By NICK CHILES
Upon hearing that a couple of Maryland parents abandoned their three-year-old daughter at Chuck E. Cheese—and didn’t realize it until they saw a report on the 11 o’clock news—my first instinct was disbelief, mixed with a bit of outrage and a touch of amusement. But when I read the details, I fell back a little bit. The story was crazy, but at the same time totally believable. As Forrest Gump said, Sh*t happens.
The first step toward understanding for me was when I discovered that the girl’s parents are separated. As a father who has gone through the tribulations of divorce and shared custody, I knew right away what was going on here: this was all about the minimization of communication.
The little girl, named Harmony, went to the Bel Air, Maryland, Chuck E. Cheese with four adults and 10 other kids. When the gathering broke up at about 8 p.m., Harmony’s parents went their separate ways—each assuming that Harmony was with the other one. And where was Harmony? She had made her way back into the Chuck E. Cheese, clutching a token she had found. If you’ve ever gone to a Chuck E. Cheese with a small child, you know those tokens—which allow you to play all those goofy games to win tickets that you redeem for cheesy prizes—are like pure gold bars.
When an employee found the little girl alone, they waited for her parents to show up to get her. Because surely parents would notice when their three-year-old was missing in action. Ninety minutes passed. No parents. So the employees brought Harmony to the local police precinct, where it was decided that Harmony’s face would get a starring role on the 11 p.m. news.
Of course this could have been avoided if the parents had had a quick conversation before leaving the restaurant. “Harmony’s going with you, right?”
But that didn’t happen. Again, in these situations the minimization of communication is usually the goal.
As many of us know, you don’t even have to be divorced or separated to find yourself in one of these wickedly scary situations with a little one left behind. If you ask me or my wife Denene about what happened that time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our youngest daughter… well, at least our little one never made it onto the nightly news.