By Megan Wirts
I don’t know a better way to spend a hot spend summer day than to spend it at the beach. Luckily for us we only live a short drive away from some of the best beaches on the shores of Lake Michigan. So, a few weekends ago, on one of the most beautiful days of the summer so far, my family and our favorite beach going neighbors packed up and headed out to hopefully relax and splash in the water.
The beach was packed with people that had the same idea as us. We made our way down the dunes and across the hot sand and found a nice spot close to the water with enough space for our boy to dig as big a hole as his little hands could dig. (He has been known to dig six-feet-deep holes in a blink of an eye. I have told him to use his powers for good and not evil.)
We settled into our little beach paradise, spreading out the blankets, setting up the umbrellas and chairs, and putting more than the recommended amount of sunscreen on all exposed body parts. The moms got out our books to read and put our drinks in our cup holders, while the dads and the kids immediately jumped in the warmest Lake Michigan water we have felt this summer. It was perfect!
Every now and then I would look up from my book and count, 1, 2, 3 4. “Yup, all there”, I would think. Occasionally, it would be 1, 2, 3….where’s 4?…Ok, there he is, and then I could breathe again. There is nothing that will put a parent more on edge than their kids being in a lake, pool or any body of water for that matter. As a former respiratory therapist, I saw up close and personal what the aftermath of a near drowning can be like. I try not to be completely overprotective, but I also try to be as vigilant as possible. When my small people were much smaller, there was no way I was going to be reading a book at the beach, especially if I were alone. Being with 3 other adults that were also watching intently and having kids over the age of 10, I felt a little more at ease, it still doesn’t stop me from doing a head count every few minutes though.
A few hours into our beach day, all of us grown-ups were lounging in our chairs while two of the kids were digging in the sand and the older two were splashing in the waves. People were coming and going all around us. Families were making their way further down the beach and some were leaving for the day. We noticed a small girl, around the age of two, walk right in front of us and around the big hole my son had dug. She was a cute little thing that reminded us of Boo, from Monsters Inc. As she walked past, my friend noticed that she wasn’t with anyone else. She seemed to be wandering around all alone.
We watched her keep toddling along and looked the other way and saw nobody coming after her. She just kept on going and I thought she was running towards someone, but she was just chasing some seagulls. Why not, chase seagulls, right? She looked like she was having a blast…alone. Finally, after what seemed like 5 minutes and the little girl was getting further away, my friend decided to follow her to make sure she wasn’t really by herself.
I watched as my friend walked along close to the water just behind the little girl and eventually I couldn’t see either of them. While she was following the girl, the rest of us were watching for anyone that might be looking for a small child. Just as I was about to suggest we walk down the beach in the opposite direction that the little girl went, we saw her. A woman with a look of panic and desperation only a mother could display if they were missing a child. She looked around frantically, not saying anything, just scanning and searching, barely breathing.
My husband said, “There she is, that’s her.” Then she turned around and went the other way and he got up and ran towards her. When he got to her, he asked if she was looking for a little girl and she frantically said, “YES!!” and began to physically shake. He told her our friend was following the girl and that’s when they appeared, walking hand in hand down the beach. My friend bent down and asked, “Is that your mommy?” and the little one nodded and her mother ran towards her. She scooped her up and had terror and relief written all over her face. She said, “Thank you!” to my friend and then they were gone.
Crisis averted and a child safe from harm. For a moment, I wondered if we were on one of those “What Would You Do” type of shows and looked for a camera crew, but no, it really happened. When the ordeal was over, we were all so thankful that we noticed her and that my friend took it upon herself to make sure she stayed safe. Not one other person on that beach paid any attention to that little girl as she walked by them. They were wall wrapped up in their own lives, watching their own kids, eating snacks, reading or napping, doing normal beach things. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, they just didn’t pay attention. Why should they though? They were at the beach, relaxing.
She was alone wandering and chasing seagulls for at least 10 minutes, in which time a multitude of horrible things could have happened to her. My stomach turned just imagining what could have happened. There was no judgement by us or questions asked about why the little girl was alone either. It was obvious that her mom was extremely frightened and panicked when she couldn’t find her daughter and the last thing a mother needs in a time like that is some judgey judgerson questioning her.
We could speculate all day what events led up to the little girl going on her stroll along the beach, but the truth is, toddlers are fast and wander off. It happens. It literally takes seconds for a kid to sneak off out of your sight. I’m sure this mother will never take her eyes off that child ever again, at least I wouldn’t. I would be wrecked with guilt and turn over the moments before she wandered off in my mind over and over for weeks to come. No, this mom didn’t need our questions and interrogation. She just needed to take her baby home, safe and sound, and hope that something like that will never happen again.
When we all settled down and went back to our sandcastle building and swimming, you can bet that my headcounts happened a lot more frequently.
There will be no relaxing at the beach any time soon.
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