I stared out over the sea of the soccer complex across the street from our house, young athletes and referees on the field, spectators lining the edge, so many camp chairs, blankets, people. Beyond that was a playground, where our babysitter had been playing with the kids, where Emily, our daughter with Downs syndrome, was supposed to be. I was cleaning house, when the other four kids and their horrified sitter exploded through our front door, “We can’t find Emily!” Adrenaline kicked in. “Where are you, baby?” My desperate plea went out into the ether. The world had never seemed so infinite. Our frantic search was quickly over. Emily was happily sharing a blanket, goldfish crackers, and a juice box with a very nice and understanding family, “She came up, sat down, and began to chat. We figured that her family wouldn’t be far behind her. I hope you don’t mind that we gave her a snack. Emily, is it? Emily is adorable. No trouble at all. A joy to know her!” I was feeling a failure at this point. Embarrassed, relieved, and grateful, I thanked them and took my wayward child by the hand. One of her tiny hands clutched a snack bag of goldfish crackers and a juice box, the other safely within my own. I admonished her, “Emily, you can not leave the house without telling someone. It’s not safe for you to be out without a grownup.” I’m certain my words were lost on her. She had learned that joining the excitement across the street was great fun, meeting new people, including refreshments. Wonderful.
That incident, not too long in the past, was not forgotten when I called the neighbor girl over to watch the kids. I was sure to have her come early enough so that I could shower and get ready without panicking as I lathered rinsed and repeated. I was wrong, “MOM! We can’t find Emily!” The sitter looked as horrified as I felt, “We can’t see her outside, and she’s not in the house.” I understood her hope to not have to tell me that my most vulnerable child was lost. I dialed 911 immediately as I stared out over the soccer complex and the wide expanse of a four or five block radius I could see plainly from our window. Baby where are you? I honestly don’t remember what was said, until the operator finally said, “I think we’ve found her. She wandered over to this apartment complex. A couple found her. They gave her pizza and the officers are on their way to get her. She’s safe.” Only Emily! How on earth did you get so far away without coming to harm? I came back to the operator with, “That has to be eight blocks from here! She had to cross streets! I’m so relieved!” Emily happily exited the patrol car. Why not? She’s had the time of her life today and I can’t use any of this to teach her to be safe. Emily’s big adventure was a hit with both she and her siblings.
Oh no, it doesn’t end there. She ran off in a campground where several adults were present and no one saw a thing. She’s a fricken ninja! We all searched frantically getting camp guards involved. And again, she was having snacks at the campfire of complete strangers, awesome new friends to her as she waved and said, “See ya later!” “Emily, strangers with food are not your friends. They aren’t safe! You must stay with your family at all times!” It was hard not to be a little bit amused as she described the snacks, as if to rate their hospitality. They surely failed by comparison to the fine hosts who fed her pizza. I mean, goldfish crackers and the juice box certainly did. Whatever the fare had been at the campfire with her new friends was still worthy of mention. Emily then proceeded to name each person in our camping party asking one at a time, “Is it safe to go with Maggie?” “Yes, Emily, that’s fine.” “What about Pudgy?” she wondered. “Emily, Pudgy is way younger than you. OK, stay with the adults in our family.” And then she began to question what an adult consisted of. “Is Maggie a adult?” “No, Emily, Maggie is not and adult,” “But you said it’s ok to go with her.” You’re killin me kid! So, I made a very short list of specific people, hoping to put this to rest. She began with, “What about…” and I cut her off, “Oookey, bedtime. No more questions. Please, baby, no more wandering off by yourself. I love you so much! Do you know how much? She spread her arms as wide as she could. “Yes, baby. THAT much.”
When Emily was in highschool, I reluctantly agreed to having staff working with her on riding the city bus. She volunteered at a nursing home nearby once a week, helping with bingo. With staff present,She learned the route, knew her stop. Eventually the day came when her teacher and I were confident she could fly solo. Of course, Emily was all about flying solo. All went well for weeks, until it didn’t. She missed her stop, and instead of telling the driver, she got off at the next stop. I felt panic and anger as the teacher made, what I know to be, the last phone call a special ed teacher ever wants to make, informing me that our very vulnerable daughter was missing. Emily explained later that she thought she could find her way back to the highschool. Her grandfather was driving along and suddenly spotted Emily walking past a golf course and, yes, headed in the direction of her school. He picked her up, and gave one of his famous and colorful admonishments to her. I wish I could remember the words, but they’ve escaped me. Once again, she was safe.This time she was also very afraid. FINALLY!
YES, I do believe in God. I also believe that he has deployed legions of angels throughout Emily’s lifetime to surround and protect her. There were certainly rotations to avoid burnout. It was a full-time job, and I believe there were at least a dozen working in shifts. I’ve no doubt that it has been exhausting, amusing at times, and that they all fell in love with our precious and precocious little lost lamb. I have no idea if angels read blogs, but shout out to every one of you and the God who never took His eyes off of Emily for a single second. Thank You.