Guilt. And pride. That is how I am feeling now. But yesterday it was panic, fear, and guilt, fueled by a few imaginary voices, like: “I told you so”.
In September my daughter started to take the train from the town where she goes to school, to a town a short ride away. I thought this was a perfect opportunity for independence and safe “travel training”. She loved it and was committed to our transitions check-in routine: She programed her iPhone with alarms for each call to me: leaving the library, arriving at the train station, on the train, and arriving at the therapist office. Things worked like clockwork every week. Until the other day.
I got a call saying she was on the train. “Isn’t that early?” I asked. “I guess it came early today.” I am not familiar with MetroNorth being early, so I don’t know why I did not leap into action (hence guilt). She called me again on my cell but I did not pick up. She then called the house phone and I did pick up (yay for persistence!)
“I’m on the wrong train. Help. What do I do?” She said she realized this when “a voice I heard” said this is the express train to Grand Central, next stop is …. I instructed her to get off in at the next stop and wait for me. (She took the initiate to call her therapist to say she would be late!! Yay again.)
But I had a mind melt – I miscalculated how much time I needed to get to the train station to meet her so I was not rushing. Once in the car it dawned on me of my huge mistake. I tried to get to the station as fast as possible and called her cell at a stop light.. I didn’t have my blue tooth on. A man picked up her phone. PANIC. “This is the conductor, I just found this phone on the seat. I am heading to Grand Central, I can leave it there.” Light changed. Had to hang up. Panicking about how to reach her with no cell phone. Police? MetroNorth? Should I pull over or just keep driving?
Getting to the train station is one thing, getting into the train station is another. The traffic pattern is so confusing and I missed the entrance, had to circle around, finally got to the front but where to put the car? I circled the taxi area and they all started to honk at me. I opened the window and screamed HEEEELLLLLP. No one noticed. Finally a police car. I said “I need help. I have an autistic daughter who I think is lost here.” “Don’t panic, park in this no-parking spot. She must be capable if she can take the train. What is she wearing.”
I raced into the station, started screaming her name, not response. Finally go to the ticket waiting area in a glassed in section between the tracks. There I heard “Mom?” Race to embrace. Safe. She was hot, and said she had cried (who wouldn’t?).
She was next to the ticketing window (yes they still have one in the larger stations, thank God!). And the women behind the glass called me over. She said she tried to reach me. I missed her call as I was so busy trying to find the police phone number and misdialing while driving.
But thanks to an “Arthur” episode, Izzie knew to stay right where she was and wait for me. And Marie had already reached the conductor about Izzie’s phone. We made arrangements to meet the conductor on his return trip, on the platform as he passed by an hour later.
Leaving the station we saw the policeman and thanked him. Then called the therapist to let her know all’s well but we won’t make it. Izzie deserved a big treat so we went to her favorite restaurant, and got ice cream and cake – before dinner, gasp!
I told her she did everything right given the situation. She called me. She called the therapist, She got off the train. She went to the ticket counter for help. She stayed in one place.
Back at home I called the police and asked about “registration” for her. We all put in the local police phone number into our cell phones, and I added the MetroNorth number too.
She made a comment about not wanting to take the train again. So, since she is taking a journalism class, I suggested she write about her experience. To get her started I interviewed her and made an outline of each step that happened. She needs to process this and see how amazing and resourceful she was. She needs to get her confidence back. This was a huge lesson for both of us. I learned how capable she is and I hope she learned that too. As Dory said to Marlin, Nemo would not have any experiences in life if Marlin tried to protect him from life.
There will always be memories of scarey things: I still remember at age 5 being stuck in between the two doors in a small hall entrance to an apartment building – I could not open either the door to the outside or the locked door to the lobby. I remember at 12 leaving my purse on the local bus and my father driving me trying to chase down the bus through the city of Newton. But both were relatively safe settings.
Even though this “worked out” ,of course in my head will always be: what if it didn’t work out? What if someone took her? It did happen to a friend of hers. Can I still let her take the train? On one hand, when people start talking to her, they will realize that ‘something is up’ with her and perhaps be more helpful, or perhaps take advantage of her. How will I know?
Please share your learning experiences in independence.
I wanted to acknowledge the help of the Metro North staff so I tweeted last night:
marjorie_m: Big THANKS to Maria at [location] ticket and conductor John @MetroNorthTweet for helping my daughter with #autism today #hero 10:08pm, Apr 09 from HootSuite
And this morning they responded:
MetroNorthTweet: @marjorie_m Thank you for sharing – we will be sure to pass this along! 5:49am, Apr 10 from Web