losing my children

I was six or seven years old and shopping at a local department store with my Mom.  Although I was plenty old enough to know better, I climbed into the middle of a round clothes rack and crouched down by the floor.  My sister and I had decided to play hide-and-seek while my Mom shopped.  I can still hear the panic in my Mom’s voice as screamed out my first, middle, AND last name.  Eventually I decided that making my Mom calm down was more important than not being found my sister.  I recall a very tight grip on my arm as I was dragged walked out the door and across the parking lot.

The first time the reality of what my Mom experienced that day hit me was when my oldest daughter was three years old.  She had walked out the back door, across the common area behind our house, and was playing on a swing in a neighbor’s yard when I found her.  She also happened to be naked.  I had put her in the bathtub and went to the kitchen to work on dinner. As I gripped her arm tightly for the walk home she explained to me that she “couldn’t stay in the tub because that swing was so fun.”

In the brief moments between finding the bathtub empty and the backdoor open and then hearing her laugh from a hundred yards away, I could barely breathe.  My heart was in my stomach.  Or my throat.  I really can’t remember which.  It was just a horrible, horrible feeling.

What I did not know that day, is that a few years later I would be parenting two children with autism.  Children with autism wander.  Maybe not all of them, but many do.  Including mine.

In the last twelve years I have experienced the kind of panic that I was quite certain would stop  my heart.  I have lost my children for more than a few brief moments.  Sofija doesn’t just wander.  She runs.  Fast.  And… she doesn’t look back.

Every time I hear of a missing autistic child, it’s really hard for me to breathe.  Seriously.  REALLY HARD for me to breathe.  I feel the panic that mother is feeling.  I hug my babies tight and I pray hard that they never wander away from me again.

Last week a little girl named Mikaela wandered away from home.  Mikaela did not come home.  She will never come home.  My friend Lexi wrote an amazing post today that contains a link to a place to show some love to Mikaela’s family.  Please read it and pay attention.  Statistics say that there is a child in your life with autism.  They might be your neighbor, your niece, your nephew, a child at your church, or simply someone you see at the grocery store.  I’m asking you to keep your eyes open.  We live in a society where technology consumes our attention and makes it really easy to ignore what’s going on around us.  I’m just asking that you pay a little more attention and intervene if you see someone wandering.  Your action might just be the difference between life and death.

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