The Day We Lost Julianna

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KC trip 076 smallThe line for the Holiday Train was an hour long, stretching the entire length of the main concourse of Kansas City’s Union Station.

We figured we’d survived an hour-long wait for the Peter Pan ride…in the cold. Surely the kids could handle an hour-long line inside, where it was warm.

But we hadn’t prepared as carefully as we had at Disney World. We’d had to leave later in the day than we wanted, because I’d had to sing for university graduation first. I’d expected Michael to sleep on the road, but he didn’t. And now, he was tired. And restless.

Christian went off to do something–I don’t even remember what, now–and I wrestled Michael as he twisted in my grip, sat down, pulled me one way, pulled me the other way. And then I did the requisite kid-count.

Julianna was gone.

I did not panic. Julianna may be a wanderer, but her wanderings are generally predictable. She has a consistent set of places she wants to go visit, mostly consisting of a) books, b) music, or c) doughnuts. The main problem is that she doesn’t answer when you call.

But we were not in a familiar environment. Still, I really expected that even with the crowd around us, her bright red coat would pop out at me within ten seconds.

It did not.

I pulled out my emergency-only cell phone and called Christian. Maybe he’d taken her with him and I just hadn’t paid attention when he told me.

No answer.

“Alex, hold Michael’s hand, and do not let him go. Nicholas, stay with Alex and do not move. I will be right back.”

I stepped out of line and into the center of the concourse to do a slow 360, sweeping the crowds.

Nothing.

I got back into line, retrieved Michael’s hand, and tried Christian again. The woman behind us got a description from me and went off to search. She returned empty-handed. And then I saw Christian walking toward us.

Without Julianna.

I was not afraid that she had been kidnapped. I’m well versed in the real facts about kidnapping; kidnappings by strangers are extremely rare. Besides, call me jaded, but I do not believe the random kidnapper type is going to pick, of all kids to snatch, a child with a clear disability.

And I couldn’t imagine that Julianna would actually try to leave the building. So she had to be somewhere in Union Station.

Only…Union Station is big, and there were thousands of people there that day.

Christian took off and spoke to the ladies handling tickets for the holiday train. I held the place in line for a couple of minutes, thinking furiously. Here, in this place we’ve been a couple times, where would Julianna be most likely to go? Science City? Maybe…if she remembered it was there. The Christmas concert being set up across the way? I could see she wasn’t there. That model train display way down at the end of the concourse? Much more likely.

I waved at Christian, sent Nicholas with him, and took the other boys with me. We moved slowly down the concourse, my brain on 100% observation, looking for that red coat in the crowds waiting for the kiddie train, the crowds waiting for the Holiday Train, and the crowds just milling around.

I saw a guy in a uniform. “I’ve lost a child,” I said, and even I could hear the stress in my voice. “Brown hair, glasses, about this tall, with a bright red dress coat on. She has Down syndrome.”

He pulled out his phone (or walkie talkie? I don’t remember now) and passed the information on.

The whole Union Station security team was now on alert and looking. I told him where I was going and dragged the boys into the crowds funneling into the small door to the model train room. I pushed and shoved our way most un-politely into the model train room. Which was also very, very crowded.

And very, very empty of a little girl in a red coat.

That was about the time the question rose in my mind: What if we DON’T find her?

We circled through the room and came back out the far side, and then…as we passed the back side of the kiddie train…I saw her.

In the back seat of the kiddie train.

The kiddie train that costs $5 to ride.

Lounging back in her cute red coat like it was just a day at the beach, not a care in the world.

We all found her at the same time, as it turned out; the security men waved frantically at me as I raced around the side to the entrance to head her off when she got off the train, and Christian converged on the spot simultaneously, having been called by security.

“How did she even get ON that train without a ticket?” I said.

The operator shrugged. “She just sort of walked in like she owned it.”

Face palm. That is quintessential Julianna.

As you might imagine, Miss Julianna was not allowed to let go of a parental hand for the rest of the day.

And we never did make it to the holiday train we had driven to Kansas City to see.

But we did discover something important–that far from graduating from the run-away stage, Julianna is growing more willing to wander as she grows in age and experience. Which means there are necessary changes on the horizon in the Basi household.

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2 thoughts on “The Day We Lost Julianna

  1. Shelby is not a wanderer, per se, but the fear is so great and her lack of language so large…we got her enrolled in Project Lifesaver. It’s not available everywhere and it’s no substitute for parental supervision (obviously) but we think of it as another tool we can use. It is terrifying but the only child we’ve lost is Joseph. Twice. Both at autism events. Yeah, it would figure it wouldn’t be the child with autism who’s walked away of his own volition.

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