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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Day I Lost Him at the Water Park

It was Day 8 of our vacation and our third day at this particular water park.  As usual, his main love was the wave pool.  He had already spent hours wave hopping when he looked up, peeled off his goggles,  and asked to go to the "Splash Castle".  This was his name for an immense jungle gym of water spraying and splashing chaos on the other side of the park.

We made a quick plan:  First we would play on the Splash Castle, then we would take a lap in the Lazy River, then back to the wave pool.   Off he sprinted, with me trying to keep up and lifeguards every 100 feet yelling at him to "Walk... don't run!"

We arrived at the Splash Castle and he melted into the chaos.  Usually, his big sister stays in tow as he navigates the immense maze of nets, walkways, stairs and slides.  She keeps him from cutting the lines and getting beat up by the older kids who sometimes misunderstand his occasional disregard of common courtesy.

This time, however, my daughter and my wife decided to hit a few water slides of their own, leaving me to keep an eye on our little maniac.

He did his thing for a few minutes, running up and down the huge structure, stopping occasionally to splash in the water.  Then he gave me a head fake.

It only took a second, but I lost track of his little legs among the crowd.  I circled the structure, heading toward the general direction I last saw him running.

He wasn't there.  I circled back, expecting at any second to spot his bright blue and green bathing suit in the crowd.  I didn't.

The first pang of fear was minor.  It had only been two minutes or so.  He would pop up any second.  After five, seven, ten minutes, the pangs grew more severe.  It took me fifteen minutes of fruitless circling and searching to approach a lifeguard and ask for help.  She was nice enough.  She recognized his description and said she thought he was still playing up on the structure.   She called Security and told me they would send an officer right away. 

"Right away" turned into seven more minutes as panic began to settle in.  "Skippy" the Security Guard finally arrived.  I'm sure he was a very capable young college student.  All I saw, however, was a 12 year-old punk kid wearing an over-sized uniform he stole out of his father's closet.  I went into "cop mode."

I gave him a detailed description of my son, his swimming abilities and his behaviors.  He wrote down every third detail.  I ordered him to send two more guards to the wave pool:  one to find my wife and daughter and the other to start scouring the water for my son.  I ordered him to find the kill switch for the "Splash Castle" and to start ordering the kids to come down off of it. 

I noticed that several parents lounging around the area began to take notice of my plight and nosily listen in, but none felt compelled to pitch in and help.  That pissed me off. 

At that point I realized that "Skippy" was over his head.  His biggest asset to me was his portable radio that could be used to quickly communicate my son's description.  Beyond that, I was on my own.  I forced myself to keep my head together and keep my composure.  It took all of my strength. 

Then I remembered our "plan:"  "First, Splash Castle, then the Lazy River."  I ran over to the Lazy River and jumped up on a rock to get the best possible vantage point.  This earned the attention of a young surfer-dude life guard that I named, "Spicoli".  He yelled to me something like, "Dude, you can't be up there."  

I responded, "I'm looking for my son.  He has..."  Before I could finish my sentence, Spicoli turned it up a notch.

"Sir, I'm telling you to get down."

I replied, "And I'm telling you to go F..."  and then I saw him.  My little maniac, floating down the Lazy River without a care in the world.

I dove in the water.  Spicoli's head almost exploded.  I hugged my son and grew sad at the confusion in his eyes.  He had no idea he was lost.  He had no clue I was frantically searching for him.  I tried to explain it.  I have no idea if I got through.  We've come so far.  We have so far to go.

I'm sorry, Spicoli.  Stay righteous.


  1. Oh! thanks to god.. Finally you found him. In the future be careful about this.

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  2. It's the split second and away they go..cooler heads prevailed and you found him, thank goodness. So happy you did.

  3. Been there. They are so quick, not matter how careful we are. No matter how much we work on this with them. We were at SP last weekend and I lost JD in Splash Castle. I had all 3 with me, he got so excited and in a second I lost him. Not nearly as long as you did. But I was scared out of my mind, I mean there we are surrounded by Water rides and its an open park. I was frantic. So glad everything is fine.

  4. We had a similar scare in London and like you we had no locator but we did make sure that our kids had ID bands with our contact details and luckily (something that you will find very pleasing as a police officer) he is obsessed with emergency services and found a police officer straight away and we had a phone call in five minutes saying that he had been found. Longest five minutes of my life!