It is one of the worst feelings that any parent can experience - that dread when you realise you've lost your children and don't know where they are. That happened to me this week.
We were at the Sea Life Centre in Blackpool, just me with the children as husband was at work. We'd been round but at the end was a small soft play area that the children decided they wanted to explore, and I got some drinks and snacks at the usually extortionate prices. They played, I got some peace. Bliss!
Monkey announced that he wanted to go to the toilet NOW as we were putting on coats and shoes to leave. He started walking away and I told him to wait. He said he wanted to go and kept walking. Missy Woo and I started to follow him through the maze of tables. Then a toddler stood in front of me. I stopped, looked down at the little boy, stepped round him and looked up. I couldn't see either Monkey or Missy Woo. In a few seconds, they had both disappeared! I wasn't too bothered because I thought I could just follow them to the toilets. However, I went through two sets of doors, I found myself at the top of some stairs. No toilets. I'd gone through the wrong door.
I thought I'd just turn back. I pushed the door. It wouldn't budge. It was a one-way door, presumably to stop people sneaking in without paying. I stood and waited, thinking someone else would come through within a few seconds. I was wrong. I felt weirdly calm, largely because I knew they were shut in, even though I was inwardly praying the children were OK once they had been to the toilet and I wasn't there.
It was a few minutes until someone finally came through the door and I could get through. I scurried round to the toilets, but there was no sign of them. Great! I started walking back through the exhibition but almost straight away, they appeared with a member of staff. "Mummy!" Monkey called. "We lost you."
Apparently, they couldn't see me when they came out of the toilets so they went to find a staff member and Monkey told him "We've lost our Mummy". They were both fine, neither were upset or tearful. I think they were just confused. I calmly told Monkey that he shouldn't run off where I couldn't see him, but praised him for looking after Missy Woo and finding the member of staff. Secretly, I was quite impressed with the way he had handled it as I don't recall telling him what to do if he got lost. Still, I don't fancy a repeat any time soon. I tried hard not to get too cross with them because if I hadn't gone the wrong way, it wouldn't have happened. I also didn't want to make a fuss and scare them. They still had a strip torn off them later when I told my husband what had happened.
I've reflected on this and come to the conclusion that I have raised independent children, and that this is the downside of that independence. When it suits them, both Monkey and Missy Woo want to do everything themselves or alone. I blogged shortly after Missy Woo started school how quickly she wanted to go into class by herself. The current excitement, for both of them, is managing to do up their own seat belts in the car. They don't manage it all the time but their faces light up when they do.
I cannot and will not curb their desire for independence. This incident may have been one of the negative aspects of that desire but it does have positives - they are so proud when they manage to do something for themselves and do it well, and most of the time, they are prepared to have a go. The challenge for me is to help that independence to flourish within safe boundaries so they don't come to any harm. The pride and sense of achievement that they feel gives them confidence and watching them flourish really is a wonder. For me, it is the best thing about parenting.
Are your children independent? What do they insist on doing for themselves? How much freedom do you allow them to have? Leave me a comment and tell me!