On Losing A Child, Recognizing the Value of Friends, and the Humbling Realization That Everyone Really Does Know Who You Are

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unnamedIt’s almost too complicated a story to explain. A group of parents were meeting Friday after school, at the Starbucks inside Barnes & Noble, to discuss a topic of mutual concern while the kids perused the books and toys. When it was time to go, I sent Nicholas to get Julianna from the children’s area, where she was looking at books and trains. “She told me no,” he reported back.

“Well, go and tell her she doesn’t have a choice,” I said, and began packing up. But by the time I took my leave and headed toward the children’s area, I met Nicholas coming back, saying, “She’s gone!”

I knew what had happened. She’s like the boy in the Gospel story. She says “no” but then later (in this case, within a minute), regrets it (or in her case, cognition catches up) and sets out to comply. Only she didn’t know where I was, because when we’d entered the store, she’d gone straight to the children’s section.

I expected to find her in two minutes or less. We’d barely started when the mother of Julianna’s school friend, who works in the store, came up to me and said, “Hey, how you doing?”

“Well, we’re missing Julianna,” I said.

“You want me to call a Code Adam?” she asked.

I almost said, “No, she’s here somewhere.” But then I thought: We are due at Christian’s work party at six, we still have Giving Tree shopping to do, and I have a lasagna in the oven at home.

“Sure,” I said.

Three minutes was long enough for the Barnes & Noble staff to determine that Julianna was not in the store. I went out to the van on the odd chance that she’d gone looking for us there—not that she could have found it—and as I turned around to run back to the store, a complete stranger flagged me down. “I saw her,” she said. “She came to the door, but then she went back inside.”

Inside, I found three other mothers, eight kids, and Julianna’s friend’s mother waiting for me. The moment they saw I was alone, they started splitting up the various wings of the mall—and Ms. M. called mall security. I gave my super-secret cell # to the mom who volunteered to wait at B&N with Alex, and then I dragged Nicholas and Michael out into the mall.

We checked the carousel, the bathroom, and the costume jewelry store before we got to Kidz Court and found a security guard checking there too. I went on to JC Penney and then back to Shoe Department, checking with the people at the mall entrance to make sure she hadn’t come in. We were getting ready to head for Target—because Target is our usual Mall destination—when Alex and another security officer intercepted us. “I’m shadowing the mother,” he said into his walkie, and steered me toward Game Stop and Santa Claus.

I couldn’t think why on earth she would be in either of those places, but it was clear they had a whole lot more experience at finding lost children than I did, so I didn’t argue. “She’s probably just talking to people,” Alex said as we power-walked down the main corridor.

I nodded. This is the common knowledge in our family: the problem with Julianna is not that she gets lost. It’s that she doesn’t know it. “I think we’re about to find out how long it takes Julianna to figure out she’s lost,” I said.

As long as I was thinking and problem solving, I didn’t have mental power for doomsday thoughts. This was about the time I thought: Christian’s work party no Basis because the Basi family is at the police station waiting for—NO! Chill. She’s fine! We’ll find her soon. She’s here somewhere.

The security guard went to talk to Santa and I went on to the woman at the makeup counter at Dillard’s. The guard came up behind us and said to her, “Can you call your security chief and ask him to check his security cameras for her?”

Oh, I thought. What a good idea.

We were halfway back to the main intersection when the call came in: “We’ve got her. She’s at Target.”

That was about the time my dying emergency-only flip phone rang; the mom who had stayed at B&N was calling to let me know the same thing.

When Julianna arrived where we were waiting for her, it was with a huge smile and open arms and great big giggles: “MOMMY!”

Alex and I looked at each other and laughed and sighed and shook our heads. “She didn’t know she was lost,” we said.

My mother-compatriots and the three security personnel were all like, “Are you okay? Do you need a cup of coffee? A drink of water? Do you need to sit down?”

“No, I’m good, we just need to go get our Giving Tree shopping done,” I said, and then thought: They must think I’m a complete sociopath.

And maybe there is something wrong with me. But it was much scarier, losing her in Kansas City. This time, she wandered off in a place where she knows her way around. She’s unbelievably spatially smart, especially considering her other cognitive difficulties. I’m not afraid that she’ll wander off into the middle of nowhere, because she likes people. She gravitates toward people, and sooner or later where there are people, she’s going to get found.

I knew this to be true, but I did not know just how true.

The next morning, we were at Breakfast With Santa, put on for our Down Syndrome family network. I shared this story with another mother. “Oh,” she said. “You know, (fellow DS group member) sent me an email yesterday saying, ‘I’m here in Target and Joanna is here without her mom, do you have contact info’? But I was like, ‘who’s Joanna’?”

And the day after that—Sunday morning—I was walking to the copy room at church to make copies of the music list before Mass when the religious ed director said to me, “Oh, I just got two emails from (teacher’s aide in Julianna’s religious ed class). She said, ‘Julianna is at Target without her mom. Do you have contact info?’ But I don’t check my email on the weekends, so I just got the messages.’”

I live in a city of 120,000 people. Not gargantuan, but also not the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else. This is the only mall for miles around, and people shop here from countless tiny towns in at least three of the four directions. Especially in December.

