This is my little Princess, Maya, on one of the rides at DelGrosso's Park in Tyrone at the Hill Family Reunion there a week ago this past Saturday. Today, we had a situation that could have turned out tragic for us. Thankfully, it didn't but is certainly serves as one big wake-up call!
This morning, things looked like this would be a really nice day. The sun was shining nice and bright. The weather forecast shortly before 9 a.m. sounded ok too -with the exception of the warning that there could be "sudden pop-up showers" that is. But about five minutes after that forecast was broadcast, the sky suddenly turned gray and pretty much stayed that way the rest of the day then.
My niece, her husband and their two children arrived here about 12:30 - 1 p.m. or so. It had been at least a year I think since the last time we'd seen Angie and Davey and the kids. Maya and Angie's daughter, Lizzie, are only four days apart - Maya is the older of the two girls - so we were really anxious to see how well the girls hit it off together.
In less than five minutes time, the two girls were playing - riding Maya's Princess tricycle and a little rider-thing that belongs to Kurtis. Playing "bumper cars" through the living room, dining room and kitchen, laughing, squealing, have a great time.
While the kids played, Mandy and Angie had some time to kind of get caught up with what's going on in each of their lives - enjoying the moment, you know. Angie said two of her aunts were up here for the holiday from Florida and her Aunt Patti had said if Mandy and I wanted to see her, meet her husband and her daughter, we were going to have to come out to the big cook-out at her brother, Jim's camp this afternoon. So, Mandy got the kids dressed, fixed a bag for them of some extra clothes, diapers, a bottle for Kurtis -you know the drill with a baby and a toddler - and away we went following Angie and Davey out to the camp "Uncle Jim" has with his father-in-law and a couple of other guys about 6-8 miles from our house.
Two things to explain here too - this "camp" is set back in the woods but in an area here that tends to be more farm land, gentle rolling hills and woods than the area right by where we live. And, Angie's mother, her sisters/brothers as well as Angie's great-aunts/great-uncles are as close to being family to me in a lot of ways as are my own cousins are. Angie's great-grandparents lived next door to me from when I was about six years old until I was around thirty. My kids called Angie's great-grandparents Grammy and Pap Little, refer to all of Angie's great aunts and uncles and her Mom's siblings as Aunt this, Uncle that. Close, very close friends we've been over the years.
Since we hadn't seen "Aunt" Patti in probably 10 years, both Mandy and I were anxious to see her, "Aunt" Tina too and of course, Angie's mom -my kids' legitimate Aunt, Lou Ann. We knew too we'd see lots and lots of kids as well - little kids, bigger ones and that Maya would have a good time with so many other little ones around.
This camp has a huge field were people were parking - enough space there to hold almost as many cars as you might see at a high school football game around here. As you drive down the road to the camp, there are also two big ponds there and I noticed they even had a small paddle boat there that some of the older kids were riding in.
True to form, Maya and Lizzie were surrounded almost immediately with by my nephew's two little girls - Gabby and Ivy. Then a few more children gathered and off the kids went to play games in the big field.
Shortly after we got there, Mandy and I had a little scare though with Maya. These kids were all grouped together, going over to Aunt Patti's car, Maya tagging along and when they started back to where Mandy and I were sitting, Maya was missing! Where the heck did she disappear to? We both started going in between the vehicles, looking for her. She's like a slippery little eel - can slip away from you in a flash. We came back towards the porch and said something to someone there that we couldn't find Maya and someone asked if we'd looked in the house. Just as Mandy and I started in the door and we glanced across the great room and kitchen, there was Maya, nice as can be, getting off a bed in the bedroom in the rear of the camp! Phew! What a relief to find her there that quickly. But that should really have served as a big, big warning there to both of us to make sure we were keeping close tabs on her at all times.
The kids played and played. My son came out and joined us. Some of Angie's Great Aunts and their spouses, some of their children and grandchildren showed up too. And, remember the guy from my high school class who I did the post about - begging him to reconsider and attend our class reunion? Well, even he and his wife were there too.
