Contingency Plan

July 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

We recently planned a mini vacation to our nation’s capital in Ottawa for Canada Day. This would be our first “big kid” trip, meaning no sippy cups, no diaper bags, and no strollers. Big milestone.

It also meant the possibility of losing our children. If you have ever been to Ottawa on Canada’s birthday, you will know what I mean – the crowds are widespread! We were clever enough to know not to dress our kids in the festive red and white of Canada’s colours, as they would blend into the fray far too easily and be difficult to spot. So the girls wore matching lime green dresses, and the boys wore brightly coloured (non red and white) t-shirts.

With four young children, and only two parents, we needed to create a contingency plan in case we got separated. They all know our home phone number, but that does little good when we are all in another location. Since our children are too young to know how to use a Blackberry beyond pictures and games, and walkie talkies lose range (and batteries), we decided to go with good old fashioned paper.

Before we ventured out into our day, I wrote Mommy and Daddy’s cell phone numbers on four separate pieces of paper from our hotel (you know the little notepads from the bedside stand that have the hotel’s contact info on them?) . I put one of these papers in each kid’s pocket and sat them down for the instructions: “in your pocket you have a piece of paper that has both Mommy and Daddy’s cell phone numbers, and the phone number of our hotel. If you get separated from Mommy and Daddy, stay put and wait for 5-10 minutes. This will give us a chance to realize you are separated and retrace our steps to find you. If after 5-10 minutes you still do not see us, take this piece of paper either to a police officer (there were several running security throughout the area) or into a store, and ask to use their phone to call us and we’ll come get you. Does everyone understand?”

All the kids nodded slowly and looked very seriously at the paper they’d been given.  I was grateful they understood and didn’t tap into the fear that getting lost in a crowd and separated from your parents could bring. Didn’t want to spoil the day, after all. Little did I realize, what one of them was really thinking.

Within a few minutes of entering the crowd, we got separated. There were so many things to look at, and so many people, and even though we made every attempt to hold the hands of the younger ones, it was easy to drift from our group of six. Our five year old was suddenly not with us.

We stayed put while Daddy went looking, and spotted him almost immediately. Instead of scooping him up right away, Daddy stayed back a bit to test our contingency plan’s effectiveness.  He watched as our little guy looked around him, a concerned look on his face, then slowly reached his small hand into the pocket of his jean shorts and withdrew the slip of paper. He opened it carefully, looked at the numbers on it, and considered his options. As he looked up from the paper, he spotted Daddy and was re-united.


We continued on, enjoying the day and the many amazing activities, shows and attractions. The Lego Play Vacation tent was a highlight, no question. We got to build pieces that were added to the construction of a very large Canada Flag, all made out of lego. They had stations of lego all around for the kids to build “Friends” (the girl lego), star wars, cars, you name it – terrific experience! We also had the pleasure of seeing Commander Chris Hadfield on stage performing his music and answering questions about his recent experience commanding the International Space Station.

IMG_00001254lego flag

(Lego Canada Flag picture courtesy of The Ottawa Citizen)

On the way to see Commander Hadfield’s presentation was when we got separated again. This time it was our 10 year old. As we were making our way up the path towards the park, the path split in two directions. The crowd was very thick at this fork in the road, and while most of went to the right, our eldest went to the left.  I realized right away that we had lost him and likely how (due to the fork in the road) so Daddy stayed with the other kids while I backtracked this time. I couldn’t find him at the fork in the road (where according to our plan, he should be, waiting the requisite 5-10 minutes for us to re-trace our steps), so I continued on the other path thinking he must not realize he is separated yet, and is continuing to walk. Wrong. He realized. And he was RUNNING.

I spotted a glimpse of his striped shirt moving quickly through the crowd. I sent up a small prayer of gratitude that he wasn’t wearing red and white and started shouting his name. With all the noise he couldn’t hear me, so I started running after him, dodging people and strollers, trying to catch up. Another small prayer of gratitude that jogging is my usual choice of exercise, as I quickly closed the gap on this rising track and field star, and ask him what the heck he was doing!

His very casual response, “I was on my way to lost child services, I saw them earlier!”.  Exasperated, I responded “you didn’t wait the 5-10 minutes! You wouldn’t need lost child services if you had stayed put and waited for me to find you!”

The real story: he had been waiting for just such an opportunity to add some adventure to our experience. The excitement of putting our “contingency plan” into action was just too tempting.

I was reminded of a conversation I had with some friends the previous night about birth order and personalities and how children with the same genes, same parents, and same home, could grow into such different individuals.

The lesson?  Never underestimate your children, and even the best laid plans are subject to unforeseen variables.

We rounded out the day with a breathtaking display of Canada Day fireworks on Parliament hill and celebrated that we were all still together!


(Fireworks display picture courtesy of The Ottawa Citizen)


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