Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Empty Bed, or Sneak-out of 2009

The following is a very long post, and it actually happened to us, the Strings, this past Friday, October 2nd.

4:50 a.m. “You Call 911.”
Monkeyrotica (whom I’ll call Joe for the rest of this post) woke me up, suddenly, with urgency.

“Rosie’s gone,” he said.

Still mostly asleep, I didn’t respond.
“She’s not in her bed, she’s not in the house. Help me look for her.”
Blearily, I responded, “She’s probably hiding somewhere. You know, in the closet or under the bed. I’ll check in her usual spots.” I got out of bed, now a little worried.
“No. The front door was open,” Joe told me. “We always latch it before bed, why would it be open?” He was freaked. I started to get cold all over with a lump in my stomach.

I looked in her room, in her bed. Dash was still sleeping on his side of the double bed, but on her side, there was no Rosie. Instead, there was one of her blankets loosely covering several small pillows, arranged to look like a prone body in bed. This scene convinced me that her leave-taking was premeditated, that she was not abducted. My rising anxiety came down a notch. Several high-profile childnapping cases have made the news, and while I’m certain abductions are rare, they do happen and they make good money for the news media, working on the emotions of parents who can’t stop reading the dramatic, terrifying stories. One of a parent’s worst fears is to lose a child. I was terrified.

Joe grabbed a flashlight and went outside to search around the house, calling her name in case she was hiding in the bushes or playing with toys in the backyard. I did the same, inside, looking in closets, the basement, bathtub, under beds. She sometimes hides on us, well past it being a fun game, so I hoped she was just playing an overused trick on us. Dash was awake, so I asked him, “Did Rosie tell you that she was going somewhere, sweetie?” “No,” he answered, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Joe came back inside.

“I’m going to take the car and drive around the neighborhood. You call 911,“ he directed, then walked outside.

5:07 a.m. “What Was Your Daughter Wearing?”
“What is the nature of your emergency?” the 911 dispatcher asked.
“My daughter isn’t in the house,” I answered, shakily.
“How old is your daughter?”
Under her breath, it sounded like the dispatcher muttered, “That’s wrong.” In a normal tone, she continued, asking for our address, her full name, and other details. She asked, “Is there any reason your daughter left the house? Does she sleepwalk?”
“She has, but she’s never gone out the door before. She’s never gone out the door by herself without asking even during the day. She doesn’t do this.”
“Has she said anything to you about wanting to leave?”
I thought for a moment. “She’s been asking for a lot of playdates and sleepovers lately. I’ve been working late and haven’t been able to schedule them very often.”
When she asked me, “What was your daughter wearing?” I choked up.
“Uh, I… I don’t remember! She dressed herself. I dressed my son, and I… don’t have any idea what she wore to bed.” Long pause.
“Do you know what shoes she is wearing?”
“Can you look around and see if there are any of her shoes missing?” After I fitfully stomped around the house, accounting for shoes, I discovered that one pair was not around.
“Her pink mary-janes aren’t here. They have a Velcro strap.” The dispatcher made notes.
“Is there a creek nearby?”
“Yes, at the end of our street.”
“Does she know how to swim?”
“No! (I cringed inside) But the creek is only a few inches deep, just runoff.”
“Officers are on their way to your house. They should be there shortly.” We ended the call.

I found Dash lying in his own bed, awake and told him, “Dash, Rosie’s not in the house and Mommy and Daddy are very scared. Do you know where she is?”
“No, Mommy.”
I went to the open front door and looked out onto the dark street. It was about 50 degrees that morning. What was she wearing? What was she THINKING? Where would she go? I thought about what I told the 911 dispatcher about playdates and sleepovers and the friends Rosie had named. Fiona was the closest friend, just a block and a half away. My cell phone was still in my hand; I phoned her house. While the call was connecting, two police cars were on my street, headed for my home.

5:13 a.m. “That’s Her in the Orange!”
Brian, Fiona’s dad, picked up at the second ring. “Hello?”
“This is Nylon, Rosie’s mom. I’m sorry to bother you so early…”
“She’s here,” he cut me off. “Kathy just put her in the car.”
“Oh my god. Thank you!!” I took a deep breath. My brain reeled with all the things I wanted to say; what came out was, “What the hell?!?” and, “The police are here—thank you so much.” I hung up and looked outside.

There were two police cars parked in front of my house and three policemen were walking through my yard. At the same time, Joe was parking at the top of our driveway and Kathy was pulling her minivan in behind him. The light was on inside her car and I could make out a small figure in the backseat, wearing an unfamiliar orange hoodie. The policeman was close enough to address, so I announced, “That’s her! My neighbor brought her home!”
Following my gaze, he said, “Your daughter? That’s her in the orange?”
Rosie got out of Kathy’s car and I could see that she had on a long, bright orange, terrycloth beach coverall that I bought her for swim camp. I never would have guessed that was what she would have put on to go outside. She ran into the house, past me, straight to her room, slamming her door. The policemen conferred; two of them stayed, the rest left. “We almost had the search helicopters in the air,” Officer Cook told me. “I’d like to talk to Rosie.”