Now, I get along very well with Joe's wife. Judy's a terrific lady - lots of fun, easy to talk to, all those good things. And I ended up sitting with her on the porch with Kurtis in his stroller by my feet - just keeping tabs on him that way. Mandy and Clate -as well as my niece - were trying to keep an eye on Maya as much as possible and all seemed to be pretty well under control.
But, unbeknownst to me, Maya had managed to elude them - disappeared again into thin air and Mandy, Clate, Angie and a few other people from around the area who know Maya were searching for her, trying not to alarm people, but yet - well yes, sort of trying to alert them though that they couldn't find this little girl. Chelsea, the granddaughter of my neighbors a few doors down the street, asked Clate if anyone had checked down at the pond and he said he had told her that he was on his way down there then.
And what a good thing it was that Uncle Clate did go down to the pond because there was Maya, wading in the water, just slopping around in the muddy water, jeans soaked up to her waist, sneakers on and full of water (of course) and pond silt! How lucky we were that she hadn't stepped into a sudden drop off or stumbled and fallen -or whatever else could possibly have happened in the beat of a heart, I don't know, don't even want to think about this other than to thank God my son found her when he did!
How do you teach a child, almost four years old, to stay within sight range? For openers, that is. How do you teach a child who has no concept whatsoever of "fear" of things she should be fearful of - like water? Or, of strangers too, for that matter. How do you explain these things to a child who frequently doesn't understand oh so many things.
She saw no danger in that pond at all, not a whit of fear there - and yet, take her into our church and she becomes terrified -of what, we have no idea. Take her into the lobby of the nursing home where my aunt is a patient and she is scared to death. Take her near an elevator too, and she is terrified of that as well. But a pond, well heck, what's there to be afraid of with water in a pond is her attitude there and no amount of trying to explain these things to her will leave the slightest impression on her right now. What's even more frightening is that with her being autistic, we don't really know if she will ever learn to be cautious, fearful of things that she should be extremely careful around or stay completely away from them.
As soon as Clate handed Maya over to Mandy, she came down to the porch were I was sitting, grabbed my arm and said "We have to leave - NOW!" And then, she said something else about Maya but I couldn't hear, couldn't understand what she said but I could tell she was very upset. So I gathered Kurtis up and headed towards the car at the fastest pace my stiff old legs would carry me.
As I got almost to the car, Clate met up with me and told me that Maya had been missing and had been in the pond. I didn't know then if she'd fallen in, or just been by it or what until I saw her standing in the van and Mandy was pulling her wet clothes off her, trying to dry her off and Angie was handing her a little outfit of Lizzie's to put on her so she'd have something dry on for our ride home.
To say Mandy was quiet in the car would be an understatement. I could see out of the corner of my eye she was constantly biting her lip, and it was obvious how nervous and upset she was. Knowing how she is when something has her really worked up, I didn't dare talk to her until she was good and ready - which was a couple hours later after we'd been home and she was somewhat calmer then and she told me the story. A little later, I called my son and he then explained more to me about how he happened to go down to the pond -just in case - and had found her there.
Mandy was embarrassed by the whole event too - in addition to having the living daylights scared out of her. Embarrassed because so many people there had no idea that Maya has "issues" - that she is autistic. So when they first couldn't locate her and Mandy would ask someone if he/she had seen her, because she looks like a perfectly normal little 3-year-old, a lot of folks just said "Oh, she's here someplace." Yes, thankfully she was and she was safe, unhurt - all that. But how easily things could have turned out so very much differently too!
Mandy and I both know you can't leave a child to just run at that age - even ones who have more comprehension about things than Maya does. But, even when you are watching little kids - especially ones with no fear of things like this - they can just be there one minute, gone the next - in the blink of an eye.
So, how DO you teach a child to be cautious? How do you explain to them things that are really dangerous, things that could be dangerous? How do you get it across that you can't just run off any where you want to roam?
I sure don't know any of the answers there but I really want to learn as many ideas as possible to teach her of what things may look like so much fun but how she could so easily get hurt - very, very badly too.
And for right now, I'm still trying to calm down completely over the whole experience.