The other night I took my 6 year old son Aiden to his
basketball practice at the local Y. His
3 year old sister desperately wanted to come and “cheer.” Sydney hates to be left behind and she often reminds me, “Daddy, I’m your little girl and I go everywhere with you.” I relented and said that she could
come as long as she promised to ‘stay with Daddy.’ She
quickly agreed and off we went.
While Aiden practiced Syd and I wandered around the huge complex. She talked with all kinds of people. Syd’s first assumption is
that you are a possible friend just waiting for a chat. “What’s
your name?” “Do you play basketball?” “My brother is playing basketball.” “Do you
have a brother?” “I get to go with my Dad everywhere!” She eventually
found a special ‘little girl.’ “Dad, this is my new friend, she’s only
2 though, her name is Cassie.” Soon Sydney and Cassie were racing up and down the sidelines, cheering,
spinning and chasing each other. Wherever Syd went Cassie went, around and around the gym, back and forth
to the water fountain. Making snow angels on the gym floor. They had a great time.
When the practice ended I helped Aiden collect his coat and
water bottle and change into his street shoes. When we finished I looked around
to tell Syd that it was time to go but I couldn’t see her. I looked near the
water fountain – no Syd. Something icy
started growing quickly in my stomach. Where could she be? I started asking
people, Yes, they all remembered her. No,
they hadn’t seen her leave. Our nice
family night was turning into a nightmare. I was
getting frantic. I grabbed Aiden’s hand and
jerked him along as I raced down the hallway, looking through the glass into the
swimming pool, peering down the hallways and yelling her name. “Syd?, Sydney? Sydney Rae? SYDNEY RAY MCMILLAN!!!"
After a few seconds that felt like many minutes, I looked towards the entrance
and saw a tall man pointing out to the street. I sprinted outside yanking Aiden along, and there she was – following
Cassie’s family across the busy street. I grabbed her and hugged her so fiercely she squawked. She just looked up at me with her big brown
eyes, innocent, slightly bewildered.
I told her what! I
began to bawl her using the mantra of questions that parents have asked their
children for generations, “What were you
thinking? I thought I told you to stay
with me? You scared me half to death! That
was an awful, bad, wrong,naughty and not good thing to do!” I picked her up, carried her to the van, threw
her in and continued my tirade. My fear
had turned to anger and it need expression! Aiden loves it when his sister gets in trouble and so like a black
congregant he encouraged me from the back seat with “Yeah Dad.” “Right on Dad“ “Yeah Syd that was really bad.” By the time we got to our subdivision we had a pretty good rhythm going.
When we arrived at the house the fear had settled and the
anger had wound down. I had a meeting to
get to and so left the kids with my wife to put the kids to bed. I wasn’t sure that Syd had gotten the message, but mostly
I was just thankful that she was okay.
I didn’t think much more about it. Syd did.
At 2:37 AM she came to my side of the bed and said, “Dad I
need a puke bucket” She knows that gets
me out of bed quick. I grabbed a bucket from the washroom,
followed her to her room and set it beside her bed.
“Thanks Dad.” I
got up to go but she quickly grabbed my arm.
“Dad?” Her brown eyes got big
once again, there was no sleepiness, only a kind of intensity. It was as if she had
been thinking the words through and she really wanted to make sure I understood. Innocence mixed with a kind of uncertain questioning. Fear mixed with
“I’m sorry I ran away
from you today.”
“I forgive you.”
A slight smile, “Good night Dad.”
“Good night Syd.”
She closed her eyes and was almost instantly asleep.
I sat at the edge of her bed for a long time watching her
breathe. I thought about longing to go everywhere with your Dad and how the possibility of that ending gets into your dreams, makes you feel sick, wakes you up. I thought about forgiveness, reconciliation and peaceful sleep.
Then I picked up the puke bucket, went back to bed and fell asleep.