Yesterday morning our eldest daughter got herself up, dressed, washed, brushed her hair, then announced that she was going into town. We raised eyebrows at each other, and thought no more of it.
She re-appeared shortly after lunch, soaked from the persistent rain that had been falling, complained about having wet hair, then headed back into town.
“Yes – just hanging out in the coffee shop”
Again, we let her get on with it. The younger children were going to meet up with friends, and my other half was going grocery shopping. I got on with chores for the afternoon, and occasionally looked in on Google Maps (we use location sharing with the kids phones). From 4pm onwards Miss 17’s location showed as the middle of the river on the way our of town. I figured her phone must have gone flat, or the battery had gone low enough that the GPS had stopped reporting – using cell towers instead.
Time ticked on, and suddenly it was 7pm, raining, dark outside, and still no sign of her. Her phone was going straight to the answering machine, as was the phone of her closest friend (who we suspected she was with).
Instead of sitting down to eat the spaghetti bolognese we had just finished making for dinner, I pulled my coat on and headed out into the rain. I walked first to the railway station, then towards the centre of town, and along all the main roads. At one point I walked out to the bridge, where Google Maps said she had been earlier in the day. I saw nobody, anywhere. Looping back through town for a second time my other half called me.
“No – no sign of her anywhere.”
When I got home – soaked to the skin – we logged into her email and Facebook accounts, found the parents of her friend, and they tried to call their daughter too. Nothing. At that point we called the police and reported her missing. It was now nearly 9pm, almost below zero outside, and had been dark for a couple of hours. She had now been out of the house for eight hours, and in truth we had no idea if she was even in town any more.
Fifteen minutes later she walked in the front door.
Half an hour after that the police arrived – a stereotypical towering male police officer, and a trainee female officer. The trainee sat with us at the dinner table filling out paperwork, while the senior officer went in her room and “had a chat”.
Their story? They had been sitting under the bridge out of town all afternoon and evening, to keep out of the rain. Suddenly the “just going out for coffee” made sense – and all the secrecy made sense. The person she had met up with is not welcome in our house, after a sustained campaign of manipulation, bullying, and emotional blackmail. Of course she threw this in our face immediately – if we hadn’t banned the friend (that she hadn’t gone to meet) from the house, she would not have been sitting under the bridge with them all night.
This morning she got up, dressed, and stood in the doorway.
“I’m going out”
“To their house”
“That’s fine – all we need to know is where you are. Is your phone charged?”
Why is none of this in the parenting instruction book ?