Those two words are an oxymoron. Opposites. Isn’t Disneyland the happiest place on earth? Well, yes. Except on the afternoon of July 16 last year.

Our family took a wonderful vacation last summer. It was the much anticipated, long awaited trip to Carsland for the kids. See, we told the kids we could go to Carsland when Daddy was all better after his amputations. Last summer, two years after surgery, we were finally able to make the trip.

We started the trip in San Diego, visiting the zoo and the beach. A few days later we drove to Anaheim to Disneyland {a.k.a. Carsland.} We had three days to enjoy Disney. The first day was magical. We chose to spend the day at Disney’s California Adventure Park, which is where Carsland is. We were all in heaven. Even me. I may have shed a few tears when we saw the sign for it. We were finally there. It was a milestone reached. Daddy was finally better.

The next day, July 16, was our second day. We went to Disneyland that day. In true Disney fashion, everything was perfect. Picturesque. Colorful. Happy. Delicious. Everything you could hope for.

At three o’clock we sat to watch the parade. I left Ian with the kids a few minutes before and got us some ice cream to eat while we watched. The music was lively, the characters were amazing, and my kids watched with their jaws dropped. They only closed their mouths occasionally to swallow and smile.

About halfway through the parade, my three year old Luke fell asleep on my lap. Thank you, Lord. I thought. If he can get some rest he can make it later tonight so we can stay longer to see fireworks. The parade ended beautifully.

“Let’s go shop while Luke’s sleeping,” I said to Ian. “I can hold him and we can finally get a chance to cool off and buy some souvenirs.”

So Ian, Emma, Jack, and I walked into the Emporium (I think that’s what it’s called.) It’s the store closest to the main entrance of Disneyland on the left as you are walking in. We were mesmerized by all the Disney treasures in there… toys, dishes, clothing, candy, you name it. It was all there. I followed Emma around for a few minutes. Ian and Jack were off looking at something else. Luke was still sleeping in my arms. His thirty six pound body was starting to feel like sixty.

“Where’s Jack?” Ian asked all of a sudden.

“I don’t know. Isn’t he with you?” I said.


{Let me just interrupt right here to say my heart is beating rapidly and my stomach and head feel faint as I am remembering this}

“He’s not with me,” I said.

“Jack,” Ian called out loud.

“Jack?” I repeated.

We expected Jack to come out. He was probably hiding behind a rack of clothes or playing with a toy close by.

Nothing. Silence.

Ian started walking away from me. “Jack. Where are you, buddy?”


“Emma did you see Jack?”


Luke was still sound asleep in my arms.

“Jack… Jack!…JACK!!!” I called out.

At this point, people started staring at me. My heart was banging in my chest. I needed to breathe.

Panic. I was fighting back tears.



I didn’t know what to do. Where’s Jack? God, where is he?

Ian came back. No Jack.

All of a sudden a Disney cast member (employee) came up to me.

“I see you are looking for your son…





Oh, God. I’m going to pass out. Oh, God, Jack is a missing child. They are asking me all this because he is lost. Really, really lost. Oh, God. NO. PLEASE NO! I WANT JACK NOW!

“He is five years old. He has brown eyes. Brown hair. He’s wearing a blue striped Mickey shirt like this one.” I gestured to the shirt my sleeping Luke was wearing.

“Please help me. Please find him…. JACK! JACK! JACK!” The cast member walked away, talking into the walkie talkie he had in his hand. I continued to roam the store yelling for my son. People stared. I didn’t care.

“His name is Jack? What’s he wearing?” a lady asked. “Don’t worry. We’ll help you find him.”

{Again, I’m interrupting because I’m crying as I write this.}

“Ma’am,” the cast member came back. “We have shared your son’s description with everyone. We are doing everything we can to find him.”

God, please help us find Jack. What if someone takes him? What if he is sold away and I never see him again? Poor Jack! This trip that was supposed to be so fun… and now he’s gone. Oh, God, please help me!

Poor Ian. He had been running around like a crazy man looking for Jack, too. That store was huge, and there were several exits. He had done his best to search everywhere. Still, no Jack. He came back to me to see if I’d found him.

“JACK! JACK! JACK!” I screamed every few seconds. I knew he’d come to me if he heard my voice. “JACK! JACK! JACK!” Nothing.