It was eye-opening—awe-inspiring, even—to realize that even in these circumstances, there are people who know us and care about us. And to realize that at any moment of crisis, my friends—friends I hardly ever get to talk to, because life is life, you know—have my back.

Eye-opening, awe-inspiring and very, very humbling.

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Time

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I think the time has come.

I’ve really enjoyed blogging, but the interactions that used to take place on blogs have moved to Facebook, and it’s just too hard to justify spending the time, emotional and mental bandwidth anymore. My kids are getting too old; it’s no longer okay for me to share their moments indiscriminately, and I can no longer reflect on parenthood without sharing stories that are no longer mine to tell. I’m wrestling anxiety, partly personal, and partly because of what’s going on in the world, and the most important things I have to say, nobody wants to read.

I don’t blame anyone for that. I don’t read blogs anymore, either. It is what it is. We’re all emotionally exhausted by, well, life in 2017 America. Life itself seems angry. It’s hard to pull free of that. It poisons everything. And it affects us all.

The only antidote is to do due diligence before sharing things and reacting to them—to stop and reflect and read at least three or four different articles from varying points of view. But I can’t justify spending that much time when only a handful of people are going to read it anyway. It would be better to try to place those reflections in a larger outlet.

So it’s time, but it’s harder than I thought. I’ve sat here for most of an hour while my kids have piano lessons, staring at the blank window, checking Facebook, looking up Christmas gift ideas, because the idea of writing this post made me so sad. But I think it’s time.

Which is not to say I’ll never post here again. I’m sure I will occasionally feel compelled. But the time for regular posting has passed, at least for the foreseeable future. So click on that box on the left, below my picture, that says “Follow blog by email,” and if I do start up again at some point, you’ll be the first to know.

I’ve loved blogging. I’ve loved the people I’ve met, the connections I’ve been allowed to make. But it’s time to move on. Thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me this long.

See you on Facebook and Instagram.

The Yearly Portraits

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You know you’ve all been waiting for them…but this year, we’re in a “keep it simple” mode. So we took good shots from the Colorado trip for the two youngest, and on the older kids we made our decisions without waiting for the input of Facebook and the blogosphere. So that leaves me only asking input on the family shot at the end.

AlexJuliannaNicholasMichael

And now for the family shots…pick your poison!

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Are We Freaking Out About The Wrong Things?

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A couple weeks ago, I was driving to the gas station to meet up with Christian when this story played on NPR. It’s been a rough month or two anyway, emotionally, and the idea that we could so casually be throwing away the end of the Cold War actually had me in tears, driving across town. I think the words I screamed at the radio went something like, “What is WRONG with you people? Didn’t you learn anything the LAST time?”

Less than 48 hours later, I was standing here:

Enola Gay

Part of me wanted to geek out at being in the same space as something that had so profoundly impacted human history. But in the wake of that report–which NOBODY’S EVEN PAYING ATTENTION TO!–my sense of awe in the presence of history was overshadowed by a single, crushing thought:

My kids were never supposed to have to deal with the threat of nuclear war. This was the one thing the world actually fixed when was a kid.

What does it matter if Russia puts up intermediate-range missiles? So their missiles could get to us faster than ours could get to them. Big whoop-de-doo. Is this a pissing contest? If they fire intermediate range missiles, we’ll fire long range ones, and maybe we’ll be dead before they are but they’re going to be just as dead. How can anyone even entertain the notion that starting up an arms race again could possibly be a good idea? I thought we all learned better than that thirty years ago!

It occurs to me that day after day after day, we’re all losing our minds about the wrong news items.

What I Learned About Myself While Traveling

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View From The Back Seat

The view from the back seat. Hard to get mountain pics from there! Mostly you get Mom. Note: I LLLLOVED this vehicle. Chrysler Pacifica, possibly a hybrid.

I learned something about myself in traveling these past two weeks. When I’m in charge of travel, I’m susceptible to some pretty strong anxiety.

I like traveling. I like experiencing the world, seeing new places. I like it a lot, in fact. But until last weekend, I didn’t realize how stressful I would find it to be The Responsible Party for a major trip—you know, airport security, anxious child, rental car, driving in a remote mountain area. Until last weekend, I hadn’t really sympathized with the stress Christian feels when we travel as a family. You know how it is—in a marriage, one person takes lead in certain areas (mine are kid logistics, meals, and family scheduling) and the other takes the lead in another. One of Christian’s areas has always been travel arrangements; I’ve always been the support personnel.

Halloween Olympics

We didn’t win these Halloween Olympic golds by ourselves, but since I didn’t warn the other 10 people on our team that I blog, I figured I wouldn’t post pics of them. 🙂

Last weekend it was just me and Nicholas. It was supposed to be a 3-hour road trip from the airport to our destination, but it ended up taking nearly five. Services signage on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is basically nonexistent. We had to just pick an exit and hope there would be food and gas there, and we ended up in a traffic snarl. Then there was the chocolate factory stop—we saw it on the Philadelphia map and since one of my goals for Nicholas on this trip was teaching him to navigate by a real map (gasp!), I had him give me directions. I was smart enough to study in advance and get a general idea of where I was going, but the map was not exactly…complete.

