One of the worst nightmares parents can experience is that of losing track of their child. Though my dad claims none of his kids were ever lost, only misplaced, I feared for the lives of my younger siblings three different times. Here is the story of the first “misplacement.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina – Christmas 1999
Everything started with the ice cream store.
It was a really hot day on the Buenos Aires beach. We had just finished eating a big steak lunch (basically a requirement when visiting Argentina) with our aunt and uncle and four cousins. So, our parents decided to take us out to ice cream.
Before I continue, one thing you need to understand about my family is that we, especially my sister Michaela, love ice cream. We will never turn down an opportunity to eat that deliciously cold and soft dessert.
After practically pushing through the crowds on the street, we found a small ice cream shop on a corner. We went inside and found the place completely packed, but we did not mind waiting as long as we got our ice cream.
My siblings, cousins and I lined up in front of the container displaying all of the ice cream options and ordered what we wanted. Since there was no place to sit down in the shop, our parents decided to take us outside. They found a door on the side of the shop that led to an alley with some stores, so they led all of us out that door and found an area where we could play while my parents and my uncle went shopping. My aunt stayed behind to take care of all the kids.
About 10 minutes later, my parents came back and began telling us it was time to leave.
“Where is Michaela?” Mom said.
I looked around. I had been playing with all of my cousins on the playground, but I had not seen Michaela in a while.
My parents sat all of the kids down on a nearby bench in order to count us all up. There were only six of us. Michaela was missing.
Both my parents ran off, my mom checking all the stores and my dad went back through the side door to the ice cream shop.
“Have you seen my daughter?” he asked the shop owner. “She is four and comes up to my knees.”
No one had seen her.
As the panic set in, Dad ran out the front door. Crowds of people were covering the streets. It was impossible to find a small child.
As my dad began thinking the worst – that Michaela had been kidnapped and forced to become a slave – he heard clapping in the distance. No music, just clapping. At first, he did not think anything of it.
Then he remembered something my mom had told him many years before.
“In Argentina, when they find a lost child, people will get in a circle around the child and begin clapping until the parents can be reunited with their child,” Mom had said.
Dad ran toward the sound, praying the whole time.
He came to the crowd of clapping people and found about 50 of them in a circle. He pushed his way to the middle of the circle and saw a little girl facing the other way and kicking away the strangers. Dad took her shoulder and turned her around.
He had found her.
Michaela had ice cream dripping off her face and down the front of her shirt and she was crying, but she was safe.
My dad picked her up and hugged her as the strangers around them began clapping again, this time because the lost girl had been found.
Then, it occurred to my dad that my mom still had no idea that Michaela had been found. He began pushing his way through the crowds of people again, looking for Mom.
“I saw her from a distance,” Dad said later. “When she saw me, I held Michaela up and watched as Elisa’s face changed from having no hope to relief when she realized I had found our daughter.”
We discovered later that when my parents were leading us all out the side door of the ice cream shop, Michaela had misunderstood and gone out the front door instead.
“In the store, I was looking through one door and I saw it was really crowded, so I chose to go through the other door,” Michaela said later.
Needless to say, Michaela was never “misplaced” again. However, both of my other siblings were, which I will talk about over the next two weeks.