When we went on a short trip (a daytrip to Chinatown, actually) our biggest daughter kept trying to run away again. It is one thing to run away in a Japanese supermarket, where you can not get out into the street without passing the cashier, and where adults can go through the entire storei in a couple of minutes. Japanese supermarkets are small, built to fit into the corner pockets of available land in the city centers. Not like Costco or Walmart, where you can actually get lost even as an adult.
A place like Costco very rarely gets crowded. We have only ever had problems getting around around Christmas. But when you go to Chinatown, there are throngs and throngs of people. Especially around Chinese new year. And there are stores galore filled with exciting (and easily breakable) products. Perfect for an inquisitive three-year-old who likes to explore and easily gets fascinated by new and shiny objects. If one of us do not hold her hand firmly, she is likely to go off in a series of random directions. Until she suddenly remembers that she might get lost and gets scared, calling out for mommy and daddy. Louder and louder until she starts to cry.
We have got to the last part a couple of times. We always talk with the kids in advance, stressing that they should keep mommy and daddy in sight at all times. But I guess we are less interesting than the panda toys and cookies in the Chinatown stores.
Even with three inquisitive triplets, you can keep them under control and keep track of them as you are out and about. But that assumes you have a free line of sight to them, and when they start running somewhere, they do not run out among the cars in the street. Usually they have to hold on to one of the adults so we know where they are.
But there are moments when you can not hold their hands, like when you pay at the cashier. That is when you need them to know that they should wait quietly for a few minutes. And the more distractions there are, the more distracted they will be. They are three years old (well, mine are) and they do not yet have the mental faculties you would expect in someone older. They do not yet have a relationship with time that they will when they are older (everything happened yesterday to our children), so they actually do not know what it means being late (or early). Except if the sun has not yet come up, then they are aware that they are supposed to be asleep.
But now it was in the middle of the day, we had just had lunch, I had to pay the cashier and the kids wanted to go out and see more of Chinatown than a restaurant with funny decor and a table you could spin around. So of course they ran out into the street. It was pure luck that they were not run over by a tour bus, although the buses were moving very slowly thanks to the crowds who also had come to see Chinatown. So crowded, that the kids could not see us even after a few meters.
Abductions in the US
As a parent, you start worrying that they will be abducted the second you stop worrying that they will be run over by a tour bus. Abductions are very rare although they do happen occasionally. In the US they have Amber Alerts, in other countries other ways to try to track lost or missing children, but there are two things you as a parent should remember.
The first is that the abductions by complete stranger are very, very rare. And they mostly happen in the US. Abductions of children by someone the child knows, likes and trust are much more common. Especially in crowded spaces, where a child making more than the ordinary amount of noise is likely to be noticed. Not that you could effectively determine whether my daughter had a tantrum or was being abducted.
The second thing is that like with any crime, stopping it while it is happening is much more effective than trying to resolve it afterwards. If you notice that your children are missing, you can call out to them. We tend to check on them every few seconds (you do that when you have three), and call for them when we do not see them. Which means they are probably standing right behind you, and will answer your anxious call for them with no small degree of surprise.
Standing behind you
"Why are you so upset, Daddy? I am right here" is the usual response.
And while we know the risk of abduction exists, it is not like it is on the top of our minds. Even if we do worry, it is far more likely that they just got mesmerized by the fish tanks, and we will find them there when we go looking.
Still, it will be an additional hassle. We have tried to teach our children to say their names, address and mine and my wives names, and even learn the mobile phone numbers so they can repeat them to the police officer, and they can call us.
But just to be safe, I also made T-shirts with my name, photo, and mobile phone number for our last trip. On top it says in large Japanese characters "This is my daddy".
Japanese, because we went to Okinawa. You will need one version per country, because the T-shirt is much more effective if anyone can read it, instead of just the people who know English.
Peace of mind souvenir
That is one way of creating a nice souvenir at the same time as you buy yourself some peace of mind. It can be used anywhere, instead of just in Disneyland like the stickers the Disney staff will hand out, where you can write their names and yours, and mobile phone number. The only disadvantages are that you advertise that you are their father (but that was probably already evident), and that they grow out of them so quickly. And that at a certain age, they may actually take off their clothes just because they think it is fun.
Short of creating something with as much information as their passports (or more), the T-shirt with your face on it is the easiest way of identifying your child as yours. That information is not in their passports, come to think of it. You can do that, but it will be more useful in a scenario where someone else is trying to identify your child, or their remains. That means you are most likely dead too. And the probability of that happening may actually be larger than the children being abducted. Depressing though the thought is, it is comforting at the same time.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on email@example.com, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.