While I went to get Rosie, Dash was doing what any four-year-old boy would do with big, uniformed men with weapons in his house would do: he was showing them his toys. “Look! I have a big duck!!” I heard him say. Joe tried to talk me out of getting Rosie; he was so worked up, he was afraid to explode at her in front of everyone. Rosie was on her bed in the dark. I told her she scared all of us especially her daddy. She needed to come out right now, apologize to Joe, me, and the policemen. I had to practically drag her out of her room, down the hall as she dug in her heels, grabbed door jambs, trying to stay out of sight. She kept her head down and locked her arms around me as we entered the living room. I sat in a chair and she sat in my lap, still tucked up, trying to stay small. I hugged her to me and she grabbed my arms, looping her hand around them, adjusting them. I realized she was trying to hide behind my arms, from the policemen, from everyone.

The policemen talked to her, asking her to calm down, telling her not to be afraid. Officer Cook explained to her how unsafe her actions were, how scared she made everyone. She made short, quiet responses, unwilling to talk. I was torn between wanting to yell at her myself and wanting to hold her forever.

What in Hell Was She Thinking?
Joe left for work, the police took more information and left. Everyone was up and it wasn’t even 6 a.m. I wanted to take a shower, but what if Rosie walked out the door while I was showering? How was I going to keep her from leaving? Wait, that’s illogical, but my world was off-kilter. My trust in my daughter’s good sense was shaken. Somehow I got through the morning, got to work.

Later that morning, I called Fiona’s parents to learn their side of the story. This is what Kathy told me. Kathy and Brian are early risers, getting up before 5 a.m. to talk before they start their days. They were in their kitchen having coffee together when they heard a tapping on their back door; Brian peered out the window but didn’t see anything. Then their front doorbell rang. Brian was shocked that Rosie was at the door. Kathy told me that Rosie was completely calm and asked, “Can Fiona have a playdate with me?” Rosie only started to seem shaken when Fiona’s parents’ anxiety showed. They asked, “Do your parents know you’re here?” “No,” she told them.

Kathy had a talk with Fiona after she woke up and learned that the two girls had made plans for this. Rosie was going to come over after dark so she and Fiona could have a secret sleepover. Neither of the girls had thought through any other details. Kathy asked, was Rosie going to tell her mother? No, because her mommy would say no.

Got that right.

I had to leave work. I couldn’t think, couldn’t be productive. I was just phoning friends, other parents to see if they had insights for me. Pretty much everyone was shocked that Rosie did something like this at six! Isn’t this more of a teenager thing? Where did she get the idea for the pillows? (I’m guessing it was from a scene in The Iron Giant). How would I keep her from doing it again? I visited my friend Staci, who has a psych background and she helped me guess that Rosie was seeking independence and suggested I call the school counselor.

While the school counselor had no experience dealing with this particular activity in any grade school children under her charge, she had ideas. Before yelling and setting punishment, talk what happened through with Rosie. Find out what motivated her. Was she scared or excited? Whatever logic drove her to make the conclusions might surprise me. Rosie’s an artist, she said. Ask her to draw a story about her experience. That might help you all understand what was going on in her head.

All that I’ve gotten out of Rosie was that she “wanted to go for a walk” and that she “wanted a playdate with Fiona.” We are considering all of this carefully and are trying not to go overboard. So far, her punishment is that she can’t have any playdates for a week. She knows what she did was wrong, since she deceived us when she snuck out to see her friend. Having the police come to our house and seeing everyone so upset must have shaken her up. I hope to g0d anyway.

Does anyone have any similar experience or advice? Please leave it in the comments.


  1. I hope the book about Harriet the Raccoon did not give her any ideas. Remember it was called, I believe," Harriet's Fed Up." Harriet is upset because her mom yelled at her for not picking up her toys. She has a fight with her mom and packs a suitcase. In the book Harriet, unlike Rosie, changes her mind when she sees how dark it is getting outside. Her dad is making her favorite dinner, etc.

  2. What time does your hubby usually wake up? I wonder if he got up earlier because he sensed something different in the house or subconsciously heard movement? It doesn't seem like she was out all that long. This scares me because if it were me, what if I didn't find out until hours later? I tend to sleep late and be completely oblivious to the world. (Although maybe that changes when ppl become parents.)

    It sounds like you're handling this well and trying to carefully think about how this will translate to future adjustments. I bet just having the police around freaked her out. It was nice that she felt safe with you and wanted to hide behind your arms.

    Maybe the fact that she's so young and tried this is a sign of her strength and health and self-esteem. She's clearly not ruled by fear, which is good. (Although maybe you'd like her to have just a wee bit, right about now! lol) It's probably a side effect of being brought up in a house where she clearly feels valued and is on her way to growing into a young lady with a solid sense of self.

    I don't have any advice other than what you've already done and what others have already said, to talk to her and explain why everyone was so worried.

    Sorry that you had to go through this worry and I'm so glad she's ok. Someday you will all be able to laugh about this I hope!

