So many kids they’re easy to lose…

A reader recently alerted me to an article about a five-year-old who was left at Chuck E. Cheese after a birthday party – and whose absence was not noticed by her parents until the next morning.

A 5-year-old girl was placed into emergency custody with caseworkers from child protective services after being left at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant following her own birthday party Thursday evening.

Investigators said the child’s mother didn’t realize her daughter, 5-year-old Azana Jackson, was missing until Friday morning.  She called 911 after discovering Azana was missing while getting her children ready for school on Friday.

Authorities said the child’s mother and another relative took her 10 kids and nine others to the Chuck E. Cheese in three separate cars Thursday evening.

At around 10:30 p.m., employees noticed Azana playing all alone in the restaurant so they called police.  Brazoria County Sheriff’s Deputy’s responded and attempted to locate the child’s mother, but were unsuccessful.

Two hours later, agents from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) took custody of the child.

Now there is no indication given here that this family was involved in the Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull movements, and indeed, the fact that the children apparently attend school indicates that the family probably isn’t a part of these movements. Regardless, there are some issues that are fairly universal to large families, namely, the ability to accidentally lose one or more of your children.

My parents left children places on accident a number of times, but never, ever for this long. Because of the chances of losing a child, my parents always did a head count – or even a roll call – when we got back in the car. I will point out that in the case above there were several vehicles used for transportation, because when this happens it’s especially tricky – there’s no way to make sure you have everyone unless the drivers compare notes directly after loading. This is usually when kids get left somewhere.

The real surprise in this case is not that a child was left at the restaurant, but rather that no one noticed until the next morning. The reader who tipped me off to this offered the following exchange that occurred in her own family regarding the article:

Father: “How could a mother not notice she had a child missing until the next morning? Surely she would notice at bedtime”
Son: “She doesn’t put them to bed.”
Father: “How could she not put them to bed.”
Son: “You are asking the wrong question, its not “how could she not put them to bed” its ” how could she put them to bed.” She doesn’t raise those children, her two oldest daughters do.”
Why does my son know this? Because in our entrenched years we saw it every day. He listened as one mother, with her eldest daughter standing next to her, said, “My name is___, I have 6 children.” Daughter clears her throat. Mother: “I mean 7 children.” Daughter: “MOM!” Mother: “I mean 8 children, sorry.”

While my parents made sure to say goodnight to each of us at bedtime, by the time I was in high school I was frequently the one putting the children, or at least those who were assigned to me, in bed. Once everyone was ready, my parents would come tell each child goodnight.

It’s possible that in this case the parents didn’t have a habit of bidding each child goodnight, or that if they did they simply didn’t notice that someone was missing. Or maybe on this particular night since they’d been out late having a birthday party and would be off schedule the parents simply let the older children handle the bedtime routine. That sometimes happened in my family growing up if we got back late from something.

What surprises me more than the parents not noticing that someone was missing is the older children not noticing that someone was missing. But then, they might have been tired out from the party and operating on auto-pilot.

Another explanation is that they might have thought she had spent the night at a friend’s house, going home with one of the friend’s from the party. This was something we frequently did with other like-minded families we associated with, swapping a couple of us for a couple of them. During summer break you could never be quite sure who you’d find at our house, who would be missing and who would be extra. And with so many people in the family, someone would miss the fact that so-and-so was at the such-and-such’s house. (Communication gets complicated when family size moves into the double digits.)

I’m not really sure if this post has a point beyond examining some of the dynamics that of necessity take place in a super-sized family. It may be hard for some people to imagine having so many children that you can lose one and not notice immediately (after all, if you just have two, Sally and Bobby, and you get in the car and only Bobby is there, you’re immediately aware that Sally isn’t with you), but it does happen. Additionally, in a super-sized family the older children become important, stepping in for mom and dad as needed because there simply isn’t time for the parents of ten, twelve, or fourteen to do everything that the parents of two are able to do.

In the end, though, I’m just glad the little girl left at Chuck E Cheese ended up safe.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Brownian

    I’m not really sure if this post has a point beyond examining some of the dynamics that of necessity take place in a super-sized family.

    That’s quite alright. I know little to nothing about these communities, and even though I had two older sisters who did a fair share of looking after me, my experience does not directly comparable, and the anthropologist (and human) in me finds this fascinating.

    During summer break you could never be quite sure who you’d find at our house, who would be missing and who would be extra.

    For the many legitimate criticisms of very large families and the communities in which they’re found, there are some aspects, like this, that sound fairly beneficial. While I did have friends, I think my childhood might have been a lot easier and more pleasant if we were part of a larger community, with other older children and adults to look up to as potential role models.

  • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    I remember reading a similar story lately where the parents accidentally left the daughter in a restaurant after a party, but they realized when her picture was on the news.
    But in that case they had thought she’d gone home with her relatives.
    Which brings me to the case that children are much easier to lose when there are many people around watching them.
    Because everybody assumes that everybody else knows where they are.
    It starts with two:
    Me: Where’s our oldest?
    He: I thought she was with you!
    Me: No, she told me she’d go over to you!
    *slight panic starts*
    Never happens when I’m alone with them (OK, it happen, but at least I know immediately that it has happened)

  • Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    What’s also of interest is that the 5 year old couldn’t (or didn’t) give enough information to authorities to be able to identify her and her parents. I’m sure that when I was 5, I knew my full name, address, and telephone number (also how to dial 911 in an emergency and other various things, like how to have my mum paged in a store if I got separated from her which happened on occasion). Either this girl didn’t know, or she’s been brainwashed to avoid telling anything to police or CPS.

    • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

      Hmmm, but have you ever been lost?
      Small children don’t act exactly rationally in such situations.
      I know my daughter knows all those things, too, but I suppose she’d just shut up completely.
      I remember reading some research that if children go missing in the wild, it’s absolutely no use if helpers go searching for them calling out their names. The kids curl up somewhere where it’s dark and tight and only react to voices they know. Doesn’t matter if they’re cold and hungry, the ranger can pass within 2m of their hideout and they’ll remain silent.

      • Cluisanna

        I got lost at least twice before I was in school; one time I went to the entrace of the zoo (where my mother had told me we’d meet if I got lost) and the other time I went to a store clerk and told them my name and that I had lost my parents. So… there are at least some children who are able to do what they are told to do in case they get seperated from their parents. I am an only child, btw ;)

      • Anat

        When my brother was about 3 he got lost on the beach. My parents found him walking *into the water* calling out for Mom.

    • ArachneS

      It’s probably a mix of both. I know I didn’t know our phone number or address at 5, nor did I know what my parents’ first names were. On top of that it was impressed upon us to never talk to strangers or trust people asking questions about your family.

      On top of that as it was a younger middle child, they might have a more introverted personality and less likely to be used to talking to people they don’t know.

      • kisekileia

        Right, but responsible parents make sure their kids know that information by 5.

  • Mattir

    Spouse and I have had miscommunications as to who was in charge of kids, but never actually lost one.

    And shouldn’t it be considered per se bad parenting to take 19 children to Chuck E Cheese’s anyway?

  • Joy

    This sort of thing turned to tragedy a number of years ago when a toddler was left strapped into her carseat in the family van on a hot day. She died. The father assumed the older brother was watching out for her. The mother and oldest sister, the usual responsible parties, were visiting Ireland at the time. The family was Catholic, and there were 13 children.

  • shadowspring

    I only had three siblings, and we left one at the zoo once. It was a multi-car situation. Only when all the cars were unloaded at one location did anyone notice the missing child.

    I thought, when I read this story, that perhaps the parents thought the missing five year old had spent the night somewhere else. But then she had school the next morning, and that’s when they noticed her missing, so clearly they didn’t think she was sleeping over with a friend. I can see that maybe mom had a splitting headache and just asked the kids to go to bed, but I am mystified as to why none of the other siblings alerted an adult to the fact their sister was missing. Surely it had to be obvious to whoever shared a room with her?

    It remains a mystery to me. I too am just glad that she’s okay. I remember losing my four year old in a store for only a few minutes, and the panic in my heart until I found him. Luckily I had already taught him to go to a store employee at a register if we ever got separated. I was never more relieved in my life than when that P.A. belted out, “Mr. First initial last name’s mother is lost. Would you please come to the Service Desk so we can find you?” Gotta love the way the store handled that situation.

    • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

      Surely it had to be obvious to whoever shared a room with her?

      Yes, but kids switch rooms all the time.
      My friend has “only” 3 boys who are very close in age (no, family planning isn’t their strength) and she says she can never tell where in the morning she’ll find them.
      So, Suzie thinks they’re with Annie, Annie thinks she’s over at Mary’s room because she wants to talk with Jenny while Jenny and Mary are already asleep.

  • ArachneS

    There are several stories in my family where someone got accidentally left behind. They are brought up every so often at family get-togethers and everyone has a laugh at having a family so big that you’d forget someone.

