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Why I was blamed when my child went missing

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On Friday, my 7-year-old daughter did not come home on the bus as expected.

In a frenzy, I tore over to her school and was terrified when the staff was unable to locate her. “Haddie’s teacher said she got on a bus but we’re not sure which one,” they assured me.

As I was conjuring up every worse-case scenario in the book, they located her on the same bus she rides in the morning, which is different than her afternoon bus. Call me crazy but switching up the route…and bus number…is confusing for young kids.

And mortified parents.

I posted my angst to my friends on Facebook and while most were sympathetic, some of my closer friends blamed me, citing “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Amber.” And exactly are they referring to? My accidental joy ride in Europe.

When I was 21, I served a mission for the LDS church in Geneva, Switzerland in 1993. The mission boundaries took in all of French-speaking Switzerland and Eastern France and we had a mission president who presided over us. He would place missionaries together who would serve in “companionships” in a specified region that we were required to stay in. Every few months, we would either get transferred to a new area or have a new companion come to us.

I had been in the mission field for about six months when I received a transfer from Geneva to a little town in France called Chalon-sur-Saone. I met up another missionary, Soeur (Sister) Tate and we would travel to France together to meet up with our respective companions. Sound easy? This is me we’re talking about.

Soeur Tate and I had cleared Customs and were waiting on the platform to board our train to Lyons, France. I struck up a conversation with a bunch of traveling Canucks and before we knew it, our train pulled up. I glanced at the sign, confirmed it was going to Lyon and Soeur Tate and I hopped on.

The first things I noticed that seemed out of place were pertaining to the train itself. 1) It left a bit early, which never happened in Switzerland 2) It was a much nicer train than the regional ones we were used to and 3) It went fast. Really fast.

We settled into some seats. A few minutes into our journey, the train made a stop. Some people boarded and kicked us out of our seats.

Problem #4) There were not usually reserved seats.

I wasn’t worried. I was a Swiss Miss and knew this whole international travel thing like the back of my hand. We simply relocated but within minutes, were booted again. Unsure of what to do, we went back to the luggage area and situated ourselves on some little pull-out seats. Undaunted, I pulled out some headphones to listen to a sappy tape from my then-boyfriend. There were a number of announcements made over the loudspeaker but I ignored them (note: potential spoiler).

We soared across the French countryside for over an hour when the train conductor came around to check tickets. I nonchalantly handed him mine. He closely examined it, turned it over and then menacingly sneered at me.

“This train is going directly to Paris,” he said in French.

I stopped. Paris was not Lyons. In fact, Paris was on the other side of the country, far outside of my mission boundaries. We must have erroneously boarded a TGV (France’s high-speed train). And worst of all: we did not have train tickets to Paris.

We quickly learned that the name of the “Gare” (train station) in Paris is called the “Gare de Lyons.” Monsieur Conductor was not sympathetic and pointed out that there had been several announcements about the train going directly to Paris. You know, the ones I ignored. It got worse when he made us pay the difference we owed for the train ticket on the spot. We emptied out every last French franc we had.

The rest of the ride to Paris was spent in fear. We had no money, no cell phone, no credit card, no connections and 5 pieces of luggage between us. Another mission rule is that companions must never separate but I decided under the circumstances, this one would have to be broken. There was no way we could both go for help while dragging our sundry of suitcases all over Paris.

We arrived at the Gare de Lyon, I told Soeur Tate I was going to find someone who could help me make a collect call to my mission president. I stopped everyone I saw and ask them how to make a collect call. Most stared blankly back, some suggested I use a calling card (that I did not have) and the rest told me I could get help at the post office across the street.

Now, “across the street” was a relative term because it was a lot farther than merely crossing a boulevard. As I set out on my Walk About, I continued to stop anyone who dared to make eye contact for advice. No one provided it. Parisians do not have their stellar reputation for nothin’.

When I finally arrived at the post office, it was packed. Evidently, I had chosen the worst possible day to make my little sidetrip to Paris–it was tax day. I patiently stood in line for about 20 minutes and upon arriving at the guichet (window), the worker snidely told me she could not help me and I would have to go over to Guichet No. 3.