  3. Oh Nylon!! As I read this I was scared for you all!! First, let me say I am thrilled it ended with all being safe.

    Darn free spirited children. I don't have advice for you, other than I had a sibling do this when I was a child. It's all about the immediate gratification, and getting what they want. What is most disturbing is that she's 6...and doesn't yet grasp the "what ifs". When you talk to her about the fear, remind her (because I know this much is true) that it's not that you don't trust her, but that there are so many other people and things out there that she hadn't considered. If something happened...she wouldn't have planned for it, and would have no way to get to you.

    Hopefully this has scared her out of her sneaking out adventures, because if not...the teen years will be interesting.

    I'm sorry hun...but so thank you for sharing. I'm glad she's okay, and I will be too.

  4. Mom— There are a bunch of books out there with that theme, so don't take it personally. There wasn't any yelling or fighting involved, just Rosie wanting an adventure, I think.

    Spleeness— Monkey usually leaves for work around 5:15, so I think his alarm goes off around 4:45. It's possible that she just left a few minutes before he got up. And there's no sleeping late as parents!! If they aren't jumping all over your bed, they make enough noise to get you awake, most days. Thanks for your reassurances, they mean a lot. :-)

    Grandy— Yes, we are a bit worried about what we're in for when she's a tween and on into teens! If she found this adventure exciting more than scary (and it seems that way, unfortunately) we'll have to give her some instruction about all the very real, very awful things in the world that could hurt her. Thank you for your thoughts.

  5. I think I aged a few years just reading about it. So glad she was safe. I'm pretty sure I'd need some anti-anxiety medication to survive from this point forward.

  6. You say on twitter you are still talking about Rosie missing. I started to tell a lady, who always seemed friendly, about it. When she interrupted to ask me about passes to Mt Vernon, I just answered her question then walked away to the pool. Obviously she is only interested in what concerns her. Unfortunately, she is like many people.

  7. Holy jumpin'! That IS frightening. I wish I could tell you a similar story, but I've never heard of anything quite like it. I can't even imagine the guts it takes for a 6-year-old to get out of bed in the middle of the night and wander around the neighbourhood in the dark; nevermind doing something so blatantly against the wishes of her parents. You've got a fiesty gal on your hands there. I would do what I could to channel that fierce independence and boldness into something positive instead of trying to subdue her. Maybe a very physically and mentally challenging activity (rock climbing? orienteering? I don't know) I'll be interested to see how this develops.

  8. Hi all, based on Rosie's Ped's recommendations, we need to have a child psychologist evaluate her. I didn't go into too much detail with him, but he through out the dreaded AD/HD just due to her lack of judgement and dangerous consequences. I agree that she should talk to a professional, if for nothing else but to really cement the idea that she did something extremely scary (especially for us parents!!) and we are taking it very seriously.

    JCB- Welcome! And, yes, I'm seeing new gray hairs sprout up already. Haven't taken any meds, but it would have helped. I medicated with chamomile tea, FWIW.

    XUP- Thank you. Yes, this is gutsy, feisty, independent and bold of her! I'm with you, too; I don't want to "subdue" her, I just want her to have some sense shaken into her. She does seem bored at school, she does voice that she needs more independence, playtime, stimulation. But, I'm doing what I can short of quitting my job or taking time off. I see working part-time in my future...

  9. Have you ever had her IQ tested? She might be way to smart for her age/peer group and this is why she's striking out on her own. It's a very interesting situation, for sure. Don't let them just slot her into an AD/HD. That's always an easy solution for everything these days. Throw some drugs at it and they can wash their hands of it all. She might just need an extra-curricular activity that will really engage her.

  10. how terrifying!!!!!! i am so glad rosie was found, safe and sound. i guess you and i kept 911 busy this week. here's hoping we don't have to make any more calls.

  11. jebbus...mine wouldn't dream of it, but likely just because the idea hasn't crossed their minds. Impulse control at this age isn't what I'd call reliable-my 6 year old broke into a neighbours house with a friend-one she is no longer friends with due to his horrible influence and ZERO supervision from his mother.

    The smartest kids do the dumbest kids. I don't know if I'd overanalyze the situation. She wanted something-and she worked towards getting it. Just in the worst way. :)

  12. I think that just reading that a few new grays sprouted on my head. I knew the whole thing turned out okay, yet my pulse raced and my breathing was shallow the whole time. I cannot imagine what it was like to be you. I get Joe's point. I'd be so upset, do you shake them or hug them? (obviously don't shake - but you know what I mean)

  13. XUP - I did read that high IQ (or gifted) children can get misdiagnosed with ADHD. We have come back from the psych Dr with an ADHD diagnosis, BTW. We are considering other ways of affecting focus, through diet and more direct communication, before trying any meds.

    Wrekehavoc - Cheers to that!

    Thordora - I wouldn't be overanalyzing stuff if she didn't have many of the other ADHD symptoms. However, if they can be managed well, and not get in the way of life, I'll be happy to overlook some of the quirkiness.

    Cat - Yes, I do know what you mean!! And Joe does get LOUD but never physical. Sometimes raising the volume is the only way to get a point across with extreme distractibility, unfortunately.

    Thanks for your thoughts & love everyone!

  14. I still haven't finished reading this. I get a certain ways into it and get totally choked up, even though I know how it ends and that everything's fine. Man, how freaking scary.


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