Friday, April 4, 2014

Thank you to the couple in San Clemente, CA who gave our 3 lost boys a safe haven and a ride!

Two weeks ago I traveled from Phoenix, AZ with one of my best girl friends and our 3 boys (one 14 year old and two 11 year olds) to stay at a State Beach campsite in San Clemente, CA. It was the beginning of spring break so the boys were beyond excited when we told them of our beachside destination. We arrived mid-day, set up quickly and headed for the beach. While my friend and I spent most of the afternoon lounging and chatting, the boys boogie boarded in the chilly ocean water. Eventually she and I took a long stroll on the beach, heading towards the pier just south of the campground. As usual, the pier was further away than we thought. At some point just before we reached our destination, we decided to turn back, wanting to be near our boys. We couldn't kick that motherly sense that we needed to keep an eye on them, especially around water and we'd lost sight of them. When we arrived back at our towels, they were happily digging a giant hole and building sand castles together, oblivious of our absence. It was a wonderful first day on the beach.
For dinner we headed to a local pizzeria for some delicious food and to catch my alma mater playing basketball in the NCAA tournament on TV. We left before the game ended since it was a blowout (in our favor luckily). Upon returning to the campsite the boys immediately asked to take a walk on the beach...but without their mothers. Looking back, I realize not a lot of debate went into allowing the three of them to take off together to explore, even though the sun was quickly slipping toward the horizon.  They left our campsite with only one of them wearing shoes. The other two insisted they didn't need them. "Ok, don't wear shoes then." was my natural response. They didn't take water. They didn't have a cell phone. They didn't have any money or ID's. They were visitors in a new town, ready to explore and they couldn't wait to get away from us. I admit I wasn't the least bit concerned about them journeying off together. I'm not real sure how my friend felt, but she didn't express any concerns to me at the time. She and I sat by the fire visiting, seemingly worry free while our growing boys stretched their boundaries, exploring a new place independently. That is until it became very dark, very fast...and it seemed to be getting kind of late and they hadn't returned yet.
She was the first to notice the time and that the boys probably should have returned already. Her phone was dead, but mine was charged and turned on sitting next to me, but they didn't have a phone. We didn't panic. Instead we waited and continued visiting for a bit longer. Then my phone rang. "Unknown Number" showed up and I immediately answered it. It was my 14 year old on the other end. "Mom, we got lost. We finally went to a house in a neighborhood and asked for help. They offered to let me call you and gave us water. I'm so sorry for getting lost mom." He had no idea how thrilled I was to hear his voice yet I detected that he was thrilled to hear mine too. I asked to speak to the homeowner who immediately calmed me as he told me he, his wife and two sons lived just a 1/2 mile from the entrance to the State Park. He assured me that it was easy to get lost in the streets because they don't all run in the same direction. He offered to drive the boys to the campground entrance to meet us as it would be easier than giving us directions to their home. I thanked him and told him "yes, absolutely." My girlfriend and I immediately jumped into my car and drove to the entrance, excitedly awaiting our children's return. Within a few moments, their Toyota Sequoia rounded the bend and upon seeing the boys I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the goodness of kind strangers. I'm still overwhelmed today as I recount our story.

We chatted with the kindly couple who shared their version of how 3 young men showed up at their doorstop at night, only one wearing shoes, saying that they were lost. They told us we had wonderful, funny and well mannered children. I laughed and hugged the man (a quintessential tanned surfer) and went over and thanked his wife (a peaceful looking, natural beauty). They drove off and our children jumped into the car and began excitedly recounting their tale, all 3 talking at once.

The boys said they made it to the pier but it was further than they'd thought. By the time they got there it was already dark. They wanted to call us to come and pick them up, but didn't have a phone. The crowd around the pier was a bit dicey and the homes near the beach seemed to have a lot of partying and smoking, so they avoided those homes. The train tracks scared them as they imagined accidentally crossing them and being run over. Eventually they decided it might be faster to walk on the streets than along the beach to get back to the campsite, so they took off into the neighborhood...and this is when things got confusing. They went down one block and then the next and realized they were completely turned around. They debated as to what they should do. One felt they should approach a home for help, the other two not so sure for fear they'd be "taken" or worse (yes, too much TV). Eventually, realizing they were truly lost they decided to ask for help. They said they saw a woman through the window cleaning with her dog nearby. They said she "looked nice and like a mom" so they knocked on the door. The couple immediately invited them inside, listened to their story and offered to help. They chose to help our children because that's what good people do, and I believe there are still a lot of really good people in this world. This is one reason why I'm not a strong advocate of the "stranger danger" teachings of recent years. If it hadn't have been for these kind "strangers", who knows how long the boys would have been lost or how our night would have unfolded.

What happened next is the reason I'm sharing this story because I hope that it can serve as a teaching opportunity or talking point for parents with young children and teenagers. Instead of telling the boys how worried we were or how disappointed in them we were (for getting lost), we told them how proud of them we were. We told them we were proud of them for staying together which is exactly what we'd told them to do. We told them they should be proud of themselves for handling the situation without panicking but instead staying calm and being willing to ask strangers for help. We pointed out that they had smartly used their intuition and common sense to pick a home that appeared safe with people that looked "nice." They admitted they were afraid when they realized they were lost and yet it was exciting. My youngest admitted he became tearful at one point, realizing "I may never see you again!"

We all learned something from this experience. The boys gained a great deal of self-confidence, knowing that they can handle being lost by keeping their cool and being willing to ask for help. My friend and I realized that our kids are growing up fast and it's ok to loosen the purse strings and give them the room they need to grow and learn necessary skills for survival in today's society. Everyone learned that there are plenty of good people who are looking out for all children and not just their own.

I can go on and on about what a cool experience it was, but instead I will end with this. My sweetheart recently shared an article with me titled The Overprotected Kid by Hanna Rosin. It is a lengthy and very well written piece about how our preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery, yet not made it any safer. I read this article last week and one section jumped out at me immediately. Rosin discusses a study by Ellen Sandseter that identified six types of risky play that children engage in, the last one being exploring on one's own. This last one Sandseter describes as "the most important for children." She told Rosin, "When they are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it's a thrilling experience." Thank you Ms. Rosin for validating what felt natural, but often seems contrary to what our society is telling us these days, not to let our children out of our sight for fear they'll be taken by strangers, injured or worse. Please take the time to read this wonderful article and also to talk with your children about what to do in case they get lost.

I openly admit that next time I'd probably make sure one of them had a cell phone and we'd likely discuss a "plan" of some sort. But, I'd gladly allow them to venture off on their own once again and I'm confident they'll ask again too.