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How Can a Lost Dog Be Easier to Find Than a Lost Child?

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
01/22/20  6:00 AM PST

Finding my lost child…

I didn’t know a lost dog would be easier to find than my lost child.

Dogs have chips. Teenagers have cell phones. But you send a five-year-old off to school for the first time with nothing but a sack lunch and some washable markers. Truthfully, I hadn’t even thought to worry. My twins would be getting on and off the bus at the end of our street together. I could see the stop from my driveway and never thought it would be so easy for them to become lost.

“This is it. This is monumental,” I whispered to my husband while sitting in a teensy desk at my children’s elementary school on Parents Night. My oldest son, Charlie, was about to start first grade and his younger twin brother and sister, Jonas and Cora, would be in kindergarten. Having all three kids in school felt epic in a way that the previous year and start to school had not. Because Charlie has cerebral palsy and his first few years were fraught with health issues, we weren’t sure how he would adapt.

The summer before he began school, I felt the same sweeping tides of emotions I did while pregnant—tearing up in the grocery aisle as I shopped for his favorite foods and stared at the disposable leopard lunch containers. There was a month somewhere in there when I made round after round of his favorite thumbprint cookies just so he could make the divot in them with his little finger. They were my edible versions of fingerprint keepsakes.

But Charlie did great. He rocked kindergarten and so I approached the twins’ start to school with all the excitement and none of the fear. They were ready and their first day went off without a hitch. And so, on the second full day of school, I waved goodbye to them from the bus stop with nothing more than my own to-do list for work on my mind.

An Unexpected Bus Stop Pick-up

Eight hours later, I am standing in our driveway welcoming Charlie off the special needs bus when the twins’ bus pulls to a stop at the end of the street. I smile and begin to roll Charlie in his wheelchair down the street. Perfect timing. Except as we get closer, I see only one tiny kindergartner running towards me.

“Jonas got off at the wrong stop!” Cora yells excitedly.

“What?! Where did he go? When did he get off?” I drop Charlie’s backpack in the middle of the sidewalk.

Cora shrugs. “I dunno. Somewhere up there.” She waves her hand in the general direction of our entire neighborhood.

I begin to run, pushing Charlie as fast as I can. Cora chases me. Both kids are delighted. They think it’s a game. We get to the end of the street and he is nowhere. Cora can’t tell me where he went. I have no way of contacting the bus driver, because this isn’t even our regular bus. It’s a sub. I turn in a circle by the stop sign and then scream Jonas’ name. It was all I could do.

Finding My Lost Child

I spent so much time worrying about Charlie’s transition that first year that I hadn’t consider this, the possibility of a lost child on the second day of school. However, a 2013 survey from the U.S. Department of Justice reports that 6.3 out of every 1,000 children go missing from their primary caretaker each year, defining “missing” as when the child’s “whereabouts were unknown to his or her caretaker causing the caretaker to become alarmed for at least 1 hour and to try to locate the child.” This kind of disappearance is double the rate of children that are actually reported missing to the police. These are the kids that hide in the clothing racks at Target or wander down the street to a friend’s house without telling a parent or get off at the wrong bus stop and are too young to know how to get home again.

As I shout Jonas’ name again, Charlie’s bus trundles to a halt beside me. If his bus ladies weren’t already my heroes, they became so that day. They radio the other bus. The other driver tells them he got off at the stop before ours. And so I start to run again, up the street in the ninety degree heat, all of us yelling his name. People step outside onto their porches and front lawns.

“He’s wearing all blue!” I shout. This is how little he is – he still thinks “matching” means all one color. Each morning he appears at the top of the stairs looking like a Dr. Seuss character. And now he is lost.

People direct us down the street and we follow their pointing fingers. Soon, both Charlie’s bus and the twins’ bus catch up and then pull ahead, asking everyone through their open windows if they’ve seen a little boy in blue.

A Sign of Relief

We circle back around, past our house and that’s when I spot him, in the distance, holding the hand of an elderly lady and calm as can be, if just a little hot and confused.

After the buses depart and we all get inside and rinse our sweaty faces and hands with cool water, my heart begins to find it’s natural rhythm again. This is when I sit them down at the kitchen table and we spend the next thirty minutes discussing school safety, bus buddies, and being aware of your surroundings—things they know but warrant repeating. That night after they go to bed, I buy all three of them watches with tracking capabilities, because it really shouldn’t be easier for your child to get lost then your pet.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom and author.

Discover her new book, Roll with It.

Follow her on Facebook.

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