“I ran away once and you didn’t even notice,” one of my children told me accusingly.
It brought back a flood of memories.
I ran away once. Slighted once too often by my siblings, unappreciated by my parents — I knew it was the only thing I could do. So I put a loaf of bread in my backpack, along with a flashlight, a jacket, and a pack of matches, and headed up the hill behind our house.
The first bit was steep and prickly with wild raspberry bushes. I huffed with exertion and didn’t stop to enjoy a single berry.
I hiked past the little spring-house that had been the source of water for the house before my parents dug a well.
Finally I reached a grassy knoll and sat down to rest.
I waited for someone to come looking for me. Surely someone would notice I was gone.
I waited, imagining the shock and the worry. My mother would ask each sibling, “Have you seen Sally?” and the worry would grow.
They would look all around the house and the barns. She’d probably make Peter or Jimmy climb into the hayloft to see if I was there.
But they wouldn’t find me.
The tall grass on the hill was perfect for putting between my thumbs and whistling — but I stopped myself. Someone would hear it. Then they would know where I was.
The grassy knoll, it turned out, was also an ant hill so I moved to a little mossy spot near a tree.
I pulled out my loaf of bread and ate a slice — not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. Plain bread is also boring, I discovered. I wished I had brought a jar of peanut butter. I put the bread away because I knew it would have to last me at least a week.
As I started to stretch out in the moss for a little rest, I nearly placed my hand in a pile of animal droppings. Abruptly I sat up again. Hugging my knees, I started to cry. Surely I was the most unloved child ever.
But down the hill was my house.
And my family.
And my dog.
And our passel of cats.
I climbed to my feet and headed back.
My mother was working in the garden, picking beans or peas.
“I ran away,” I announced to her as I got closer, “and you didn’t even notice.”
She straightened up and looked at me. “You need to be gone more than 20 minutes if you want me to notice,” she said.
And she went back to work.
All that passed through my mind when my own child told me about running away.
I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t repeat my mother’s words.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Child with suitcase and backpack from Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, illustrated by Jack E. Davis
Plants from a broken pop-up book