I. Lost. It. As in let’s-admit-this-chick-into-a-psych-ward kind of lost it. Because upon arriving at Guichet No. 3, NO ONE WAS WORKING THERE. All that remained was a poor guy in front of me in line upon I unloaded my entire sob story.

Just as I was getting to the climax, I remember hearing very distinctly in English, “Sister, how may we help you?”

I turned and stared. When what to my wondering [blood-shot] eyes should appear but two Elders (male) missionaries from the Paris Mission.

Now, another mission rule is no physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Since I was on a roll with rule-breaking, I jumped up in the air, grabbed the Elder by the tie and screamed, “Elder, I PRAYED YOU HERE.”

Turns out, it was their transfer day as well and they had run into Soeur Tate at the Gare of Lyon who explained to them that her travel companion was going to perform the next Paris Massacre (or rather, the first) if she was not helped.

The happy ending to the story is within a few hours, we were headed back to Lyons after one heck of an adventure.

And as for my apple-tree naysayers? My motherly advice to Haddie is don’t ever do that to me again. But the adventurous side of me says joy-riding through suburban Denver is a mere stepping stone. Next stop: Paris.

Have you or your child ever gone missing?

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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  • comment avatar Selma August 29, 2011

    First, I would seriously freak out if that ever happened to my kid. You’d think the bus system would be easier for the little ones, wouldn’t you?

    Second, the Paris story? Classic.

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck August 29, 2011

    I honestly hadn’t even thought of my Paris story until my friends brought it to my remembrance. If she’s anything like me, I’m in trouble. 🙂

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson August 29, 2011

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing!

  • comment avatar Angie Orth August 29, 2011

    Love this story. Even as an adult, I find myself on the wrong transportation all the time. I lived in NYC for 4.5 years and still ended up in Brooklyn or Harlem because I was on the express train and didn’t pay attention to the announcements. Whoops! Glad you found your little one!

  • comment avatar Susan August 29, 2011

    I have never had to go thru the stress of losing a child and know I would have had a heart attack if my kid didn’t get off the bus. What are they thinking changing the numbers on the buses? We don’t have bus service and I pick my kids up at school. We have had highjinx with them forgetting where to meet me or going the wrong direction around the school which turns into me running around the outside of the school while they do the same but on opposite sides. Thank you for the Paris story – I know now not to ever send them with their direction-impaired abilities.

  • comment avatar gretchen August 29, 2011

    Amber, you have the best stories. It’s kind of astonishing how many wacky things happen to you!

    I lost Tommy in our own house. He was 3. He had been playing in our backyard. I went outside to tell him we needed to leave to get Sam at kindergarten. He was nowhere to be found. I searched the entire house from top to bottom, went back outside, yelling hysterically for him. I was this close ( ) to calling the police when I noticed the doggie door to the garage was open. I ran to the garage and found him sitting in the minivan, strapped in his seat, wailing. I unbuckled him and we both wailed! My heart still pounds a little fast when I remember that awful feeling.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson August 29, 2011

    Susan–It’s a good thing you’ve never “lost” them. 😉

  • comment avatar Beverly August 29, 2011

    Yes, our then 2 year old son disappeared at Sea World in San Diego. He had previously found a penny on the ground and while we were watching his 8 year old sister above our heads on some climbing ropes just a short distance away, he decided to wander back to where he found the penny to look for more. We were so panicked. Knowing how curious he was we headed that way first and there he was, excited about finding yet another penny. Talk about relief! ps: Sister had just finished and joined us in the search. Needless to say, we never mentioned it to anyone in the family.

  • comment avatar FreckleFaceGirl August 29, 2011

    Wow! I would rather find myself mistakenly in Paris than my child missing on some crazy school bus. Glad both had a happy ending.

  • comment avatar Tanya H August 29, 2011

    OHMYWORD!! I totally remember this story from back in the day on my mission. Poor Soeur Tate–little did she know that the entire Mission would be searching for her for hours.

    I think President Cobb may have cursed your name that day…twice.

    Good memories.

  • comment avatar Bill December 17, 2011

    I think every parent has these moments at least once. Those who havn’t are a minority for sure.
    Just today I watched a Mom searching for her little boy in Walmart. He was right their, but boy did that bring back memories

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