The Worst Day…With a Happy Ending

Yesterday, friends invited us to check out the East Lansing Art Festival. Their family has three little boys similar ages to ours, and we truly enjoy hanging out with them! We were both impressed at how large this event was. Multiple streets were lined with tents and vendors offered items ranging from homemade crafts to unique art pieces. Ryan went from being held by Daddy to walking hand-in-hand with me to holding hands with Joshua. The kids were all happily playing together and the parents were chatting and keeping an eye on the larger group. I was impressed with not only the size of the event but also the number of people who were in attendance! It was a pretty crowded area.

After walking a block or so and looking at the “artsy” side, we purchased some water bottles (it was a hot day!) crossed a very busy intersection of the main street of traffic to the other side that offered more crafty-type wares. We stopped for our friends to buy yard stakes, and then we walked a bit for me to buy a personalized wooden flag sign. Ryan had been playing with his water bottle, walking next to Joshua but not holding his hand. Shawn was right behind him and Sandy went into the tent with me to help me pick out a sign. Their 4-year-old son accompanied us gals while the men stayed out with the other kids. Shawn thought Ryan went in with us and saw what he thought was the top of his head in between Sandy and me. While the man personalized my sign, Shawn came in to make sure Ryan wasn’t being a handful. He realized that Ryan wasn’t in the tent after all (their son who’s roughly the same size had already left to join the other boys).

“Where’s Ryan?” Shawn casually asked. “With you,” was my casual response. I paid the man and thanked him, and turned my attention to Shawn, who now looked a little distraught. “I’m going to go back the way we came and look for him.” I now realized Ryan was really not with the men. Still, I wasn’t panicked. I assumed he was nearby and we just didn’t see him in the crowd. Sandy offered to go another direction to look. I demanded of Joshua, “You were holding hands with Ryan the last I had looked.. Which way did he go?!?” Joshua was still having fun with the other boys and shrugged, “I don’t know. He wasn’t with me.” Of course an 8-year-old isn’t responsible for his younger brother. Still, I would have thought one of the kids may have seen him walk away. Which way? They shrugged. I went forward a bit while the boys stayed at the tent where we had just made a purchase with Tim. Meanwhile, Shawn and Sandy went through two separate rows of vendors. I love Ryan dearly but I didn’t think he would have the wherewithal to go back the way we came to try and find us. I assumed he got lost in his own little world of tossing his water bottle in the air like the older boys had been doing and he kept walking when we stopped. I also thought he would probably find one of the many, many dogs that owners had brought to the event and stop to pet it.

I very casually walked up and down looking for him, calling “Ryan! Ry?” to see if he would hear my voice and come running. I also listened for his little voice as he’s not typically too quiet. No one answered. I walked back, thinking Shawn must have found him and brought him back. I saw both Shawn and Sandy circle back, still with no Ryan in hand.

We all started looking a little more panicked as the minutes since we had last seen him were starting to tick by. I didn’t like the look on their faces that was mirroring what I felt in my heart. I quickly and definitively grabbed my older boys and insisted that they walk with me rather than wait by the tent where I had made my purchase. If Ryan were in that area, he would have come out by now. At this point, I didn’t want to be separated from any of my babies.

I continued with my instinct that he had kept walking, dreading that we were coming up to another intersection (although a less busy road). Tim walked back to the road we had crossed. He wanted to make sure Ryan didn’t try to cross the street that had heavily congested traffic. Sandy started talking to vendors, describing Ryan and asking them to hold onto him if they noticed him walking by. I started to yell louder and louder for him, not caring if people thought I was crazy. I didn’t want to sound upset, but I desperately wanted him to hear me and come running to me. I was also listening for him in between my calling his name. “RYAN! RY?!?! Where are you, buddy?”

At this point, I told my other two boys we needed to pray together. We immediately did out loud “Please, God, protect Ryan. Keep him safe. Bring him back to us quickly. Please help us! You’re our only hope. Please God, this is my son…he’s just a baby!” At this point, I realized Ryan had been gone too long. Our chances of finding him were getting less and less with every passing minute. As I rounded the corner I saw even more tents lining the next street with even more people. But I didn’t think he would go this far happily on his own without recognizing we weren’t there with him…

For the past two weeks, Ryan hadn’t slept very well. Shawn and I had had a conversation about feeling like Ryan was scared to be alone. He wouldn’t go into another area of the house by himself even and was barely sleeping, crying out for me in the night. I had asked my little man what was going on – why was he crying at night when he needed his sleep (and I did too!). His response had been that he wanted to snuggle me. I had told him to save his snuggles for daytime hours… Now I desperately wanted a snuggle from him!

