in the first place will not walk quickly down the beach. John Owen stopped and talked to me for a second, and then headed off directly behind me to the other set of chairs and umbrella we had. I assumed he was ready to help himself to a snack. A few minutes passed, and Jan made it back to our chairs with Mary Claire. He then asked me where John Owen was. I looked at the other set of chairs and did not see him. I looked out at the ocean in front of me and did not see him. I looked down the beach in both directions and did not see him. My heart sank...
Jan quickly went up to the pool which consists of a walk up the boardwalk, a pretty good distance. Surely he would not have gone to the pool without telling me first?! That's what my mouth said, but that wasn't what I believed. He'd never done that before. Not only did Jan check the pool area, but he jumped on the golf cart and raced back to the house to check there and fetch both cell phones. In the meantime, I grabbed the binoculars, started looking out in the water and down the beach, and started telling groups of people around us that I couldn't find my son and described what he was wearing. I can never describe to you the feelings I had at that moment. I cannot type this without tears and the fearful feeling that I had returning. I COULD NOT FIND MY SON!! I don't know how much time had elapsed...maybe 7-8 mins... maybe a few more! In my heart, I knew it had been too long...
I watched nervously for Jan to return on the boardwalk with the hope that John Owen would be trailing behind him probably with his head hung down from the trouble he would surely be in for going somewhere without telling me. But when Jan appeared, I could tell right away that he did not have John Owen. I could tell by the way he was moving. He ran from the boardwalk to me, handed me my cell phone, and we agreed to split up to look down the beach, me going to the right toward the Beach Club resort, Jan going to the left in the direction in which my parents were leisurely walking. Jan was hoping John Owen had run back to catch up to them. I asked the young mother next to me to please watch Jonah and Mary Claire, and I took off nervously watching the ocean water. I cannot type the horrible thoughts that I had as I looked at that water. My son is a good swimmer, but anyone knows that the ocean is no place to test your ability to swim. Two thoughts raced through my mind. A: He's drowned in the ocean and with the time that has elapsed now...well, I just can't type that... or B: Someone has taken my son and I might never see him again. WHERE WAS HE?!
I jogged along the beach, looking out at the water, stopping periodically to ask someone if they had seen him. That's a terrible feeling...describing your child to a stranger. "He's 8 years old, black swim shirt with a shark on the front, shark printed swim shorts, dark hair." No one had seen him until I came to an older couple fishing along the beach. "I think I saw a boy come by here a few minutes ago by himself that might fit that description." And he pointed down the beach even closer to the Beach Club. I started to run. As I was running, I spotted someone small in the crowd of people that begins the crowded beach of the Beach Club resort. I started SPRINTING! I haven't run like that in years probably. I know people were turning their heads, and not for the usual reason someone might turn their head at the beach when they see someone. Oh no! They could probably see my PANIC and wondered what could spur a woman to run like that! As I got closer, I almost fell over with relief when I saw that IT WAS MY SON! He looked up and saw me, and immediately saw the state of panic I was in. He was shocked, I could tell. I wrapped my arms around him, fell on my knees, and just bawled all the while saying, "Oh my God! Thank you, God!" I knew I had to call Jan, so my trembling fingers dialed his number, and all I could say was, "I found him!" Jan freaked out when he heard me crying and all I said was "I found him." What I should have said was "He's o.k. and I have him." (Jan had already called 911 when he didn't see John Owen with my parents, so he immediately called them back to tell them our child had been found safe.) I took John Owen's hand and began walking back. When I thought I could talk again, I asked him why he had walked so far away, and he responded, "I went looking for Daddy." My response was, "But if you had only told me that that was what you were going to do, I could have told you that Daddy wasn't down that way. You cannot ever go off without telling one of us where you are going. I thought I had lost you forever." The feeling we experienced yesterday was one of the worst, scariest feelings we've ever had as parents. After that, we had a long talk with John Owen about the dangers of what he did and how and why it scared us so much in the hopes that something like this won't happen again. I know that in his naiveness he felt independent in his decision to take off down the beach by himself and we tried to explain readiness for independence in a way that I hope he understands.
Jan and I have discussed how yesterday's event was an eye-opener in a way. Not that any of us take our children for granted, but when something like this happens, it makes you a little more aware of just how precious a gift from God each of our children are. And to not take one minute with them for granted. I am so thankful that God protected John Owen yesterday and that He allowed us to find our son safe.