It was that one routine detail in the middle of a busy day.You were called by the school twice, once to calm your child and then to calm the teacher.You’re shuttling your mother from one doctors’ appointment to home and you also have to pick up groceries. You’re walking down the aisle of the store but somehow you feel you’ve forgotten something very important but can’t put your finger on the issue.You take the groceries to the car and look to the back seat and look at the booster seat. In a panic you realize you don’t have your child
This situation happens everyday to parents. Indeed, daycares, schools and youth centers have special policies relating to forgotten children. Daycares find it a lucrative “tip” as they charge a dollar a minute to parents who have forgotten a child. In many such settings the teacher or aide who stays after gets to keep the money. Youth centers will suspend a child or charge a surcharge to parents for lateness. Schools range from putting a child out of the building to calling the police or the welfare service reporting a child as abandoned.
Yet these situations are raised to an additional level of concern when the child has special needs. In one school district the bus driver must return such a child to the school if a parent or mature person is not available to meet the bus when they drop the child off after school. This however, can be an older brother or sister who is at the home who comes to the bus and escorts the child into the house. The parents and guardians of special needs children are not allowed these significant but human frailties that can be related to a traffic jam, an emergency with another child, or an exhausted and overwhelmed parent.
When picking up the forgotten or misplaced child the spoken and/or unspoken looks suggest that you must not be a responsible parent. Some may even suggest that you are too young, or have too many children, or are too old, or even lack the intelligence to raise a child. When police or social services workers are involved, the situation becomes even more intense. They are legally bound to have to write a report. Unfortunately, they often view these situations as related to neglect or criminal negligence. They ask questions as if seeking to solve a crime or identify a child abuser. While this is the case in some situations it is important to be authentic and honest with yourself and the professional involved. It is important to acknowledge that it was a mistake.
A parent of an Autistic child was the coordinator of a church’s youth outreach program. He took the day off as they prepared for the final program where staff was decorating a room, bringing in a moon bounce, setting up stations with balloons and face painting. Students from a nearby high school were coming to get volunteer hours helping to check children in and to supervise them at each activity. Other parents were bringing cakes and food that had to be prepared in the kitchen. The father drove the church bus to pick up all of the children throughout the neighborhood to attend the program. He was especially happy that he was able to do all this while his wife was out of town. The program was just beginning when an urgent phone call came to the church. Supposing it related to the program he answered the phone to hear it was his child’s godmother who was also his emergency contact. A small question came from the phone that led him to panic….. Did you forget my Godson this afternoon? He immediately realized it was 2 hours after he was to pick him up. Don’t worry she said I got a call from the daycare and picked him up a little bit after it closed. You should keep your cell phone charged.
Raising any child is a challenging task. Raising exceptional children, many who are quite bright and mischievous can be a handful. Please understand that we should seek to maintain our children’s care and safety at all time. However, there are days when you take your eyes off of them and they are nowhere to be found. These are challenges for all parents. Do not beat yourself up because you are not perfect. Indeed, many parents are working such that one is at home while one works and then they exchange responsibilities. This is often necessary to meet the financial responsibility necessary to raise exceptional children. I encourage you to have a backup person to pick up the child, to resolve conflicts at the schools, and to be available when you need a break. One thing that these situations often suggest is that you as a parent needs some rest and support. Reach out to your support network and to formal resources in order to maintain your sanity. We’re in this together.