I’m not sure when it happened but some time during my first few years as a mum I was somehow brainwashed into thinking that being a full time mum was the best choice for my children. It was all up to me.
I’d given up my career after my firstborn was diagnosed with food allergies but by the time I had my second child, he was in a great preschool and happy. Instead of allowing his little brother to join him in preschool I decided I’d keep him home with me, as I had done with Philip. I’d done it all myself for the first four years of his life and I planned to give Giovanni the exact same gift of full time care from his mum.
I felt like it was the right thing to do.
I knew a lot of mums who placed their children into care as soon as possible and would spend those days exercising, getting their hair done, running errands and just relaxing. I wasn’t going to do that. I was going to keep my boy with me at all times.
It was hard.
Unlike Philip, my eldest, who used to hold my had without complaint and walk compliantly by my side, Giovanni tended to just run off, oblivious to my terror as I raced after him. He was big for his age and difficult to wrestle into the pram. But, I'd made the decision to be a full time mum and was determined to do it regardless of the difficulty.
I fell pregnant again by accident and still stubbornly refused to put Giovanni into care. He wasn't even two. I wanted him with me always.
The day my world fell apart was in the lead up to Christmas. We were in a children's clothing store. I sat my boys down in front of the TV set up in the store and they settled in to watch the show that was playing while I walked two steps to the counter to pay, my newborn daughter asleep in her pram next to me.
I paid for my purchase and glanced back at the boys. Philip was sitting quietly watching the TV but Giovanni was gone.
WATCH this social experiment where a lost little girl asks strangers for help to find her mum. Very disturbing. Post continues after video...
I started rushing around the store calling for him, explaining to startled staff that my little boy had wandered off.
"Philip, where's Giovanni," I asked him desperately. He shrugged his shoulders. He was five and hadn't noticed Giovanni taking off. I told him to stand next to the pram and NOT to move.
I was aware of staff calling security as I rushed out of the store, frantically searching the shopping centre for my son who had vanished. I was screaming his name at the top of my lungs, the world seeming to be in slow motion at the same time as my brain moved at warp speed from breaking the news to my husband that I'd lost our son to the news stories that would play about the tragedy that was unfolding.
By the time security approached me I was hysterical. When they asked me what he was wearing I almost fainted. I couldn't remember. And why did they want to know? To identify is body? To track his movements as he was abducted from the shopping centre?
I tearfully told them I couldn't remember what he was wearing before running away from them to check that he wasn't standing at the lift with someone who had stolen him.
The sound of rushing wind filled my head.
Through the fog I heard someone calling out. I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying but eventually managed to focus enough to hear the words, "He's here, he's here."
I turned and saw a mobile phone stand in the middle of the shopping centre. They were waving me over and pointing under their desk where my son was sitting, smiling.
There was crying and hugs and thanks and the collection of my other children and then a slightly embarrassed departure from the shops.
I drove straight to the preschool and booked him in.
Why did I think I had to do it all myself? Why was I always so quick to tell everyone who offered to help me that I didn't need help? Why hadn't I booked him into preschool even one day a week so I could get things done, particularly after my daughter was born?
Why was I so completely stubborn and determined to handle my children on my own?
Giovanni has never been easy and looking back, there were many times when I almost lost him.
The terror of that day will never leave me and has coloured all my subsequent decisions when it comes to the safety and care of my children. Raising them well is a collaborative effort and while I do shoulder majority of the responsibility, I'm also happy to share the load with those who are qualified to do so.
Have you ever lost your child for a few, terrifying minutes?