Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Worst nightmare...or one of them

There are two MAJOR things that I try and keep out of the forefront of my mind while living here in China. While they never truly disappear, they are the types of things that, if you allow them, they could make any mother go slowly insane. One is that my children will get horribly hurt and there will be no medical assistance to help them. The other is that one of them...and God FORBID...both of them will be taken in a blink of an eye, especially in the massive throngs of people that seem to surround them at any given time.

My children getting hurt:
The first is something I believe I addressed briefly in my other blog site. This is not something I thought too much about BEFORE coming over here...naturally...or who would ever make the choice to do so. However, soon after we arrived, I was extremely unfortunate to witness a very bad accident involving a truck and a scooter. Just to refresh your memories...there were two older people who had been hurt. The man looked completely dazed and was sitting about two feet from his wife. His WIFE, however, was lying half under the scooter, spilling bright red blood onto the pavement at an alarming rate, from her head. Surrounding this scene were several people...watching. That's it...they were just watching. No move to help, no move to comfort, no move to call anyone...nothing. Some were even leaning casually against the light poles with cigarettes in their hands. And, of course, no ambulance in sight. This disturbing image has stuck with me even to this day. It was the first day that I realized what the REALITY is here in China. Don't expect help if you (or your children) get hurt. Nobody ever tells you things like that before you move somewhere like this. This has been confirmed over and over to me, by other expats, relaying even more horrifying instances or stories...usually involving children. Like I said...a parent could go slowly insane if these thoughts were left to linger anywhere close to the front of their minds. While the knowledge is always there...I HAVE to keep it at bay.

Children being taken:
The other horrifying thought is that, in ANY circumstance or place in the world, a parent could lose their minds thinking about it. Just before we were to embark on this new journey of ours, a person back in the States (who is Tawainese) mentioned to be careful...and that there were rings of kidnappers who take children, shove them in restrooms near by, shave their heads and take them away - forever. While the logical side of me continues to remind myself that this process is a LOT easier OVER HERE with an asian decent child due to the fact that their hair color is often the same or similar color and they are usually of similar size, etc....the parent (or most assuredly the more insanely illogical) part of me realizes that ANY child, ANYWHERE, can be taken in such a manner, in a second.

So, yesterday, when I went to the BIG, International school that Brandon attends, and who collects about $25,000-$30,000 a year PER student, the LAST thing I thought to encounter was...my worst nightmare. I had my chinese friend with me, our two kids, the driver and ayi, there at the school, ready to pick up Brandon from his soccer (after school) activity. I had specifically asked that morning about the procedure and where the kids would go to be collected after this activity. I was given the information and didn't think twice about it.

When none of us could find Brandon in the afternoon, I flagged down a staff member and asked them to help us...it's a BIG school...he could have been anywhere, waiting in a room somewhere. By now, the minutes were ticking by and the school looked almost completely deserted. When Brandon couldn't be located, the office staff had several people run in every direction to try and find him. They had additional people calling on the phones to different buildings and offices. No Brandon.

After about 25 minutes of this, we all collectively, but without actually saying anything, considered Brandon "missing." The Head of the Primary School was involved, trying to locate anyone who had seen Brandon before or after his after school activity. Nobody knew anything. How could this happen? I asked them point blank about their "procedures" and if those procedures were always in place?! Where was my baby???!!!!! Ok...I sit here getting teary eyed even now...because THIS is ONE of any parent's worst nightmares. For about 45 minutes, I lived that nightmare! Brandon was MISSING...officially NOT on campus anymore. Nobody could give me any answers to my questions. He seemed to have just disappeared from school, without a trace. This is how it happens, right? A blink of an eye? No trace? Aaaaggghhhhhh!!!!!

The staff had begun to whisper among themselves, stating their shock of the "incident" behind their hands. One of them offered me coffee...which at that point I said, in my own state of shock, "I don't want any coffee...I want my child!" Of course, they were sympathetic to this...but still, no answers.

