We were going on an adventure so I was very excited. That’s why I was shocked when the car door closed and the car began to drive away. I began to run after the car, yelling “Stop! Wait for me!” The car continued to drive away, dust kicking up in my face, making the car disappear in a cloud of brown dirt.
Why would my family drive away without me? My parents, four siblings and I were camping and had been having a fun time. I remember crying only for a minute. Even though I was three years old, I knew I was now in charge. I dried my tears and began looking around the campsite. The tent was there; that’s where I would sleep when I was tired. I opened the cooler and found the food I would eat when I was hungry. I remembered that my parents had us gather twigs and branches for some reason; it must be important, so that is what I was doing when my family returned to collect me.
When my parents stopped for gas a short way down the road, they realized I wasn’t in the car. Remember, this was in the day before kids were buckled up in car seats. We didn’t have specific seating for the five kids in the family. We just piled in and drove. My misadventure was the catalyst for the new rule in my family: Count all of the kids before driving away.
Now, my parents felt really bad about leaving me behind and a bit scared about what might have happened. Fortunately, I just became a bit more independent and grew up wanting to work with young children, helping to prepare them for whatever life throws at them. But my parents were embarrassed and wanted to make light of the situation, so they laughed about it. Having older siblings, they joked about “almost getting away”.
At age three I probably would have forgotten about this situation, but the story became one of family lore. It was fun to joke about nearly escaping without me, and I even enjoyed a bit of the extra attention I received during the ribbing. But over time it built up. Was I wanted? Was I an essential component in this family? Did it matter whether I was here or not?
It wasn’t until I was on the losing side of depression as a young adult that my family realized that the jokes were no longer appropriate, if they ever were. They no longer tease me about almost getting away. In fact, I now feel closer to my entire family in a way that I didn’t when I was younger. I realize that the laughter from my parents at our reconciliation was a coping mechanism, a way to deal with a scary situation. The friendly teasing then went too far to be funny.
We often do things that have unintentional effects. I am guilty of it myself. It’s a part of being human, learning, and growing. The important thing is to recognize that when we find ourselves in this situation to do something to make amends.
To begin, simply acknowledge your mistake and how it happened. Example: “I’m sorry I (fill in the blank). I was feeling (fill in the blank) and I didn’t know what to say/do so I (fill in the blank).” In my case, my parents might have said, “I’m sorry I joked about leaving you at the campground. I was feeling scared and didn’t know what to do, so I laughed.”
Then sincerely apologize. Example: “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry.”
The door is now open to discuss what would have helped instead. Example: “It must have been scary for you. What could I have done that would have supported you? What can I do today to help you feel better?”
This is the first step in the healing process. Forgiveness frees yourself, opens up the door for the other person to forgive, and shines light on the path toward moving forward together. It is definitely worth the awkwardness of bringing up an uncomfortable topic. I should know. I no longer have to go camping alone.