We found our way, but we asked a local for directions on the way out.

And lest anyone be thinking, “If you’d just follow Google”…. We had a classic Google Maps fail, too. The kind where the directions said, “Continue straight onto No-Name Road,” which didn’t exist, though there was some other road there. One-lane. Like a private drive. Turning to gravel. And then dirt. With road construction vehicles, and forest pressing in on both sides. We had to backtrack 8 miles of 25 mph mountain roads to find another route.

And of course, I don’t have a smart phone, so I couldn’t default to following the GPS. (The resort recommended not relying on GPS anyway, but I am perfectly willing to admit when it’s time for me to bow to reality; I remain a smart phone conscientious objector, but following this trip I am willing to admit that I need a phone that will allow me to buy internet minutes in order to access GPS if I get lost.)

But it’s always the getting there that causes the stress. Actually being there was…wonderful. We could not have enjoyed ourselves more. The pool, the paddleboat, the kayak, the shuffleboard, the Halloween Olympics, the food, the bumper boats…there was nothing not to like about this place. We settled in and didn’t budge all weekend. We even attended Mass virtually so we wouldn’t have to leave the property.

Poconos 2

At the end of the weekend, I wanted to spend a couple hours at Valley Forge on the way back to the airport, partly for my own sake, but mostly to add a veneer of education to taking Nicholas out of school. We made it, but we had signage issues on the Turnpike again—another Google maps fail, as they don’t give you exit numbers, only mileage amounts, and so I was looking for I-476, not the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and when the sign said “Penna Turnpike—Scranton-Harrisburg”—and NOT Philadelphia (how can they NOT HAVE PHILADELPHIA ON THAT SIGN????)—well, suffice it to say I missed the exit and blew 15 minutes getting turned around.

Somewhere on that last 30 miles down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, with traffic backing up and stopping and the minutes we had for visiting the national park ticking away, I realized that my blood pressure was sky-high and all my venting was adding considerably to my son’s anxiety levels. After that I toned it down a lot, but it made me realize how much impact my own anxiety has on other members of my family.

It also made me reconsider our approach to family trips in general. Upon coming home and hearing my stories, Christian laughed and said, “I’m kind of glad you had this experience, because now you know how I feel on trips.” We decided it was time to rethink the way we split up the duties on these trips. He has to give up some control and I have to take some responsibility—and we both have to be willing not to get mad at each other when things go wrong, as they inevitably will.

One of the things they say about travel is that it’s educational. I always knew that—I guess I just didn’t realize they meant you’d be learning about yourself.

Bucket List: Space Shuttle

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A few years ago, when NASA announced the end of the space shuttle program, my reaction was: “Nooooo!” I had always wanted to see a launch. The kids were young, and it would have been a very, very big deal to go to Cape Canaveral, but I signed up for the last three ticket lotteries and I told Christian that if we won, Alex and I were going and we had to make it work. Of course, we didn’t get tickets, and the space shuttles went into retirement, and I mourned the loss.

We’ve known for several months that Christian and I were going to be in D.C. this past weekend for the baptism of our new godson, and percolating in the back of my mind was, “Well, we’re not there to sight see, but maybe we can do one thing, and if that’s the case, I know what I want to do. I want to at least see a space shuttle!”

But I knew I needed to be available to my cousin, so it wasn’t until Friday afternoon, as I was frantically shoving groceries into the refrigerator and prepping for a mountain of cooking to keep the kids and their weekend caregiver in food while we were gone, that she called and confirmed there was time on Saturday afternoon for us all to meet out at Dulles.

Visiting the air and space museum evoked many thoughts and emotions, and I will probably process at least one more of those on this blog, but today is for the space shuttle. I’ve been a complete sucker for space as long as I can remember, from stargazing to Star Wars to E. T. and Star Trek. I nearly cried when got my bearings in the museum and caught sight of the nose cone peeking from the space wing.

Throughout the afternoon, whenever my cousin and her husband needed to take care of the baby or the preschooler, I returned to that hangar to marvel, to try to memorize what it felt like to inhabit the same place.

I thought I was prepared for the size, but I wasn’t. It was so big. When I finally made it around to the back and the main engines, it was hard to process that what I was seeing were the small engines, compared to the boosters that take center stage during liftoff.

And then, it didn’t look like I expected it to look. From a distance, on a launch pad, on touchdown, the shuttles looked black and white, but up close most of that black is gray, the tiles fading as they get older. And the patchwork of small panels contains lots of text—each tile unique to that specific spot.

The white siding looks not like ceramic or painted metal, as I’d expected, but like…potholders.

Up close, the space shuttle looks like it’s made of papier mache. The tips of the wings reminded me of those fold-up cars they give the kids at Steak and Shake. And this is what went to space!

Look at those vertical tiles below the engine. Doesn’t that look like cardboard????

I crashed three different docent tours over the course of the afternoon, learning new things every time. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

New bucket list: someday, get to see the inside of one.