Ok, this is where I get REALLY lucky. The Head of the Primary School ended up tracing Brandon's movements by phone. WHO he called, I can only guess. However, by the time I clued into his conversation(s) on the phone, he was asking someone very pointed questions, like, "Who is his mother? Was she there to pick him up? You say he is with his ayi right now? What is her name? What is his mother's name? where did she say she was taking him?"

Whhhaattttt!!!???? Taking him???!!!! What!??? Who?? Where??? My ayi is HERE, on campus, looking for Brandon! Who is this person???!!!! The Head Staff rattled off some names he seemed to be getting from the person on the other end of the phone. There was not ONE name I recognized. By this point...I realize that no matter what is going on or what they are finding out, my child is NOT on campus, taken by a stranger, and that we are all at the mercy of both the information he is receiving AND the person who has Brandon. He could be anywhere...with anybody. I'm shaking like a leaf at this point.

FINALLY, the Head Staff guy locates the name of the person he was given. She is a parent of a Year 2 student (Brandon is a Year 1 student). She had possession of my son and she was somewhere in the neighborhood. He called her cell number and got her location, asking her to bring my child back to the campus...he was never supposed to leave.

This is when we all rush out of one building, and into another to reach the entrance she'll be meeting us. When I arrive at the door, I see Brandon strolling up with his new "friend" (the Year 2 student). I'm sure anyone who is reading this can imagine the rush of relief, tears, and emotion that I experienced upon seeing my son...safe and sound. I rushed him and hugged him. He was crying too, saying that I wasn't there and that he didn't know what to do. Where "there" was, I have no idea...since we all seemed to have missed each other SOME where.

The staff was behind me, asking the parent questions, wanting to know how this could have happened. According to this woman (and I totally believe her), at the end of the soccer activity, the coach had apparently noticed that her child and mine seemed to be good friends. So...this is the unbelievable part...he asked her to take my child home because he didn't want to wait around for me to show up.

First, any parent SHOULD have reservations about taking another person's child off campus - for ANY reason. However, over here, there are a few things to take into consideration. This woman was chinese. And there is a MAJOR cultural difference between westerners and the chinese. The football (soccer) coach is a man and perceived to be a person of authority at the school. He "persuaded" her to take Brandon. Culturally, it is a lot more difficult for a chinese woman to refuse a request like that, from a man of authority, than it is for a westerner. She honestly looked totally confused by the whole "incident." And she looked really scared that she might be in trouble...and confused by that as well.

Two emotions were racing through me, relief and anger. I wasn't even sure which emotion would come out the winner. As angry as I was at the school...I made sure to thank the other parent for bringing him back safely and watching out for him. She looked really upset for me, knowing what I had just been through. I decided that I needed to get the heck out of there - fast. I was on the verge on blowing up...and from the faces of the staff members involved, they TOTALLY expected me to as well. However, I decided to let relief win over at that moment and "handle" things once I had a chance to evaluate the situation more closely.

Allen was really pissed off by the whole thing...as he should be. We both have made an appointment with the "heads" at the school, hoping to get them to install higher security tactics, so nobody else has to go through something like this, with maybe even more catastrophic results. We were EXTREMELY lucky...this time.

Five year olds are just that...FIVE. We have talked to Brandon about stranger danger, about key words, about not going with people other than us...he's watched videos and read books, etc. And STILL...he went with this stranger because he was told to by his coach...a person of authority. That's how it can happen. Just like that. Without my knowledge or anyone else's...Brandon just slipped away from campus.


My insides were quivering all night long from the incident. My mother's instinct and inner voice is saying not to let either of them out of my sight. But, that is SOOO impractical. We have two boys, attending two different schools, across town, who get out of school at the same time. What are we ever going to do???

Just like when I saw that street accident...I'm afraid I'll have residual shakes and images for awhile. *sigh*

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