She had lost her eight year old sunny disposition somewhere between the giggles and the sudden fight that had erupted between her and her older sister earlier that evening. When I spotted her heading for the back door, she was carrying her two favorite stuffed animals under her left arm, a yellow duffel bag over her left shoulder, her school backpack and lunchbox over the right shoulder, and a sixty-four ounce bottle of bubble bath in her right hand. She was prepared for the journey. She was running away from home.
I think most kids consider running away at some point during their childhood. Some even pack their bags and make a dramatic exit. My oldest son packed a suitcase and dragged it up into the fort of our swing set many years ago. I kept my eye on him, and he returned from the backyard an hour later. Unharmed. He was hungry.
Now it was my youngest who sought justice beyond the walls of our home. She informed me of her destination, and I told her she could go. I also told her that I’d be going with her. “I need to keep you safe,” I said.
So the two of us took off. Together.
Forty-five minutes and a thoughtful conversation later, we were both cold and tired. And she was hungry. So when she asked me if we should head home, I replied. “Yep, I think it’s time. May I help you with your bags?”
“Sure,” she said, a smile lighted her face.
When we entered our house, I welcomed her back with a big hug and made her a sandwich and warm cocoa. She was glad to be home.
But some children who run away never get back home. Their stories don't have happy endings.
Every year forty thousand teens run away from home in the US. Many are seeking justice beyond the walls of their homes. Some might return home if they could, but somewhere between forty-eight and seventy-two hours from their leaving their front doors, runaways will be approached by a pimp. One third of the forty-thousand will end up trafficked.
In our country.
In our America.