Panic gripped my heart. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think clearly. Tears threatened to spill as I called out to my four- and five-year-olds, “Come quickly! We must go back!”
There were warning signs posted all over the city, but I didn’t think it would happen to me. I had been taking precautions for two weeks, but for a few brief moments I was a sitting duck.
My biggest fear on the trip was that I would get separated from one, or both, of my children in the subway. So, I wrote all of our contact information onto slips of paper pinned to their waistbands. I wrote the same information in their shoes, and on their upper arms. I also practiced with them what to do if they were on a train without mommy.
The apartment we had rented in Brussels was overwhelmingly hot and stuffy. We slept with the windows open, but mosquitoes were eating the children alive. So, while hubby was at work, I decided to move our things to a hotel.
I struggled down the steps into the subway with two 50-pound suitcases, three smaller bags and my backpack, keeping a close eye on the children. With great effort we managed to switch to our second train just before it left the platform, watching carefully to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind. Upon arriving at our stop, I made sure the kids got off and had just enough time to gather our things.
We moved through the subway station and into the street, while I mentally wrote my next Facebook update: “Took two 50-pound bags, three carry-ons, a backpack, and two small children through three subway stations and on two trains! I am woman! Hear me roar!”
As we trekked our luggage down the cobblestone street, I shifted my backpack to the other shoulder. It was then that I noticed it was hanging wide open! I immediately checked for my wallet and passports, but they were gone. I checked again and again. Definitely gone!
We tried to retrace our steps, but with so much baggage it was nearly impossible. It didn’t matter that the backpack was now half-empty.
Five-year-old daughter felt my anxiety and began crying as we pushed our luggage back through the long, dark hallway of the subway station. A homeless, French-speaking woman heard me desperately calling out, “Has anyone seen a yellow wallet?” But she interpreted it as, “I need a toilet!”
She took daughter by the hand, and started dragging her towards another dark hallway. Daughter began crying louder, and I shouted, “No! Stop!”
Three people came running to my assistance, and kept my little girl from being forced into a subway restroom. At this point, four-year-old son began to whimper, and tears were spilling down my cheeks. A teenage girl called the police, and I called hubby. His first thought was that something had happened to the children. As horrible as it was to be stuck in a foreign country with no passports, no cash, and no credit cards, we thanked God over and over that the children were safe.
Hubby double checked to make sure I had not left the wallet in the apartment, and then stayed with the kids while I filed a report at the police station. On the upside, Belgian police officers are really cute. On the downside, they told me they didn’t really need my contact information because there was no chance my things would ever be found.
I made the necessary phone calls to cancel the credit cards, arranged an appointment with the U.S. Embassy to obtain new passports, and stayed awake all night, watching the kids to make sure that no one snatched them.
I don’t typically carry our passports in my wallet, and I don’t typically carry my wallet in my backpack, but a silly string of circumstances had caused me to temporarily move things around. It was a very small window of opportunity for someone to steal everything in one fell swoop. “Took two 50-pound bags, three carry-ons, a backpack, and two small children through three subway stations and on two trains! I am woman. Hear me weep!”
Ginger is an author, speaker and mother of five. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.