I thought of Ryan’s fear of being alone and I started feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. “RYAN! RY!?!?! WHERE ARE YOU, BUDDY?!?!?” I continued to call for him. We continued to search the area. A woman came up to me and said “Can we help you?” I burst into tears and blurted out “My 3-year-old son is lost and all alone and we can’t find him anywhere!” This sweet shopper started mobilizing a team. “Her son is 3!” she shouted. “Help find this lady’s son!” More and more people came up and offered to help. Angels, I tell you! It takes one person to make the choice to help that leads others to recognize that help is needed and pitch in.

“What is he wearing?” someone asked. I described his very simple navy blue shirt and jeans. I groaned inwardly and thought to myself, why don’t I dress him in neon yellow? I heard people say, “Wow! He’s only three?” Folks who had heard me calling a name before suddenly realized how serious the situation was. People started looking and calling his name – he’s 3, wearing blue and his name is Ryan – GO! A woman sent her teenage kids to start looking for a 3-year-old blond boy with blue eyes. Minutes continued to fly by… “RYAN! RY?!?! WHERE ARE YOU, BUDDY?”

I tearfully continued searching until someone said “A boy that fits that description is with a police officer in the information tent.” I felt a surge of hope! “Don’t worry, Mom, he looked very happy and peaceful,” they consoled me. This is what didn’t sit well. Peaceful? Ryan wouldn’t be peaceful without us. Even at night he cries if we’re not in bed next to him. Truly, he’s not even peaceful with us at times. He had been whining how hot he was and how he wanted a balloon yo-yo much of the afternoon. Happy and peaceful…was this found boy the same kid we were looking for? Still, I had to find out! I had to hope it was, even though I was a little doubtful. Where? Where was the information booth? Even if it wasn’t Ryan, that might be a good place to check and get some help.

No one seemed to know where the booth was. I followed a woman who was trying to get her bearings with all the tents and people and we walked all over and through a large building to the other side…on and on we kept going. As we raced, my older boys complained that they were having a hard time keeping up. I was pulling them along, anxious to find the information booth and my Ryan! As we kept walking and walking, the strong doubts that this was my son started to creep in. Really? This far? He wouldn’t have gone this far on his own… I heard people tell each other “They found him. You can stop searching.” I wanted to scream “Don’t stop! What if this isn’t the same child?!?” I literally felt sick. What if this wasn’t my son and I was being led far away from where we had last seen him? I was starting to panic, but this was the only “lead” we had.

The thought crept in, “What if someone took him?” We hadn’t found him after searching a long time in that area. He wouldn’t go this far. What if…I tried to push those thoughts out of my head. If this boy wasn’t Ryan, I wasn’t sure what I would do….I couldn’t think about it. I had to keep pushing.

We arrived at the information booth, and there was no police officer and no Ryan waiting for us. WHAT?!?! The woman there said, “Someone told us that a frantic mom was searching for her missing son on the other side, so the police officer was walking the boy over that way to try to find you. Stay here, and he’ll come back eventually. Don’t worry, the boy is calm and fine.” Minutes passed. No Ryan. Do I wait here, far away from where I felt we should be looking? Yet, the three of us (Shawn, Sandy and myself with my other kiddos) had walked up and down that area with absolutely no success. Others were looking and hadn’t spotted him. Tim was still stationed with their kids by the busy street, not thinking that strangers would allow a small child to cross alone but not wanting to take the chance…

I texted Shawn that they may have found Ryan, and he came running to where we were, only to find no child. I wanted to leave, but everyone cautioned, “Stay.” What seemed like an eternity later, Sandy tearfully came up with the police officer and with a very calm Ryan who was happy to see us. My rigid body relaxed as I let out a gleeful sigh and scooped him into my arms. I tearfully told him “Mommy was lost! I was sad I couldn’t find you!” I didn’t want to make him panic but he said “Yeah, I couldn’t find you either.” We thanked the police officer and I hugged my boy! Sandy said she ran into the police officer who was bringing Ryan around to the area where we had been. When she saw the officer and Ryan, she started to cry and explained to him, “I’m not the mom but I’m with her!” She had also started fearing the worst and had suggested earlier to her husband that we should call the police. Now she was able to tell him that Ryan had been found. Tim went with his kiddos and bought them all the balloon yo-yo’s that Ryan had been asking for since he had seen theirs.

Their family continued to look around as I told Shawn that I had had enough excitement for the day…we headed back home, and then their family came over later to hang out. I told Shawn it had been a rough day (even with our car battery dying…another story!). But, it was a good day when we realized that all of our kids were home safe with us. Thank You, God, for protecting our boys!

The situation made me think about parents whose story doesn’t have a happy ending…how do you reconcile that in your mind? I don’t have a great answer, but I still trust that I have a great God. I am humbled and grateful that our boys are okay.

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