There was nothing I could do. The clock kept ticking. It had been ten minutes since we realized Jack was gone.


“They found him!” another cast member announced from inside the store. She, too, was holding a walkie talkie.

“Where is he?” I asked. “Who found him? I need to get to him!”

I don’t remember exactly what happened in those next few minutes. I only remember that those three minutes felt like three hours. I wanted to see Jack. I wanted to hold him and know that he was okay.

We stood in the same spot at the Emporium waiting. Luke woke up. I was surprised he had slept through most of my screaming.

“Someone is bringing him now. He should be coming from over there.” The first cast member pointed to the door we originally walked into. Ian and I raced out the door. He beat me. I was still holding Luke.

I watched as Ian ran, his fake legs reflecting the sunlight. In the distance I could see my little boy, holding hands with another one of Disney’s special helpers. I was relieved when Ian finally got to him and held him in his arms.

I couldn’t fight the tears anymore. It was just too much.

I finally reached them. I was sobbing. “Jackie. Baby. Where did you go? We were looking everywhere for you.” I didn’t yell at him. I spoke softly. I’d been so scared, but now I was so grateful he was safe.

“Here, let me take Luke,” Ian said. I handed him off so I could hold Jack.

There are no words to express how I felt holding Jack right then. After missing him for just a while, but thinking I wouldn’t see him again, it felt so good. My boy. My sweet, little boy. He had been alone. He looked like he had been scared, too.

To make this story a bit shorter, I’ll summarize what happened. It turned out that Jack walked out of the store on his own accord. He got lost in the store first, and when he didn’t see us, he thought we had left without him. So, he left the store to look for us. {poor baby}

He had made it all the way to the entrance of the park by himself, where someone must have spotted him and alerted a cast member. It happened as they were sharing his description through their talkies. Jack admits that he was scared. If you ask him about it he’ll tell you that’s the most scared he’s ever been. I feel the same way.

This could have had a very different ending. I’m grateful it didn’t. Disney must have a super duper plan of action for times like this. Looking back on it, I am very impressed with how it was handled. Way to go, Disney!

Thank you, Lord, that you kept Jack safe that day. I’m grateful for your protection over him and for the people who helped us find him.


We did not stay for the fireworks that night. We actually decided to leave right then, at about five o’clock. That was enough for one day. I needed to get back to our hotel and be alone and together, if that makes sense. The next day was our last day there and I wanted to make it a good one. We went back to the Emporium because I wanted to thank two specific cast members for what they’d done the day before. Unfortunately, they were not there. We expressed our gratitude to the person we saw anyway. Then we went to find the best corndogs in the park (per his recommendation.) 🙂


Here are some things to take away from our bad experience:

1. MAKE A PLAN: IF they get lost, what should your kids do? We’ve told our kids to STAY WHERE THEY ARE. Obviously, Jack didn’t remember to do that. Still, we have to try to have a plan in place. Figure that out for your family and remind them often, especially as you are entering a big place, store, restaurant.

2. PUT IDENTIFICATION ON YOUR KIDS: My boys are so young that they don’t know their phone number. Luke probably wouldn’t even tell someone his name if he got lost. There are bracelets you can order with your kids’ info these days. {I still need to get these for my kids} I had written Jack’s name and my cell phone number on the back of his neck with a pen a few days before when we went to the zoo. Unfortunately it wasn’t there anymore that day.


Before this happened to me, I had heard the stories of other kids getting lost. I just always thought it would never happen to me. I’M A GOOD MOM. I WON’T LOSE MY KID. I thought. Well, guess what? I did. I don’t want anyone else to go through that unnecessarily. Hopefully my bad experience will shed some light on this topic and make us all more aware. It’s a relief to be done writing about this.







One thought on “Nightmare at Disneyland.

  1. That incident reminded me of a trip with our family (Leslie Warschak) to San Antonio about 1959. We were in a Department Store named Joske’s ,which is not opened any more, but is similar to Dillards today. There were my parents,me ,Mike and Billy in this huge 2 story dept. store and being from Mission Tx. we were amazed. Suddenly, just like you we were missing Billy.Looking and calling for him when here come the elevator down to the 1st floor and off gets Billy. Just remember how relieved my parents were. It is a empty feeling when you have misplaced your child.


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