Perception is NOT reality

My young son, mentioned previously, reminded me last night of another story I keep forgetting to tell you.

He reminded me, as I lay him down in his twin bed, tucked him in, sang him a song, and promised to come back after reading to his sister, about this time I did not come back to check on him. In fact, he reminded me, I left him alone in the house for a very long time; a very long time while I was at the bus top. Did I remember that? he asked. Yes, I replied, I did.

My daughter was in first grade, last year, and I had my tiny three year old son at home with me. He fell asleep in my bed during nap time, one of my favorite memories of our times at home in the afternoons. He slept so well I did not want to wake him at 3:15pm when the bus normally comes around the turn to drop off my daughter.

We were new at this routine. I was working at home, my daughter was in a new school (elementary!) and my son was still young enough to need naps and home time and not preschool every day.

We were also new enough to the neighborhood that nobody really knew us yet.

We live on a fairly steep hill without a sidewalk, too steep for my liking to send my oldest born to or from the bus stop a quarter mile away on her own. I watched the clock near the time of her arrival and panicked as my tiny son remained still, breathing heavily, slightly sweaty in bed. I could not arouse him, aren’t we taught that? The creed of every parent? DO NOT WAKE THE CHILD. I did not dare.

But as the bus came closer, I knew I had a decision to make: Leave the youngest to meet the older one at the bus stop? Or wait at the top of our hill here, at my driveway, for her to come to me?

I stood at the driveway at 3:10. I watched. I waited. My young son slept.

Near 3:30 I begane to panic. I walked to the bus stop to look for the other children wondering if I’d miss the bus’s arrival. I waited and waited, glancing up to the house every few minutes and back around the corner for signs of the other children. I saw nothing.

Fifteen more minutes drew on. The bus is sometimes late but never, surely, THIS late. I ran up the hill toward my house in fear. Did I miss the bus? How long had my tiny young son been sleeping alone? Had my daughter tried to walk up before I was out there, surely five minutes or more before I needed to be, and been picked up by a stranger?

It was a no win situation and lose I did. My tiny son sat, bawling, at the bottom of the stairs. “I did not find you!” he wailed when I rushed back in the house. “Oh, buddy, oh buddy, you were asleep. I went to pick up your sister. Oh I was right here for so long, here, at the bottom of the driveway. I was here, waiting for your sister, letting you sleep, safe in our house. Oh, buddy.” He sobbed and explained his fears. “You were gone! I looked every where!” No, I was here, I was here. I was thinking of you, I was watching the house, I was waiting for your sister, I was….

It did not matter. To my son I had abandoned him. I grabbed him, hugged him, and decided one thing must have happened: My daughter walked to her friend’s house without telling me.

After comforting my son, crying alongside him, and reassuring him I would never ever truly leave him, we got in the car and went the three-quarter mile to our friend’s house where I was hoping my daughter would be. My heart raced at the thought of anything else as my traumatized son sat in his car seat kicking happily at the back seat sucking on a sippy cup of milk.

She was there, I found out, at the table, eating a snack and playing. I was furious and relieved. I was heart broken and happy. I could not believe an afternoon of “being with the children” could have turned out so wrong. I gathered her up, telling her to always come home, I will be here, if I do not say otherwise. That I had waited at our driveway for twenty minutes and the bus stop for fifteen. “Oh,” she shrugged, “we were early.”

That day I struggled as a working mom who wanted to be with her children that afternoon. I wanted my son to sleep. I wanted my daughter to be safe on the road to our house. I wanted to be here for them both and instead I failed. My son, to this day apparently, reminds me of this trauma and I know, for a fact, the other mothers in our neighborhood see this as a failure of parenting. How could I not have been on time to meet my daughter? What is it that I could possibly do that was more important than being there for her at the bus stop?

I think of this as my son, a year and a half later, reminds me how I left him. This, I think, this is why I did not get to the bus earlier. This is why I look like a bad mother: because I had a tiny boy sleeping in my bed and I hoped beyond hope to not have to leave him alone. This, I think, is the conversation I hoped to avoid. “No, buddy” I reassure, “I will always come back for you. I promise.”

And I always have.

Posted: 6/4/2012