“Daddy, I’m going on an adventure.”
It seemed like a harmless enough announcement.
When my five year old daughter Siena asked my hubby Matt to help her pack a backpack with a flashlight, food, water, and a sleeping bag, maybe it should have raised a red flag. But it didn’t. Siena was a frequent explorer and our big country property has plenty to explore without signaling danger. Matt assumed they would be exploring locally. Siena apparently had global aspirations.
Matt told Siena she wouldn’t be needing the sleeping bag, but helped her pack the rest of her supplies. Siena then grabbed her sidekick friend and the two of them headed into the backyard for their little adventure. When a third friend wanted to join them about five minutes later, Matt offered to help her track them down.
He called for them. He searched in all their usual hiding places. Then he came and got me, and we scoured the perimeter.
The realization sunk in. If Siena and her friend weren’t on our property, where were they?
Siena has never left home before. Surely she wouldn’t have gone up the big road, down the stairs, and across another big road to the community center, where there’s a playground. I looked. She wasn’t there.
Surely she wouldn’t venture out onto Highway 1 and go traipsing down the coastal highway like a little hippie hitchhiker. I checked it out. No Siena.
Then we got a call. Our neighbor Harvey had seen Siena and her friend crossing over their property, which was WAY past the community center and down the block. When questioned by Harvey, Siena explained that hers was a sanctioned adventure. Her Daddy knew, and he was okay with it. Harvey bought it at first and let her plod off on her journey. But on further reflection, Harvey had second thoughts, prompting his call.
We raced down to Harvey’s house, but it was too late. Siena was long gone. Harvey’s six year old daughter pointed down the hill. “She went that way.”
We decided we needed to call in the troops. As a member of the volunteer fire department in our small coastal California town, Harvey knew how to rally the neighborhood. Within five minutes, we had about 40 people in a full blown search party combing the streets. From every corner, we could hear our neighbors yelling, “SIENA!”
But no luck.
Finally, I said, “Has anyone checked the beach?”
Everyone shook their heads, looking at me like I was crazy. Surely, no child would walk a mile down a steep hill, across five roads, over a crazily trafficked parking lot filled with Highway 1 tourists, to get to the grand Pacific.
But this is MY daughter we’re talking about. The sun was setting. I started running.
As I ran, I realized that I should feel afraid. Horrible images should be coursing through my mind, images of Siena and her friend abducted or hit by a car or lost in the wilderness after dark. And yet, I wasn’t afraid. I was filled with an adrenaline-spiked sense of calm and peace and safety. I knew angels were watching the girls and that everything would be okay in the end. And that if my sense of peace was wrong, I could be afraid when there was something tangible to fear. Until then, I just kept breathing. And running, until I crossed the bridge over the river and made it to the sandy beach.
The good news is that I found Siena and her friend having a picnic on the beach. The bad news is that the National Park Service ranger found her first, and I was suddenly in a whole heap o’ trouble. Words like “child endangerment” and “reckless neglect” and “Child Protective Services” were getting thrown around as I wrapped my brain around what was happening. Without a second to process what was going down, I focused on my daughter, who started sobbing the minute the park ranger said she wouldn’t let me take the kids home.
While Siena cried, a neighbor filled me in. She had seen the girls heading down the hill unattended, and something just didn’t seem right, so she followed them. When she caught them at the beach, she asked where they were going and Siena said, “First Sausalito, then China.” Asked how she was going to get to China, Siena said, “The ferry.”
Now, Sausalito is a 20 minute windy Highway 1 car ride from where we live, so the neighbor figured something was fishy. When she pushed for more deets, Siena explained that her Daddy knew she was going to China, and it was okay.
That is when the neighbor called the park ranger.
Long story short, the kids were finally released into our care without CPS involvement, but not until after the ranger issued us a $275 ticket.
Matt now feels duly chastised for condoning said "adventure" without asking Siena to be more specific about what it entailed. And I wound up having very mixed feelings about what happened.
Part of me is so freakin' proud that I've raised a fearless five year old. Clearly, she has no "Stranger Danger" fears, no fear of cars, no fear of getting in trouble, and certainly no fear of adventure. Another part is trying to figure out how to be a responsible parent who keeps my kid safe while also keeping her adventurous spirit open so she doesn't suddenly associate adventure with cops, frightened parents, tears, and punishment.
How does one raise a fearless adventurer without winding up endangering their child and getting in trouble with the powers that be? Oh, to know the answer...
We’ll start with celebrating Siena’s adventurous spirit. She’s not getting punished for her grand adventure, because I honestly believe she thought Matt gave her permission. But you can be sure we’ll be teaching her the boundaries of exactly where she’s allowed to wander unattended and where she will require adult supervision, at least for a few more years. And I’ll definitely be saving the receipt from the $275 ticket. I’ll give it to her when she graduates from high school and tell her it was money well spent to raise such a brave, courageous, independent soul.
With my daughter safely snuggled into her bed, I found myself pondering what would happen if more people lived the way my daughter does. What if we all had dreams to realize, a good friend to share the journey, a small backpack of basic supplies, and absolutely no fear? I sincerely believe we’d all be healthier, and certainly we’d be happier. Just imagine if every day was a new adventure instead of some grind you have to slog through - again.
Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you take with you? Tell us about YOUR adventure.
Trying to live fearlessly, even when my daughter disappears,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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