Yesterday when Atticus and I were leaving the house to pick up Sprout and Jem I decided to go barefoot because we were just driving a few blocks over to fetch them and who needs shoes, right? Today I have burns and some missing skin on the bottom of my feet because it turned out that I DID need shoes on a 98 degree day because sometimes emergencies crop up and I need to be able to walk on tarmac that is hot enough to fry an egg.
You live, you learn, but it isn’t the fact that I have the burns that matters — it’s the story behind them.
Our local elementary school is overcrowded, which means that when school dismissed at 3 we would sit in line for an hour and a half before we could retrieve the boys. It was too long to make them wait so Atticus and I decided we would have the boys walk from the school, cross the street with the crossing guard, and enter a large housing development where we would be waiting to pick them up. I felt okay doing this because from a cul-de-sac would could clearly see the boys leave the school and watch them while they were walking.
Yesterday I noticed that someone else was walking with them and the three boys trotted along together all the way to our car. When they came up to my window Sprout introduced me to Dillon, Jem’s friend from his kindergarten class. I said hello to the little boy who looked as hot and tired as my two sons.
“Can I come home with you until my mommy picks me up?” he asked.
“You can come visit any time, Dillon, but I can’t take you home when your mommy is coming to get you. Are you walking home or is she coming to pick you up here?”
“She picks me up.”
“Does she pick you up right here? We’ll wait with you.”
“No, I have to walk home and I don’t know where it’s at.” He looked a bit frightened.
“Do you live near here? Do you know your address, hon?” Dillon rattled off a street address I’d never heard before. “Do you usually walk home?”
“No, but today I have to.”
“Honey, who told you that you had to walk home?”
“At school they told me to walk home, but I don’t know how.” I could see the anxiety on his face. I decided to call the school office and the secretary asked me to bring him back to the school. When I told Dillon I needed him to get in our car so I could take him back to the school to call his mom, the relief was evident on his face and he climbed right into our car.
At the school, I hop/jogged my way in bare feet over the boiling tarmac to the administration building only to turn around and see Dillon running to a car in the parking lot, so I gingerly hop/jogged over to the car and asked the woman in the car if she was his mommy. She was grandma, so I explained that we had found Dillon in a local housing development a few blocks away. She was horrified and thanked me for bringing him back.
By the time I made it back to our vehicle I knew I’d majorly burned the bottoms of my feet but I was so glad Dillon was safe and back where he was supposed to be. I praised Jem for being a good friend and watching out for Dillon. He told me that when they were dismissed from class Dillon didn’t know where to go so Jem told him just to follow them. My innocent five-year-old had no idea that not everyone walks home the same route he does — he just wanted to help Dillon feel secure.
All evening until Jem went to bed, he kept coming to me, hugging me, and telling me he loves me. I reviewed with him our own safety plan about leaving school or riding with strangers because that incident really scared me.
It turns out the kindergarten had a substitute teacher who must have mistakenly sent Dillon, the car-rider, home as a walker.
“It’s a good thing you told Dillon to follow you so we could help him,” I told Jem as he said goodnight.
“I said follow me ’cause I knew you’d help him find his house.”
As scary as it is to me that Dillon was so willing to talk to and depend on a stranger (me), and to get into my car, I’m glad that Dillon understood that I’m a mommy and that mommy=safety. I am touched and humbled that my Jem’s immediate reaction was ‘mommy will know what to do’.
This could have ended very differently or very badly for Dillon, but it turned out okay. I don’t care about the burned feet because we helped a lost boy find his way.
And this is my hope: if ever one of my children is lost and trying to find direction there will be someone who senses they need help and will offer assistance and keep them safe while they make their way home.
Let’s look out for one another out there — it’s so easy to wander off.