A Story From Charmaine

I love stories. It’s so important to tell our stories, and to hear each other’s stories. Stories help us connect, and to see each other as human. They help us build empathy and widen our perspectives. Stories can be very different, even when they involve the same people and events. We have our own distinct memories of the story, unique to our own experience.

I have many stories – and probably more than my share of stories about getting lost. One such memorable story happened the day there was a board meeting scheduled out of town for one of the organizations that I am involved with.  I had no childcare and decided that rather than miss the meeting, I would just bring them with me.  They were ages 6, 5, 3, 2, and 11 months.

I loaded the children into the van, buckled the baby into his car seat, and started driving. I had a vague idea of my destination, but as I continued down the highway, every passing road sign made me question if I was still going in the right direction; every turn looked like it could be “the turn”. Uncertainty grew, as did my annoyance – why hadn’t I confirmed the route I needed to take before embarking upon the journey?

Finally, I swallowed my pride, called for directions and we finally arrived at the meeting. A bit breathless and disorganized, the children and I tumbled into the boardroom. Everyone’s eyes were on me, watching with confusion, while I set the children up in the corner with crayons and colouring books. Pretending this is the way everyone comes to a board meeting, I straightened my clothes, put on a smile, and sat down to get to work.

At first, the kids were quiet. As the day went on, I began to relax. “Maybe,” I thought, “this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.” Looking back, I realize that I ignored the obvious changes in circumstances for longer than I should have. The snacks ran out. Boredom set in. The children could now be found crawling around on the floor, or running back and forth, giggles interspersed with the occasional shout that someone wasn’t playing fair. The accusations became more frequent, and louder, until it was crystal clear that I had lost control of the situation. I hustled the children out of the room, quickly trying to pick up the mess they’d left behind and whispering apologies for leaving early. I backed out the door, face flushed and feeling more than a little self-conscious.

Once again, I loaded everyone into the van, buckled up the baby, and started driving.  We stopped at the gas station and my 6 year old politely suggested that I ask for directions home.  I rolled my eyes and explained that wasn’t necessary because we would simply go back the way we had come.  I pulled away from the gas station.  And promptly made a wrong turn.

It wasn’t long before I realized my error, but turning the van around was going to be difficult. I told myself that surely there would be a better road ahead, perhaps just on the other side of the hill. I kept my foot on the gas.

Instead of a “better road”, I found a small lagoon. And then we were stuck. Literally. The van sunk into the swampy mud and that was that. The early spring rain had turned to sleet – abandoning the van and walking back to the main road was not an option. When I realized I’d forgotten to charge my cell phone and couldn’t call for help, my heart sank.

I sat silently staring out the driver’s window, unsure about what to do next. It was now past supper. The children were not only restless, but also hungry, tired, and full of non-stop questions:  “Where are we?  How much longer until someone finds us?  How much longer mom?  How stuck are we mom?”  Finally, I took a deep breath, mustered up a cheery voice, and said, “There’s nothing to worry about. Yes we’re stuck, but someone will come to rescue us.”

We waited. As the night started to envelope us in its darkness, fear and uncertainty sat like a weight in the pit of my stomach. My mind raced from one “what if?” to another. I imagined all the worst possible outcomes, as if we were characters from the plot of a poorly written horror film.  I told myself that if everyone would just fall asleep we’d manage for the night, the cold rain would stop come morning, and we’d be able to walk to help if the help didn’t come to us first.

I was grateful that I had filled up at the gas station so I could keep the van running with the heat on.  At the same time I was ashamed of myself for having ignored the sage advice of a six year old when we were there.  And why hadn’t I charged my cell phone?  My internal voice continued to chastise:  “why didn’t you….” and “you should have….”

I had started to doze off with my head resting against the window when my daughter’s frantic knock on the glass woke me with a start.  I was so relieved that I instantly burst into tears.  It had been a very long six hours waiting for that moment.

The next day, a tow truck pulled the van out of the mud and back up the hill to the other side to set it down on solid ground. I wish I could say the experience helped improve my sense of direction but, these many years later, I remain as prone to getting lost as ever. I take comfort in knowing that when I inevitably get lost again, someone will come looking for me.

This is but one of countless stories contained in the chapters of my life. Some parts make me laugh when I remember them and others make me cry. There are some stories that are more difficult to tell than others and I expect there are many more stories yet to be written.

All stories are important and I look forward to hearing yours.

Charmaine Panko