I looked out the kitchen window and saw my 4 year old daughter standing at the side of the street. She had a wicker basket in her arm. Her head turned slowly, looking up and down the street. Her naturally-curly, strawberry-blonde locks were being bounced gently by the cool fall breeze. She seemed to be weighing her options and the decision to cross was clearly a difficult one.
I left the kitchen window with as much speed as I could muster and closed the gap between us. She looked up at me with a mixture of concern and relief. “What’s up, Emily?” I asked breathlessly.
“Nothing.” She wasn’t very convincing.
“Are you going some where?” I nodded toward her basket which I now noticed was covered with her favorite blanket. She looked me straight in the eye and for a moment we connected in a way that happens very seldom. I knew, right then and there, she was going to be honest with me. She wasn’t going to try to play any games. She wasn’t going to hide the truth. She had my attention and she knew it.
“I’m going to run away.” I wanted to laugh and at the same time I wanted to cry. I must not blink. I must not blink.
“Really? Where are you going?” I must not blink. I must not blink.
“France.” I blinked.
I learned from my 4 year old that her decision to leave was not due to discontent. She wasn’t unhappy. She didn’t hate her family. She simply wanted to travel and see the world and she had decided she’d better get started. How can you argue with that?
I asked if she had packed any food or clothes for the journey and she showed me the contents of her basket; a baby doll, a towel, a stuffed dog with its puppies, and a book. I explained the importance of having the right items for any trip. Food was essential. She might also want a coat. I led her back inside and helped her make some peanut butter sandwhiches. We left the stuffed dog and made room for the new items and we were off together, hand in hand, walking down the street, heading for France.
As we walked, I asked some pretty important questions. How do you plan to get to France? Where will you sleep? What will you do for food? She admitted that she hadn’t worked out all the details but she would find a way when the time came.
It was a cloudy day and I suggested that she should have brought an umbrella. She thought she should go back home for one. Shaking my head, I reached into my pocket and dug out a wrinkled $5 bill. “Buy one when you get to Fort Wayne. There’s no sense in going back home now.” She wasn’t encouraged by my generosity.
I explained that I would not be able to make the entire trip to France. In fact, I probably could only walk her to the edge of town but I wished her well and asked her to write. Given the fact that she was only four, I didn’t hold out much hope for this.
We were several blocks from our house and I thought this might be a good place to say our good-byes. “I’m certainly going to miss you.” I said. “But I understand. Promise you will call when you get to France.”
“I will.” No emotion at all. She was a rock.
“Good-bye.” I hugged her tight. “I’ll tell your mom you love her.”
“Okay. Thanks. Good-bye.” Confident and self-sure, she turned and headed south toward Fort Wayne as I turned and headed back toward home. My heart was about to beat out of my chest.
At the corner, I slipped behind a large maple and watched. Emily kept walking. She didn’t stop. I began to worry that I might have to follow this kid all the way to France, hiding behind maple trees all the way. But after a half a block it hit her. Her pace began to slow and 30 steps later she came to a stop. She turned and looked back. I stayed put. Tears blurred my vision and my heartbeat quickened.
Her feet wouldn’t move forward and she looked back up the street one more time. I could hear my heart beating in my ears as I stepped out from behind the tree and walked slowly toward her. Her feet were moving again and she walked toward me with her head held high. There was no shame in coming home. This was not defeat, simply a change of mind. She would travel to France another time.
We embraced and we cried. I kissed her curls and held her close. I got down on my knees and looked at her through tear filled eyes. My voice was tight and it quivered as I spoke. “Emily, I will never keep you from going but I sure am glad you decided to stay.”
We lingered there on Main Street for quite a while, hugging and crying. Eventually, we made our way a little further down the road to the icecream shop. We shared one of her peanut butter sandwhiches and a chocolate milkshake she bought with that wrinkled $5 bill. It was quite a homecoming feast.