Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

For about five minutes last week, my daughter disappeared into the universe.

I was just leaving a conference when the phone rang.  It was my mom, who sees my daughter off the bus in the afternoon. When I picked up the phone, she said “Marlowe did not get off the bus.” What? What do you mean she didn’t get off the bus???? And just like that, she vanished.

Now. My rational, logical brain knew that everything was fine, and this was some kind of simple mix up. But the rest of me was immediately filled with adrenaline—driving like a wild person trying to get to the school to find her and leaving a trail of panic across the wires: calling the school, only to be met with an automated service; then calling my son’s preschool, which happens to also be a bus stop, to see if she had randomly gotten off there; then calling my dear friend who lives near the school to see if she could get anyone to answer at the school (and of course she had her coat on and one foot out the door to actually go look for Marlowe herself before we were even off the phone)… realizing yet again that I wasn't prepared enough-- I didn't have the right numbers on hand nor a plan in place! ... when my mom called back to say that Marlowe was home, safe and sound.  As you would expect, she had simply missed her stop, too engrossed in a conversation with a friend, and the bus driver spotted her a stop or two later and eventually drove her back home.   I arrived at the house moments after she did, and found her crying and shaken to the core—her fear stemming from that moment of being untethered, of having missed a step in knowing what she was supposed to do, and being left without any sense of what she should do next. It would be an understatement to say that we both stayed close to each other for the remainder of that night.

And even though she was never actually gone, in that brief moment when our connection was lost I had a flash of the future, and the inevitable letting go that comes when a parent actually has to allow the child to go, to be gone. It reminded me of the wonderful passage On Children from Kahlil Gabrin, which says in part:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

I think I felt the full impact of that for the first time, really understanding that idea of letting go of control (or the illusion of…).

For me, it was a moment of clarity that my job is not just to keep them safe and protected as they grow, but it’s also to make sure they are as prepared for the world as they possibly can be—that they understand how to navigate circumstances and situations, that they are cushioned with a strong belief in their self-worth, that they can problem solve and ask for help.  To teach them what to do when they miss their stop.

It was also a reminder that just because you’ve established a comfortable rhythm and routine that everyone understands doesn’t mean things are going to stay that way.  So what happens when our routine gets disrupted? How prepared are we to navigate when life as we’ve comfortably settled into is suddenly gone? Are we able to recalibrate?  It’s one thing to teach my children what to do in those moments, but when’s the last time I thought of my own game plan for life’s “gone” moments?

What can you do to prepare for a “gone” moment today?


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Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.