My 17-year-old daughter Katie’s voice is clipped and tense over the phone. She isn’t using her usual sing-song “Mommmmeeeee,” which signals that she wants something. But what could be the problem?
Four hours ago I dropped her and her boyfriend, CJ (Christopher John), off at the railway station in the village of Whatstandwell, Derbyshire, for their trip back to Cambridge. She should have arrived by now. I gave her money, she has her train ticket, what else could she possibly require?
“We took the wrong train in Derby.”
“What?” I feel tension flood over me.
“We’re at a place called Litchfield. Can you come get us?”
I groan, it’s 9:30 at night and I’ve been on the go since 7 this morning, but the protective mother part of me quickly takes over. I remember seeing Litchfield on the signs as I drove Katie, her boyfriend, my 9-year-old daughter Meg, and her 7-year-old cousin to the Alton Towers water park this morning, an hour away from where we’re staying near Crich.
I can do it. I’ve done this drive already today for my children’s pleasure. Surely I can do it again for my daughter and her boyfriend’s safety?
I Google Litchfield. It’s a drive of 1 hour and 20 minutes–a round trip of almost 3 hours on two major motorways including England’s biggest, the M1. It’s night. We won’t be back until sometime after midnight. I have neither a SatNav nor a phone with Internet, so I have no idea how to find them, let alone Litchfield. Katie’s phone is dying so she can’t talk long.
This day hasn’t been easy, and now it’s getting worse–much worse, especially after a long day at the water park. I don’t like water parks but, like any parent, I do things for my kids that I wouldn’t do for myself.
Twelve hours ago I drove the four kids to the park, then I stripped to my bathing suit, which is something I swore I wouldn’t do until losing the half a stone (7 lbs) that I gained since moving here (the cause: stress, stress, and yet more stress), and then I played in the water with the two younger kids for a couple of hours and otherwise kept a wary eye on them as I sat on the hard wooden slats of the chairs that were scattered about, desultorily looking at a Sudoku and a wonderful new book by Jane Hamilton.
Seven soggy chlorinated hours later I drove us back, dropped Katie and C J at the train station, dropped our young cousin at the farm, then picked up my mother and had dinner.
A full day. I’m ready for a nice glass of port with my cousins Gordon and Sue, and then bed. And now this: my daughter and her boyfriend are stranded in God knows where.
Katie calls back; there’s a new idea. They will take a train to Birmingham and stay overnight. The last train to Birmingham leaves in ten minutes.
It’s going from bad to worse. Birmingham was once known as one of England’s most dangerous cities. Thoughts of the South Side of Chicago where I grew up in the midst of overwhelming poverty and crime pour into my mind.
But I tell myself that Birmingham has improved, although my one night there several months ago while Katie competed in the national track and field meet was interrupted by the sounds of shouting in the streets, bottles smashing, and police sirens.
My mind flies to thoughts of my sweet girl being attacked by drunken louts in the center of Birmingham? Never! I must go rescue her.
But I can’t. I can’t drag my body about for another three hours.
I tell myself that at least this is happening here in the UK, where there is much less crime, almost no guns, and a general ethos of looking after children.
Katie will be OK. I’ve got to believe that. Because this once, I can’t protect her. She’s got to sort it out herself.
I go to Gordon and Sue’s farmhouse and accept his offer of a glass of port, then follow it with a second.
An hour later I get a text from Katie and CJ. They took the train to Birmingham. The ticketmaster accepted that they had taken the wrong train and let them get on at no cost. They’re at an equivalent of a Travelodge. Another text the next morning: they have caught a train to Cambridge, again at no extra charge.
Katie and her boyfriend have done it. And the best thing was, I didn’t have to rescue them.
My baby is growing up, and it’s all for the good.