    No one ever was forgotten overnight however. There are 14 of us, and the part where the older siblings put the youngers to bed is too true. I was 3rd from the bottom and I don’t ever remember mom or dad tucking us in at night. In fact when my younger sister had night terrors to the point where she wouldn’t go back in her bed(she and I shared a bunk bed), it was my older sisters Margaret or Rachel who would take care of her, comfort her, and find a different place to sleep.

  • Meggie

    Three children = constant headcount and panics in a crowd. I hate to think of doing it with 10+ children. My biggest fear was sending them out with my inlaws who seemed to assumed the kids would just follow them. They did loose my eldest once. Scariest day of my life when we got to the meeting point and my father-in-law was alone and asking “Has … come here? I don’t know where he is.”

    I agree that a child won’t necessarily give a stranger any information. Fear does terrible things to your ability to think and communicate. Teaching a child how to react before hand is the only solution. We practiced at home by playing games where one child would be lost and another would be a police officer. “Excuse me, I am lost.” “What is your name?” “My name is Ben. My mummy’s name Annie Jones.” We also played ringing the ambulence “My name is Kate. I need an ambulence because my dolly has had a heart attack.”

    When my son was 6 he called an ambulence for me. He dialled 000, asked for the ambulence, gave his name, my name, our address and explained my medical condition. (I was unconcious at the time due to an ongoing illness.) I don’t think he would have given all the information need so calmly and clearly if we hadn’t done all the practice as he is normally a very shy boy who won’t talk to anyone outside the family.

  • Angelia Sparrow

    I had four children under the age of 8 at one point: 7, 4, 2 and infant. Headcounts and sound-offs were the order of the day once everyone was mobile. I never forgot or left any behind, but I got more than one dirty look as blond blue-eyed child after blond, blue-eyed child piled out of the minivan sounding off “Ein, Zwei, Drei.”

    But I had watched my folks do it with four of us all my life.

  • smrnda

    I’ve worked with children, but given that I worked in a government licensed facility there were laws (laws, not rules) concerning the necessary ratio of adults to children. Two adults for ten kids would have been illegal.

    Even with adequate levels of adult staffing it was hard to always keep track of kids; we would usually get assigned certain kids but as they would actually play and interact we’d have to switch since the two kids you were watching might start playing with other kids and then it’s just easier to ‘switch’ with someone else in terms of what kids you were watching.

    I don’t think it’s possible to have that many kids without neglecting them, and at least in my opinion, putting an older kid in charge of younger ones definitely does not sound responsible. I know, as many proponents of large families say, that people did this all the time in ages past but they should really look at what life was really like back then. People had 10 kids and half of them ended up dead.

    • Contrarian

      That’s interesting. In the US, or at least my state, the legal ratio of adults to children in registered daycares is 1 adult for every 5 children.

      • Carlie

        In ours the mandated daycare ratio is 1 to 4 above the age of 2, and 1 to 3 below that.

  • F

    But how does one forget the birthday girl, out of the possible children of whom to lose track? This is what keeps prodding at me.

    OTOH, stuff happens, even in the best of worlds.

    • Carlie

      Me too – isn’t this the one day she ought to get the special attention of being tucked in by both parents at bedtime?

  • vertlizard

    First time commenter but I’ve been reading your blog since before it came over to FtB and I find it very interesting.

    I am the oldest of four children and *I* got left behind once! I was about ten and the family was taking a road trip to visit my grandparents and we stopped at a gas station for bathroom breaks. My dad and brother went in and then a few minutes later I decided I needed to go too. Well since I was in the women’s bathroom I didn’t pass my dad and he and my brother beat me to the car. My dad never knew I left and my mom thought I had come back with my dad and brother, so they left. I distinctly remember going out to where the car was and feeling increasingly baffled as I searched and failed to find the car. It wasn’t until an employee at the gas station came out and asked me if I was lost that I realized completely what had happened and burst into tears.

    Fortunately the story ended happily; my parents realized I wasn’t in the car about half an hour after they’d left and they immediately sped back the way they came. The hardest part they said was remembering which of the huge number of interchangeable highway gas stations was the one they had stopped at.

  • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    PSA: In case you don’t know already, never teach your child stranger danger.
    Apart from the fact that the statistical probability of such a thing happening to your child is small, it’s also completely useless and counterproductive because your child has a different concept of “stranger” than you have.
    “Hello, my name is John, I’m new in the neighbourhood and my cat has escaped. Can you help me looking for her?” places the person into the category “friend” and out of the category “stranger”.
    Better teach them to only go with certain people you specified before and that they have to tell you in advance so you know where they are.

