Two days ago, we had a couple of hours to kill before the kids’ last dance class of the season. Since dance is close to the Botanical Gardens, and since we have a season pass, we decided to spend some time in the children’s section. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the kids love running around, watering the flowers, etc.
I planted myself on a bench, with my notebooks. The children’s section is enclosed, and the kids know it well. I was by the exit so I felt secure. They would run by here and there, wave, and skitter off.
After about an hour, Seth came running over to me,
“Riley climbed over the fence. She’s not in here anymore.”
Riley was gone.
Seth and I jumped the fence, which took us into the larger property with acres and acres of maze like gardens, which Riley does not know well. A million nooks and crannies. A million hiding spots. A million places to find solitude, or molest a child. She could be anywhere. A very busy city lurked outside, fifteen feet away. She could have left with someone on the street. She could already be in someone’s car.
Last year, I was flipping through the channels and landed on Animal Planet. There was this adorable baby hippo, frolicking in the water. His mama was nearby. The joy of this chubby little hippo drew me in. I smiled. So cute! He pranced and twirled around and around! Just then, an aligator came out of nowhere and dragged him under. His mom was right there. She let her guard down for one second. Let him get just out of her reach. Horrified, I stood there, remote in my hand, watching the mother. Wondering how she felt. How long had she carried that baby? How long had she nursed him? She stood in the murky water stunned, blinking. Her baby was gone.
Riley was gone, and those hippos were the first thing to pop into my mind.
You idiot! Being so complacent. Sitting on a bench writing in your damn notebooks, not a care in the world.
Seth and I ran around in circles, looking in this section and that. My throat getting tighter and tighter.
“I’m worried,” he said.
“I’m worried too,” I said, holding his hand, tight.
I asked a few people, “Have you seen a girl, ten years old, orange shirt?”
They shook their heads, and I hated them for not seeming concerned in the least.
The thought came to me, “If she finds her way back, and we’re not in the children’s garden, she’s going to think we left her, and run off again.”
We headed back, me looking for an employee all the while.
“Do you have cameras?” That was my plan. To ask if the gardens are under surveillance.
My mind switched back and forth from panic to anger. I tried not to cry, for Seth.
“I swear to God Riley I have not worked so hard, been so devoted to you your whole life for it to go down this way.” Soul to soul, I was FURIOUS.
We got back to the children’s area, and I looked around frantically for an employee and then I saw the orange of Riley’s shirt in the distance. She was there. At this point she’d been gone between ten and fifteen minutes.
Her thought process: She and Seth had been playing hide & seek. She was pretending he was a “maniac,” and got so into the play, she freaked herself out. Thus terrified, she jumped over the fence, and ran off into the larger gardens. Then she got lost and was very scared. Ten acres of gardens. She went around the whole place, through the Japanese gardens, and ended up at the main entrance. She must have been running the whole time. Once at the main entrance, she followed the signs back to the Children’s Garden.
“RILEY!” I screamed at her.
“Mommy I’m so sorry! I thought I might never see you again!”
I was so angry, I marched them out to the car, chewing her out the whole time.
In retrospect, I probably should not have done that. I don’t want her afraid of getting in trouble, on top of everything else, should she ever get lost again.
This was Wednesday.
Thursday, I went through the motions. I felt numb. I felt irritated. A solid wall up between me and my family. I couldn’t stand Riley. Todd tried to rub my shoulder and I could not tolerate his touch. We fought. I told him I didn’t know how much longer I could take this. Something has to give.
I went upstairs to sleep on the twin bed in my office. No sleep.
2AM. I crawled into his bed. Head on his chest, I whispered about the baby hippo. I fell apart.
He took me by the shoulders, and put me back together. Told me I am a good mother. Promised me. Told me he sees it every day. Told me anyone who thinks otherwise is crazy. Told me I did nothing wrong. It was okay to let her play. She is safe, she is safe, she is safe.
The inconsistency with Riley’s kind of autism is so cruel. One day she’s a ten year old. One day a four year old. She does not want to be babied (asked me specifically to sit on the bench and let them be), but can’t be trusted not to freak out and scale a fence and get lost.
It is maddening. It would be easier if I knew what to expect. It’s always changing. Lately she’s being very impulsive. Doing things she never did at three and four years old. She would NEVER have climbed a fence and gotten so far away from me before. She’s also being defiant. She actually hit me (has never hit anyone in her life) twice this week.
If I could just accept, she has autism, and all things are expected, it might be easier. But she goes in these spurts where she’s doing so well, and I let my guard down and then…suddenly BAM!
I don’t know.
I’ve gotta sort it all out on a metaphysical level, where it will make some sense for me. There is no safety. We’re all safe. We all die. We’re all eternal. All things working in Divine order. Blah,blah,blah.
Tell that to the mama hippo.
For now I will hang onto knowing I will eventually see things differently. I’m never lost for long.
P.S. To anyone who accuses us of “hovering” too much, consider this post a personal invitation to entertain the possibility you might be wrong.
P.S.S. We did not have Jingle with us, because the kids wanted to run around, and she would have had to sit beside me. She would have wanted to run around with them, and would have cried and been annoying the whole time.