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.

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