  • ischemgeek

    My parents took in foster kids, so at one point, we were 5, & my sister and I (as the oldest two) pretty much raised ourselves after 14 because Mom didn’t “do” teenagers & Dad now had real boys to do boy stuff with instead of his strange (bookish science geek with a virulent hatred of all things pink and frilly) tomboy-with-an-”attitude problem” (undiagnosed ADHD) eldest. And that’s not jealousy talking, folks: They told me as much in their own words.

    My parents left me at a bookstore once (ADHD => hyperfocus => I genuinely don’t hear people calling for me if I’m into something. It’s not that I’m ignoring you, it’s that my brain doesn’t register that you’re talking to me), and in a cafe once (I had a cool book, so hyperfocus again), and in the car more times than I can count. Never for that long though, and there was only one time that I came out of my hyperfocus (which can last between a half hour to two or three days of forgetting to eat or sleep, depending on how engrossing what I’m doing is) soon enough to notice.

    • kisekileia

      I also grew up with undiagnosed ADHD, and there were a couple of times when I didn’t get on the bus going home from school because I was too engrossed in a book to realize the day had ended. I think it’s absolutely horrible that a couple who took in foster kids wasn’t vetted by CPS enough to determine that they weren’t giving their own children adequate mental health care.

  • kevinalexander

    I come from a family of fifteen. One day my brother and I decided to ride our bikes to the beach where we had so much fun that we stayed until the next day. That was so much fun that we collected pop bottles to cash into buy hot dogs so we could stay another day.
    When we got back I went into the kitchen to make a peanut butter sandwich and the first thing my mother said to me was,”School starts next week, can you fit your brothers shoes or do we need to get you new ones?”

    She hadn’t noticed that I was gone for three days and it didn’t occur to me to tell her. I was ten.

    • kisekileia


  • plunderb

    And yet, if I, as a teacher of lower elementary school (k-2), were to lose track of one of my 20+ charges during the chaotic transitions of lunch/recess or pickup/dropoff time, I could be fired. And possibly arrested.

    It did happen to me once — a parent came in looking for a kid who didn’t make it from the classroom door to the waiting car and I couldn’t account for her (we’re supposed to hand kids directly over to parents at the end of the day). All out panic — teachers and security running everywhere. Turns out she had wandered off with a friend who had permission to walk home and was perfectly fine. But I did get a talking-to from the principal. It’s silly to think that one adult can keep tabs on the comings and goings of 20+ willful 7-year-olds with 100% accuracy. I did my best (buddy systems, constant headcounts, etc.) but I would have liked to have some high-school aged helpers!

    • kisekileia

      I think the low teacher: student ratios in schools, especially at recess (in my local board, the ratio at recess is 1:150, not counting educational aides who are assigned to specific kids) are horrible and probably a huge part of why schools can’t seem to get a handle on bullying.

  • karla

    A friend of mine had nine siblings and there was a permanent party at her house. People came in and out and no one really knew where anybody was. So it was not unusual when someone called the house saying “we have your child with us, when are you picking her up?” To which her mom would always ask “which one?”

  • Holytape

    I can explain the older children not saying anything. There were only two kids, my older brother and myself. It was a family vacation, and after like 12 hours in the station wagon, we stop in the middle of South Dakota. My dad filled up the tank, I think I ran into go to the bathroom. I was around eight.

    My father swears this never happened. My mother swears that they never left the parking lot. My brother was like, “Yeah, we made it a mile or two done the road, before they notice. I knew the entire time, but didn’t say anything.”

  • Trebuchet

    Aside from everything else, how did they transport 19 kids and 2 adults in just two (apparently) cars?

    • Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

      Three seperate cars.
      If they’re all minivans with seven+ seats, that fits.
      Or they went more than once.

      Wecelebrated my daughter’s 4th at the Zoo. We were 6 adults and 9 kids, 1 of the still in astroller and by the end of the day I was completely exhausted.
      But in order to get there andback again we had to go twice because we wouldn’t transport any kid without an appropriate seat.
      So it can add to the confusion if one thinks the kid is already gone, the other thinks it’s still there…

  • Rilian

    What is this “putting to bed” crap? My parents didn’t do that since I was 3. It isn’t necessary. You go to bed when you’re ready to sleep. Anyone over the age of 3 who doesn’t have severe mental problems can surely do this for themselves?

    • Anat

      Many things one does with kids aren’t strictly necessary but are a good thing to do because they are another opportunity for interaction between parents and kids. Especially in a large family where opportunities for relaxed one-on-one interactions aren’t common.

      • Rilian

        Yet people are acting like it’s a required thing and anyone who doesn’t do it is a terrible person/parent.

  • Ruth

    Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was with relatives somewhere in the caravan, so he was left behind in Jerusalem. So there is Biblical example.