Running Away – And Coming Home
July 3rd, 2016
My oldest daughter ran away from home for the first time last weekend. She packed a bag and everything. She was playing outside when a once-friendly game of bean bag toss with her little brother turned ugly and she declared that she had had ENOUGH of this family. She stomped off down the street, returning about thirty seconds later.
I thought the storm had passed, but no, she had simply decided she needed provisions if she was striking out on her own. She slammed into the house and reappeared after five minutes with a well-stocked backpack over her shoulder. (I later discovered it contained a stuffed animal, a flashlight, a bag of strawberries, a popsicle, a pair of scissors, a book of Sudoku puzzles, a pen, and – inexplicably – a giant bag of rubber bands.) She set off again at a determined pace, while I watched in bemusement from my lawn chair.
Lest you think I’m a terrible parent, let me say here that we live in a very safe neighborhood surrounded by friends and I had visual contact on her at all times. She went about six houses down the street before slowing and ultimately returning. She climbed into my lap and tearfully confided that she really felt like our family would be better off with fewer brothers.
The incident made me smile for its amazing adherence to sit-com stereotypes. She could have been a character out of any coming of age story. But it also made me a bit sad. It’s hard to see your child walk away from you in anger convinced, even if only for a few minutes, that she doesn’t want to be part of your family anymore. And even though she wasn’t directly angry at me, my daughter initially saw me as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
It’s a tough summer for my high-emotion girl. Her dad and I are getting a divorce. It’s as caring and respectful a separation as anyone could hope for, but her world just doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to anymore. Her younger brother and sister are processing the news in their own ways (her sister by forgetting she’s potty trained – yippee!), but my oldest is the only one of the three who truly understands what’s going on.
So she gets mad. And sad. Often at the same time. She’s full of emotions she doesn’t know what to do with and she’s struggling with a problem she can’t solve. I can totally relate. I’m thirty-four and it’s too much for me at times. She’s seven and she’s doing the best she can. Sometimes that means she’s clingy and needy. Sometimes that means she needs to hole up in her room with a book for a couple hours. And sometimes that means her instinct is to throw her favorite stuffed animal into a backpack and run away.
It hurt to see her go, but she came back to me and we talked it through. I agreed that brothers were a pain sometimes and offered to play a round of bean bags with her, vowing not to cheat as her devious sibling allegedly had. We ate the popsicle from her bag before it melted and put her stuffed animal back in her bed. It won’t be the last hard day, I’m sure. But we’ll keep tackling the challenges with hugs and popsicles and I think we’ll make it through.