Cleo rescue reminded me of day an irreversible parental switch flipped inside me

The abduction and dramatic rescue of four-year-old Australian child Cleo Smith, who vanished from her family’s holiday tent in the middle of the night, sparking an 18-day search, captured the attention of the entire world. I cried with relief when I heard this little angel had been recovered safe and well. A positive outcome was not really what I had expected, because, let’s face it, situations like this hardly ever end well.

I don’t have any statistics for missing children in Ireland for 2021, but, (if my research is correct) a total of 6,358 reports of missing people had been made by mid-September, (last year), including 4,627 reports of people under the age of 18 who had disappeared. On a positive note, the report I’m citing does add that ‘6,306 of these people have been found, including 4,609 of the under-18s’. Of course you’d have to wonder and worry what has become of those still missing.

Child kidnappings and abductions by strangers are rare in this country, but, if and when they do happen, they’re among the most terrifying of crimes; leaving the parents/guardians not just raw with terror and fear, but living in what could only be described as their worst nightmare.

I’ve never lost my phone, my purse or my glasses, however, I have, on one occasion, lost my child. It happened many years ago. My eldest, then just six years old, briefly went missing during a family holiday to Blackpool in the UK. Her father, (my ex-husband) and I had brought her to a massive play centre called Professor Peabody’s, and, having removed her little sandals, I popped my child onto the giant bouncy castle queue while her dad got us coffee. Briefly turning our backs to find a seat where we could keep a close eye on our baby girl, we were horrified to find that in those few seconds, she was no longer standing where I’d left her, and had basically disappeared.

On a desperate mission to find my daughter, I jettisoned my mug of coffee into the air over another parent, and, while her dad searched through every queue, I catapulted myself feet first into the bouncy ball pit, almost squashing a few kids in the process. Did I care? No. My precious baby was missing, nowhere to be seen, and her voice, when I shrieked her name loud enough for only dogs to hear, was nowhere to be heard.

In that moment, I not only panicked, I catastrophised to such an extent my anxiety skyrocketed, resulting in me loudly and abusively ordering the manager, (who was now dragging me out of the pit and off the head of the child I’d landed on), to lock all doors and forbid anyone to leave. Seeing how manic I was, he agreed. He also allowed me to call out her name over the tannoy system.

Then, just like that, I heard a voice from the top of a slide, unfazed and totally unaware of the panic she’d caused, squeal “mammy; watch this”. As my precious girl launched herself head first, legs akimbo, down that slide and into the pit where minutes earlier I’d nearly knocked over a poor toddler, I noticed her relieved father, (a man not known for his swift movements), race Linford Christie-style across the floor and scoop her into his arms.

It was at that moment, knowing my baby was safe, (having been ‘missing’ for half an hour), that I realised an irreversible parental switch had flipped inside of me; one that was never going to revert back. It took several days for my frantic heart rate to return to near normal. However today, when I look back and understand that the odds of my child being snatched from under my nose were so small, they were miniscule, and ask myself if I felt silly for, (as many had pointed out), ‘overreacting,’ my answer is…not one bit! Would I ‘overreact’ again if it were to happen to one of my granddaughters? Absolutely!

And yes, I know that instead of remaining calm, I had allowed common sense to depart my mind; and yes, I know too I had spectacularly fallen apart; but hey, I’m a  mother, and when I believe my babies are at risk, tackling the danger head on is what I do.


Get creative and get connected this winter

It’s a well-known fact that some people who experience depression/mental health issues, for whatever reason, don’t seek help. I find this extremely sad because, according to everything I’ve read and studied, and according to many medical professionals, mental illness is treatable, and recovery is not just possible, it’s highly likely.

Why am I raising this issue? Well folks, as we emerge from this pandemic and enter the long winter months, those who’re living alone across rural Roscommon – and in particular farmers who may often spend their days working in remote situations – will hopefully seek help and support if they need it.

I do know that many people not only enjoy, but actively thrive in lone working environments and, as loneliness is subjective, I’m not suggesting that anyone working in the farming community or those living alone are unhappy. Someone can be socially isolated and never feel a hint of loneliness. On the other hand, I do know that some of those who live their lives constantly surrounded by people can feel lonely.

However, while physical distancing (and getting vaccinated) is key to slowing down the spread of Covid, the solitude it forces on us can also have a detrimental effect on our lives and on our mental wellbeing.

Therefore, if you’re feeling lonely and isolated and are keen to get connected this winter, why not contact your nearest neighbour, (our neighbours are welcome to call into us at any time) and, if you’re happy with each other’s Covid protocols, (because some may be feeling vulnerable), have a cup of tea together. Better still, go out for a cup of tea.

Check out the supports/gatherings provided within your community – your family doctor would be a great source of information, as will your local parish newsletter. Check out a local bingo and quiz night, a book club, a walking club, a Men’s Shed or the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (ICA) etc. You could also contact the charity Alone on Ph: 0818222024 and make a friend…better still, you could volunteer and become a friend yourself! The possibilities are endless.


I’m obsessed with the ‘Big Fella’

Ninety-nine years ago, the assassination of the greatest and most significant Irishman that ever lived took place. He was the hero whose strategy and leadership not only destroyed the British and their intelligence, he brought the Black and Tans to their knees. Michael Collins  changed our country’s course forever.

The Big Fella, who remains a titan of our Irish history, was murdered by a coward on 22nd of August 1922, (and I have my own opinion as to the traitor). He always has, and always will be, a keen interest of mine…okay, a healthy obsession.

I’m someone who has read possibly every book ever written about my hero Mick; my favourite one is ‘In Great Haste’ because it documents the letters written by this extraordinary man and his fiancée Kitty Kiernan. To that end you can only imagine how excited I am to know that his diaries have been donated by his family on long-term loan to the National Archives and will, pretty soon, be digitised, meaning I can get to read them!