I’ve had an EXTREMELY light schedule since I came back to work. This is in part by design and also due to cancellations for testing. I usually have only about one cancellation a year for my testing services but as fate would have it, I’ve had one per week for the last two weeks, which is extra stinging since I haven’t been making any money due to my medical leave. Nonetheless, I have been trying to treat the extra time as a precious resource rather than a source of disappointment and anxiety. Consequently, I took a walk this morning around the neighborhood.

My walking route was not set but I knew that a visit to the coffee shop, Bird on the Wire would be in the earlier part of the walk. On the way to the coffee shop, I saw two girls, one about 9 and the other about 5,  waiting for the school bus. It was busy at Bird so I was there for awhile. When I left, I saw that the girls had walked to the street corner. I said, “Good morning, girls.” The older girl’s face started falling ever so slightly. “Are you okay?” I asked. Then Ashley (not her real name), the older girl crumbled into full on cry face. “We missed the bus. We need to be at school. We’re trying to walk there. We are lost.”

I tried to calm them down and found out that they were sisters and that they were responsible for getting themselves out the door on time in the morning. This morning they decided to watch a movie and they lost track of the time. I asked Ashley if she knew her parents’ phone number. “No and I don’t have my phone. They took it away and I have to pick up dog poop to get it back!” (I sure hope those parents give that girl her cell back if they are going to put her in charge of getting she and her sister to school every day.) I asked if she knew where she lived. Both girls gave me directions but I couldn’t really follow them. Then Ashley said, “We can’t go home. Our parents told us it is our job to get to school on time.” I explained that their parents would want them to be safe and not trying to walk all of the way to their school (this is what they were trying to do and they didn’t know the way). Ashley also asked, “Do you have a car?” I told her that I did but that although I would never hurt them, their parents would not want them to take a ride with a stranger.

Both girls felt terribly that they would be breaking a rule by being late to school. The kindergartener, Kelsey (not her real name), said “I’m going to be on the lowest part of the teacher’s chart!” Her sister, felt more responsible being the older girl. “My teacher is going to be mad at me for being late. I’m in 4th grade!” (Many kids live in fear of 4th grade. There’s a big emphasis on being responsible.) I tried to reassure them that I thought their teachers would be understanding. Their distress was heartbreaking and charmingly earnest and innocent all at once. At one point, the little one started jumping around a little, playing and her sister said, “You’re not supposed to play. We did something wrong!”

This is when I realized that I had encountered myself at ages 5 and 9. About two minutes after asking the questions about where they lived, etc., I said, “I have a better idea. I’ll call your school.” As I dialed, little Kelsey said to herself, “I hope they answer, I hope they answer.” I talked to the receptionist who put me on the phone with the principal, Christy Collins. Christy and I know each other from work I’ve done professionally with some of the students at the school. She is a relatively new principal to that school and she is terrific. We arranged for me to wait with the kids while she drove to pick them up. Even when I told the kids that Ms. Collins was going to pick them up, they were still a bit unsettled. Ashley kept saying, “I feel so lost.” Kelsey said, “I wish I could fly in the sky so I could see where our school is.” The girls looked happier when Christy picked them up. I explained to her that they were very afraid of getting into “big trouble” and that Ashley was taking her responsibility as the older sister very seriously. Christy thanked me and they went on their way to school.

The girls weren’t literally lost. They’d really only walked about 10 yards from the bus stop. There were people around to help. But they felt lost. It turned out they were new to Seattle and had moved from a rural town, which is quite a bit north of here. Kelsey informed me, “We moved here so I could go to kindergarten.” She had also told me that she’d gone to preschool and when I asked where she told me that she was “home schooled” for preschool. I told her that I had also been “home schooled” for preschool. (I didn’t go to preschool.) I’m wondering whether she thought there were no kindergartens in in her town.

There have been times in my life when I felt lost when I really wasn’t. When the cogs in my brain churn away at anxiety so ceaselessly that it is hard not to feel that something is horribly amiss and that I can’t see away to fix it. These can be risky times as well. Like the girls, who were so afraid of getting in trouble for not getting to school, my brain can get so focused on the subject of my anxiety that I can minimize the risks of other decisions. My guess is that Ashley had been told many times not to get a ride with a stranger but she felt so panicked about the situation and not carrying out her “big sister” responsibilities that she lost sight of the bigger picture. I was glad to have been able to help these girls, to help them problem solve, to stay safe, and to remind them not to ride with strangers! I don’t feel lost now but I may feel that way again sometime in the future and I will try to remember these girls, that I can solve many problems and when I can’t, I can ask for help.