The Kids We Lost

Those of you who know my husband and I know that we tend to lose our children.  It’s not that we aren’t good parents.  We are very good parents.  We just misplace our kids.  We routinely leave them places.  By “leave them”, I mean that we take them out with us and forget to bring them home again.  By “places”, I mean anywhere/everywhere in Marshall County, certain regions of western Kentucky and as far east as Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

It has happened so often, I have labeled the leavings to keep them straight in my mind.  The “Youngest” happened when our fourth child was 18 months old.  After visiting in the home of family friends, we told our three oldest kids to get in the car and forgot to load the youngest.  Fifteen miles down the road, I turned around and found an empty car seat.  After we left, our friends turned around and found our toddler.

The “Dumbest” leaving occurred when son #3 wanted to go to basketball practice with son #2 so he could watch the guys play ball.  I took two sons to the basketball gym and dropped them off.  Two hours later, I drove back to the gym, picked up one son and left the other one there.

We left a daughter at the library once.  I call that one “Acceptable on academic grounds”.  She was there with nothing to do but read and with none of us there to distract her.  How is that bad?

“Bad” happened when we left church one Sunday, drove to McDonalds for lunch, lined up the kids to ask them what they wanted to eat and noticed that we were missing one.  None of us could remember if the missing child had been in the car while we drove to the restaurant . . . including the child who was sitting beside the empty seat.  We returned to church to find the building empty.  It was a couple of hours before we found that child again.  I have labeled that, “By far the scariest” of the leavings.

Let me assure you that, to date, when we have lost our children, we have always found them again.  I gave birth to five children.  There are five children in our latest family picture.  I’m pretty sure they are the same five.  So . . . hey . . . no harm, no foul.

No, it’s not our children that we have genuinely lost.  It is the kids that used to visit us that are gone.

Their names were Ashley, Sahka and Moo and they showed up at our house often when our youngest daughter was little.  Ashley and Sahka were good children, always ready and eager to play with Tessa.  Moo was a little devil in disguise.  He continually got Tessa in trouble, telling her to disobey and do mean things to her brothers and sister.

Tessa was very protective of them.  Her much-older brother had a tendency to sit on them.  She bravely fought him off, screaming and hitting him with the hardest of her little-girl punches, protecting them as if she were their mother rather than their friend.  She read them books, told them her best stories and broke up their fights when they all wanted to sit on floor beside her.

In return, they always came when she wanted to play.

Tessa loved Ashley, Sahka and Moo.  And, although none of the rest of us could see them, we were glad to have them around because they were hers and she was ours.  (Or maybe, we were glad to have them because watching Tessa play with them, talking and teaching and reprimanding Moo, made us laugh out loud every time. It also made her siblings sleep with one eye open, pondering the fact that their sister was hearing voices and wondering what Moo’s voice would tell her to do in the middle of the night.)

Over time, Tessa’s friends came to our house less often.  One day, we realized they no longer visited at all.  Their days of playing with Tessa were gone and we had not noticed they were ending.  We didn’t say good-bye to them.

Tessa is now almost 16.  Last week, we went to see Inside Out at the theater.  (You should see the movie!)  Inside the animated head of 11-year old Riley, we were amused and entertained and empathetic and “at home”.  We oohed and we aahed and we laughed and we groaned because what Riley felt and thought, we had all, at one time or another, experienced.

Then, Bing-Bong, the imaginary friend that Riley had not thought about in years, came on the screen.  As my husband and I watched, our eyes  teared up and over. Our throats tightened and our hearts hurt a little because Ashley, Sahka and Moo were suddenly there too.  They hadn’t changed at all over the years. They were still impish and playful; and when we breathed them in, we could smell the scent of Tessa’s childhood.  We knew they were only there for a few minutes.  So, we gathered up the memories and held them to us tightly as if to say, “We remember you and you were good.  You were very good.”

Experience has taught us that when you look away, scenes change, so we didn’t take our eyes from the movie.  We had already learned the fate of imaginary friends.   At some point, they can’t be pretended any more.  So, we were prepared for the end of the scene and as Riley left Bing-Bong behind in the movie, we took a whimpering breath and said good-bye to Ashley, Sahka and Moo.


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