I followed my friend out onto the loading dock of the cannery. The summer heat was initially refreshing compared to the damp, cold building. As we climbed to the ground we chatted about the possibility of a new start.
“I told him about you,” she casually said. “He said he may be able to help. We’ll just talk to him.”
An old pick-up pulled up and stopped alongside us. My stomach churned nervously as we stepped over railroad tracks and closed the gap to the truck.
The driver was an older man. I felt uncomfortable as he quickly looked me up and down before turning his gaze to his rearview mirror. I avoided looking him in the eyes.
“Hurry and get in,” he called quietly to my friend.
She opened the door as he spoke, and quickly got in. She slid to the middle of the bench seat so I could climb in after her. I followed.
I was only 17. By all appearances, I was a good kid. I was raised to do what I was told, and I usually did.
I was just a typical small-town girl.
Despite the carefree appearance I put forth, I had struggles. Life wasn’t always easy, or fun. My parents experienced health problems that came with serious financial strain. Years focused on their pain and trials, I felt they had little room for me.
In the summer, I earned spending money by working at the cannery in my hometown. During breaks, I sat with a friend and we would share our woes. Initially, we both shared. After a while, she shared only a little and focused on me. I enjoyed the attention. As the summer progressed she began to tell me how there were ways to get out of my troubles.
The cannery was a long building. The man drove slowly while my friend informed him I wanted to get away. She didn’t tell him why, and he didn’t ask.
“She’s not of age, and getting ID will take some time,” he finally spoke.
“So you have a room for her,” my friend asked.
“I have room in a house in Portland,” he commented casually. He paused and glanced only a moment in my direction. “She’ll need to start working right away though, or there will be problems with the other girls.”
My thoughts whirled as the truck rumbled over a railroad crossing. I sat wordlessly.
After driving the length of the road, the man turned around and drove back. He stopped close to where he had picked us up, but not before nervously checking his mirrors and looking around.
Walking back to the building, my friend offered words of encouragement. She told me to let her know what I decide. I never gave her an answer, and we never spoke of it again.
My 17-year-old self was incredibly innocent and naive. I didn’t tell anyone about my experience. Even now I can imagine my mother’s response if I had told her.
“What on earth were you thinking,” her critical voice sounds in my thoughts. “You should have known better than to get into that truck with a strange man.”
Hindsight is more clear. I got into that truck because I was following my friend. My 17-year-old self lacked confidence. I was so self-conscious I lacked worth. Life experiences left me feeling rejected and not good enough. I was looking for acceptance.
I’m not sure what I would have done if pressured for a decision. I recall playing the man’s words over in my mind and wondering what work he could possibly expect me to do. Certainly, I didn’t want to stir up problems with a house full of other girls. Yes, I was horribly naive.
Looking back, I’m thankful for the time period I grew up in. In today’s society, the scenario would look very different.
This is where I could give you a list of statistics for trafficking in the United States and how runaways are most commonly targeted. I’m not going to do that. You can search for that news yourself.
Instead, I want to offer encouragement to be your child’s safe place. Regardless if you are experiencing life challenges, make sure your kids know they are loved and valued. Tell them, and tell them often.
We all make mistakes and have bad days, and yet parents often expect their children to behave perfectly. Kids are small humans. They won’t always do things right. Instead of communicating anger or annoyance when they do something wrong or make a mess, calmly teach them how to clean it up.
A child’s behavior is not a reflection of our parenting skills, but our reaction in the moment is. If we discipline by shaming and criticizing, kids will feel our love is a condition of performance.
When we make mistakes and lose our cool, we must go back and make it right. We must apologize and ask for forgiveness. It’s what we make them do. Our kids need to know that we all make mistakes, and we should model how to restore broken relationships.
Life is filled with trials. When my kids face a life challenge, I don’t want them to say, “Oh no, I hope my parents don’t find out!” I want to be a safe place my kids can run to so their first instinct would be to say, “I need to call my parents!”
We cannot always be present to protect our children. There are no guarantees bad things won’t happen. Although there will be bad parenting days, we must show our children our love for them is bigger than any fear they think they need to run away from. Be the safe place your kids know they can run to.