Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Parent's Nightmare

“Sure, honey, I can take all four of our kids to the store with me.” 

Yeah, I am a glutton for punishment. 

Levi rides in the cart until he sees the toys.  Emma opens the cookies and I end up paying for an empty box.  Zoe doesn’t understand why we can’t buy every single item she lays her eyes on.  Noah, well, he just wants to be anywhere else on the planet than the store.  It’s chaos, but we usually make it through unscathed.

I move fast down the aisles, making periodic checks on all four kids.  Levi: check.  Noah: check.  Zoe: check.  Emma.   Emma?  She was on my right!  Where is she?!  The panic slaps me in the face.  Every other thought flushes from my brain and the heat pulses through my body.  My heart leaps and my stomach sinks.  As a parent, a protector, the shock of loss is primal.  The horror of the moment reaches from the depths and squeezes.

It’s always the same vision:  a stranger, with my baby, heading out the front door.  In a moment, they’re gone.  Forever.

My physical reactions and mental breakdown seem to last an eternity, but really it’s only one or two seconds.  I turn around.  Emma strolls a few feet behind, eating cookies, oblivious to the slobbering mess her father has become.  My chest loosens and the ghastly thoughts melt away.

But what if I turned around and she wasn’t there?  What if my worst fears became all too real and she was just… gone?

It’s something no parent should have to face.  Yet it is a reality and MoDOT plays a vital role in helping find abducted children.  MoDOT uses its permanent electronic message boards along Interstates 70 and 44, as well as in St. Louis and Kansas City, to post Amber Alerts.

The AMBER Alert program was created in 1996 following the abduction of nine-year-old Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. The purpose of the plan is to provide a rapid response to the most serious child abduction cases.  Since its creation, the AMBER Alert program is credited with the successful recovery of 523 children.
January 13th is AMBER Alert Awareness Day.  This is a time to remind people about the program and help make sure that when a parent’s momentary panic becomes real, we have a line of defense to get their child back.

Written by Mark Baumgartner, Multimedia Services