Feeling Lost

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.

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29 Responses to Feeling Lost

  1. amber says:

    (((Oh Michelle))). God woman, you are so fucking hard on yourself.

    I feel your fear. I have felt this fear. It just as easily could have been Seth who went over the wall, or some other kid all together. She was being a kid, and kids do shit that scare the crap out of us. You “handle” her autism better than anyone. It wasn’t because you dropped the ball on her autism that she got lost. Shit happens with kids. Even to good moms. And good little hippos.

    I remember like yesterday, this moment I took Wyatt to a park when he was about two. We walked to my van, and I took my hand off him to open the door, and he just went running around the van to the other door quick as can be! Right into the road on his pooly balanced fat baby legs, and I yelled to him and he stopped right as a car went into a hard, skidding stop not feet from him.
    Just thinking about it makes me feel sick. It comes to my mind often, actually, that moment. And I feel guilty. Like a bad mom. I almost “let” my baby get killed because I took my hands off him and thought he would stay beside me.

    You would never tell me it was my fault. You would never let me beat myself up for that… Because shit happens we can’t see coming. This is life. So I am saying the same to you, my friend. You did nothing wrong, you only trusted life. You trusted life. And you will again, because you can’t raise a child in a world of fear. No good mother would. YOU would not raise her in fear.

    All ended well. All IS well! You all got scared, but the moment is past.

    Love, sister. Love.

  2. KFuller Yuba City says:

    Everyone wonders why we jump, why we hover, why we have post traumatic stress. Well this post is why. The constant unexpected. It is like waiting for a slap that you know is coming, but you never know when, and just when we think it isn’t…slap. Sometimes Autism just sucks.
    Maybe Riley learned this time and it won’t happen again. I had a prayer for all of you as I read your story.

  3. Lydia says:

    We sure do have good days and bad days, don’t we? And that’s what I wish people understood. That on a good day, I am a chatty, engaging, awkward girl who acts about 16 and struggles with language. On a bad day, I’m an 8-year-old who can hardly speak and can’t follow a simple conversation exchange. The only problem is that it’s hard for people to identify what kind of day I’m having without asking, and no one wants to ask, so most people always treat me like my good days, and then wonder why I can’t understand them on the other days.

    I think that as Riley gets older, she will be able to tell identify for herself what kind of day she’s having, how old she feels, a.k.a. how much support she needs. And I know you’re the kind of mom who will ask her.

  4. Thinking of you. Admiring you. Saying a quick prayer for you and your beautiful family.

    — Laura

  5. Wanda says:

    Ow. Glad she’s safe. Glad you are, too. Hugs.

  6. Niksmom says:

    Breathing a LARGE sigh of relief that all ended safely. I won’t say “well” because I know the emotions reverberate and stick to you (me) and it’s hard to let them go. But Amber is RIGHT. You ARE a good mom and you won’t raise either of your children into a world of fear. But that doesn’t mean it’s not okay to be afraid for them sometimes.

    Sending love and ease your way.

  7. Meg says:

    Riley and Seth were ready for some freedom; they asked and you gave. That is appropriate and as it should be. Riley did something unexpected and caused herself and you a lot of stress, but she learned some things: she figured out how to get herself back to where she started and that she made an error in judgement. You did nothing wrong, Michelle; she needs to learn to navigate in the world. Sometimes the learning of a lesson causes pain on all sides, but the growth that comes from it is necessary. The pain that you felt means that you are a good mom, not a bad one.

  8. Bonnie says:

    A very scary experience. I’m glad she found her way back.

  9. Betty says:

    I think Amber stated it really well.

  10. jess says:

    there is no worse fear.

    and i have to say, as awful as the situation was, there’s something to be celebrated here .. she made her way back to the children’s area – ON HER OWN. that kid has come so far, michelle. it’s truly incredible.

    a year ago, what do you think she would have done in the same situation?

    point is, although she made an error in judgement by jumping the fence (ok, a HUGE error), she managed to find her way back to where she needed to be. precisely why you COULD let her be for a while.

    she made it back. that’s huge.

  11. Miss B's Mom says:

    Agreeing with Meg.

  12. Jerri says:




    More to follow.

  13. Amanda says:

    I swear to God my heart actually stopped beating when I read that. You’re allowed to be angry and you’re allowed to be so relieved you tear strips off her and I know you need to beat yourself up about the whole awful experience but please don’t take too long about that last part – you really honestly don’t deserve it.

    I’m afraid it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it starts to get any better. Hormones surging in a ten year old who can understand what’s going on is bad enough but your Riley, like my two, isn’t necessarily going to understand what and why she’s feeling the way she is. Stack that on top of the normal case load and it spells a tough time ahead…

    Lots of Love & Highland hugs!

