Still seeking my missing self: A Missing Child Speaks Out, Now as an Adult

I was more than thirty years old before I saw a poster for missing children.Stopping in the teachers? room at our local elementary school, I noticed the smiling faces of children and went to view the poster more closely. "Have you seen us?" it read. It took a few moments before I realized that this was a collection of children for whom someone was looking. As my head grew hot and anger rose in my throat, I ran into the bathroom and became sick. Furious words raced through my mind, "Where was this kind of poster when I needed it? Why couldn?t someone have found me?" In matter of seconds, pain I had experienced decades before returned. My parents separated in 1953 with a verbal understanding that my mother  would have custody of my sister and me with regular visiting privileges granted to my father. But when he came to get us for a short vacation, he took us away for almost three years. My sister was two. I was four and a half. We traveled up and down the east coast and though my mother and her parents searched for us, often with tips from friends, she was never less than a few hours away. When my father returned with us to Troy, NY, his hometown, she was able to   subpoena him to court. There she lost custody of us; incredibly the court believed it could be disruptive if we were taken from my father after more than two years in his care. During a visit with us at her parents? home, my mother started proceedings in Virginia for our custody. After a particularly violent but foiled attempt to abduct us from there, my father lost custody and disappeared from our lives almost completely. When my sister and I returned from being "missing" in 1955, things were not the same. Almost three years had gone by during our extended "vacation," and we had lived in numerous states and places with my father. Our old life had dissolved and the world had gone on without us. Once we were back with our mother, she wanted to protect us and herself from a painful past and tried to move our lives beyond the "terrible unpleasantness." If I remembered a story from the "missing" period, I quickly sensed it made her and others uncomfortable. Often family members or friends tried to distract or comfort us by saying, "You were lucky to know you were safe, since you were with your father." They?d say, "He must have loved you very much to have taken you." In reality, I hadn?t felt safe at all. At four, my world had been turned upside down; we?d been cut off from all that was familiar and safe, taken from our primary caregiver–my mother–our home, and our roots. The fear I felt was very real, if unnamed, and my mind worked constantly to make sense out of what was happening to me. Looking back, I don?t think my sister and I were in life-threatening danger, though I know that some parentally  abducted children have been battered, sexually assaulted, and even murdered. But while I did live with my father, I did live with constant uncertainty and a nagging fear. I worried that I would be abandoned by him as I felt I had been by my mother. I worried that I would become separated from my sister or responsible for some terrible mishap where she would be hurt. The days ended as they began: lying in a bed wondering and imagining what would happen next or how things might unexpectedly change. The strain on all of us was evident. My sister and I began to wet the bed, suck our thumbs, and develop elaborate bedtime safety rituals. Our father became increasingly tense as single parenting on the run took its toll. When we returned to our mother and her parents? farm, everyone wanted us to forget the years away, and we tried. My sister and I talked less and less about it, sometimes only euphemistically referring to that time period as our "trip with Daddy." Soon, by an unspoken decision, we stopped any mention of our "vacation" and locked those thoughts and feelings far away. But many years later, my dreams began to betray my past. I awoke trying to save two babies or looking for two children, or trying to make sense of some place I thought I had visited. Now I realize when I bolt out of bed in the middle of the night, on guard, that I still carry the scars. By dealing with them in therapy, by telling my  stories, I am learning to live with them and my betrayal. I am trying to find some kind of peace. When will people understand that it is an insidious form of child abuse to "snatch" a child? There can be no winners. Not the snatcher on the run, not the parent left behind, and certainly not the children betrayed by the two people closest to them. I am encouraged when I think how much more people understand today about parental abductions delayed  stress, and grieving. It is a different world than when my sister and I were taken nearly forty years ago. But there is still so much educating that needs to be done. If a child is taken as we were, I believe that energy must be spent, not in hiding from the experiences, but illuminating them in a safe, guided environment. Denying the experiences only forced us to lose and reject parts of ourselves. Child snatching not only creates children who are missing, but children who grow up missing parts of themselves. Former missing children may write to Operation Lookout 6320 Evergreen Way, Ste 201, Everett, WA 98203 or via  email,

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