our kids are actually listening

I am my youngest’s den leader in Cub Scouts. She’s a Lion right now, and we have a den of 4 girls. When I am sitting with the girls to do the “talk time” – the actual lesson between the activities- 3 of the girls are sitting quietly and listening while my own daughter is rolling around on the floor and pretending to be a cat.

Last fall, we had a meeting on hiking safety. We talked about what to do if you are separated from the group- it’s called SAW.

What is SAW?

SSit down, stay still. Don’t walk around- let the grownups do the walking to find you. I drew an imaginary shopping center and used two hands to represent the kid and the adults- if both were moving around trying to find the other, it’s completely possible to never actually come together because they could always be in different aisles.

AAnswer if you hear your name. Be listening for someone calling out for you. Yell loud, “I’m here, I’m here!”

WWhistle! We talked about safety whistles. If you don’t hear anyone calling for you, blow your whistle as loud as you can to help people find you. If you don’t have a whistle, yell out loud for your parents.

My youngest, through this whole lesson, was off in her own little world.

Fast forward to 6 months later.

She wasn’t there.

We took a family trip to Hersheypark. After a long day of rides and walking, we headed to an outdoor pizza place for dinner in the park. We split up- my husband getting in line with my son and I took the girls to the bathroom. We walked back together and I made a beeline for my husband, the kids trailing along behind me. I was distracted as we decided what to order, juggled cups and napkins and went straight to the soda machine to start filling drinks. I turned to ask my youngest behind me what she wanted when my heart froze- she wasn’t there. I looked around in a panic and didn’t see her at all.

My arms full of drinks, I start pacing around the counter, looking to see if she had crouched down behind a trashcan to study something (this happens often) and she was nowhere to be found.

I finally got my husband’s attention and shoved the cups at him. “I can’t find her! She’s not here!” He starts scanning the crowded picnic area and I take off running to look for her. I finally hear her little voice sobbing, “Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!”

She was on the other side of the picnic area, leaning against a pillar, face red from crying. I ran over to her and scooped her up in my arms, she buried her face in my shoulder, and we both cried. She was shaking.

I hugged her tightly and reminded her over and over that she was safe, that she was brave, and that I was here. She may have only been missing 3 minutes for us, but it could have been closer to 10 for her. It felt like forever for both of us. I am thinking she didn’t notice us stop in the line and she kept walking. The place where she was standing had another pillar that eclipsed her view of the registers and fountain drink area.

Maybe she was listening?

Eventually, she started talking to me as she started calming down.

“Mommy- I did it- I stayed still and I called your name and I listened for you. And I didn’t move- I stayed there so you could find me.”

It dawned on me that she was talking about SAW from Cub Scouts. The lesson I swore she didn’t pay any attention to. It turns out she was listening, after all.

I’m not claiming that Cub Scouts saved the day and all would have been lost otherwise- but the lesson certainly made it easier to find her. And it was encouraging to realize that even when she doesn’t want to sit still and focus, she’s still absorbing it.

Two asides related to this story:

#1- I’m dismayed and a little bit angry at society at large. She was crying and calling out for us- very clearly a five-year-old completely alone, surrounded by other families- and not a single person turned to help her. She was literally 6 inches from a Mom and Dad sitting with their kids- she was practically touching their backs- as they ate, talked amongst themselves, and ignored her. Are we so afraid or detached that we can ignore a scared and crying child because she’s not yours? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a similar situation (some else’s child, lost and crying and scared) and there is no question in my mind- you stop what you are doing and talk to the child- reassure them that Mommy will find her. Help look for the parents. Or at least notify someone in the park so THEY can do it. I could never just blissfully eat my dinner with my family with a terrified and alone child 6 inches away.

#2- My youngest is smart and crafty. Once she felt secure and safe again, she turned to us and said, “I did a good job, right? I did the right thing- I stayed still and listened and called for you. I should get a treat. Can I get cotton candy because I did a good job?” I couldn’t stop laughing. Of course, she would spin this to get sugar. And you better believe she got a big pink cotton candy (which she happily shared with her brother and sister).

Jen Snyder, family photographer

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