Lost and Found
The other evening, we all walked down to the local park to watch Dad play a little soccer. The park is only two blocks away. Out the front door, one block down to the corner, a left turn, and one short block to the park.
Everyone had some mode of transportation. Cenzo had his bike, Lola hers (which she can't actually ride -- that was interesting), Elizabeth a tricycle, and Tallulah one of those little toddler-push-car-things. I brought the stroller, for tired babies on the way home. Rick and Sam were already there.
Cenzo wanted to ride ahead of us, and knowing that his dad was already at the park, and that it was two short blocks away, I agreed. He headed off down the street, made the turn just fine, and arrived safely.
An hour later, it was time to go home. It was getting dark. Dad and Sam hopped in the truck to drive home, and I made Vincenzo wait until they were on their way before letting him take off on his bike. I made my way home with the three girls and the various wheels we were all using. When I got home, it was a bustle of activity, wheels being put away, soccer gear everywhere, hungry people clamoring for food. I did not notice one important detail:
Vincenzo was not home.
Rick, not aware that I had sent Cenzo home on his bike, didn't know either. As it turns out, the poor kid had forgotten to turn at our street, and had gotten lost. We discovered this when Samuel came in the house (he had been out in front helping unload the truck) to say that some teenagers had brought Vincenzo home.
In one instant, terror and relief gushed through my body, leaving me all at once exhausted. I thanked the boys -- three nice kids -- and brought my son inside. He was clearly shaken to the core. I asked him what happened, and he managed to say, before bursting into tears, that he had forgotten to turn, and then just got too confused to figure out where to go. When the boys came along, they asked him if he was lost. He knew his address, so they were able bring him home.
That's all he was able to say before he refused to talk about it anymore, and wouldn't let me hug him, touch him, or even look at him.
My child is home. He is safe, he is whole, he is himself. The floor is still solidly underneath my feet and time has continued to march along. But oh my -- for the briefest of minutes, things could have been so different. He was missing for probably no more than 20 minutes, but those 20 minutes upset him very much. He had experienced terror for the first time in his life, and it took a toll. He spent the rest of the evening looking stunned and disturbed, like he had been whacked in the head.
When I think of him out there by himself, not knowing how to get back to us, scared, vulnerable, alone, darkness descending, the hairs on my arm stand up and a chill runs down my spine. When I think about how I didn't even realize he wasn't home, I feel truly awful.
After tucking him in bed that night, I sat down next time him and talked quietly about what had happened. I didn't want to make him cry, but I knew I had to help him think about it. He did start to cry, but I told him that I was proud of him for telling the boys where he lived. I told him that if those boys had not come along, we would have come out and found him, we would not have left him out there. I told him he was safe and home and with his family. He asked me if I had ever gotten lost when I was a kid. I had not, I told him, but his dad had. So we went downstairs to talk to dad about it.
He recovered fully, of course. But I am left with a little less enthusiasm for Free Range Kids, and little more awareness of how we need to prepare them to negotiate the world, even when that world is only two small blocks long.
We can't protect them from everything, from fearful experiences, from tragedies that almost happen. I wish he never had to experience those 20 minutes. I wish I had that evening back, so I could stop and go over the route with him before watching him ride off into the twilight. But he is where he belongs; and I haven't stopped being grateful for that since pulling him back into the house. And I haven't stopped being grateful for the three young men who brought him home.