    Thinking of you

  14. Joan says:

    I agree with those who commented that Riley’s making it back ON HER OWN should be celebrated. She made a mistake in jumping the fence, but she self-corrected VERY well! Also, I hope you congratulated Seth for alerting you promptly.

    The other issues you have been experiencing lately may have to do with puberty coming on, as someone else suggested. It happens earlier these days. My own daughter got her first period at 11.

    All you need, something else to deal with LOL, but I did want to try to reassure you that some of this is good/typical.

    Certainly, no need to beat yourself up. You are doing the best you can.

    Best wishes to your family for a lovely weekend,

  15. Penny says:

    Oh how I know it well, the fear, the dread and the utter horror that one as a mother can let herself slide for one minute. That’s all it takes, one minute. I agree with those who stated above that the positive thing is that Riley made it back, on her own. That’s huge.

    It’s ok in life to have moments when all is not right. That you chewed her out. It’s ok. It’s ok she might actually feel bad about it for some time. It’s ok that you have feelings that you cannot stand it any more. Welcome to being human and being a mommy. Eventually it will all right itself.

    There are so many people who have been where you are, trying to figure it all out. My gal is 13 and just squealed when she found an Elmo DVD at a yard sale. Then turned around to her friend and told her that yes, she loves Justin Bieber too. 13 and 4 at the same time. Trying to accept it all. Just wanted you to know you are not alone.

  16. naomi says:

    Oh Michelle. I’m so sorry that you all had to go through that. I’m so glad that she is safe.
    Mary and Joseph flipped out on Jesus when he stayed behind at the temple without telling them. Just sayin’ 😉

  17. Kathi says:

    I have been in those shoes many times, and not just where safety is concerned. I understand. In the end, u can’t control it all. You do your best and sometimes still have to scream. I regularly say, “I can’t take much more of this,” or “I cannot do this anymore.” Brings some relief. You go to bed, you get up, you go on. I get sucked into my child’s autism. And people tell me also that I beat up on myself; maybe that’s our common trait. XO

  18. Oh, Michelle. God, I have been through this so many times with Nigel. Every time, I hate it. It’s just terrifying. I’m so glad Riley’s okay.

  19. Deb says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. Your vulnerability and honesty are inspiring. You are a wonder. Love.

  20. pixiemama says:

    I’m so sorry, Michelle.

  21. Kerry says:

    Oh my lord. utterly terrifying. I have been considering one of these units, which you can now rent. https://www.amberalertgps.com/. I feel so much like going back in time and punching every person in that park who saw your panic and went about their day! I’m glad you can move past that part, I’m appalled. Hugs to every member of your family.

  22. Dawn says:

    Oh sweetheart “space/freedom” intrinsically means danger (for all of us). I wish I could hug you from here.

  23. Claire says:

    You’re the best mamma hippo I know. You did nothing wrong, I say with gentleness, not blase.

  24. ((hugs)) How terrifying! I am right there with you about the baby hippo. I have felt the SAME way many times, esp. when Jack fell down the front steps and had to have 9 stitches. It’s exactly why I can’t watch nature shows. Ever. You can’t have enough hugs about this, girl.

  25. kario says:

    What gifts you and HT give to each other. That you were willing to open up to him and he knew just what to say to remind you that you are the mother Riley needs.

    You won’t always know what to do, you won’t always have the right or best answers, and either will your kids or HT. Thank goodness you’re all willing to accept each other for your human-ness and love each other just the same.

    Love you.

  26. Me says:

    Horrible – Horrible – Horrible

    I would not wish this feeling on anyone.

    I think you are doing great!

  27. Aspiegirl says:

    I am an 18 year old with Aspergers. I have been staying at my dad’s house lately, but my mom called today to tell me she still can’t talk about the bike trail I got lost on years and years ago without crying. I spent probably an hour lost before I even realized I was lost, because the trail was so windy, I thought the whole time they were just around a curve. My younger sister wasn’t a great bike rider, and my mom had no chance of finding me, especially since the trail forked and she wasn’t sure if I’d gone the right way. This was before any of us had cell phones, and thankfully my mom was able to get a man to go track me down, on his 23rd speed, or something to that effect. This is one of many, many times I got lost. In fact, my sister told me just the other day not to get lost, to which I responded, “I have my cell phone, how can I get lost.”
    At any rate, first of all it is not your fault, and one day she will look back and feel bad for all the gray hairs she gave you. Also, a child locator such as this one http://www.torislove.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/child-locator-pink150.jpg
    might not be a bad idea, because she probably hates getting lost just as much as you hate when she gets lost, and after all it is pink and teddy bear shaped.

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