I was three. I had just watched a TV show that included children running away from home, a fantasy that appealed to me whenever I was about to be spanked, but I threatened my mother with personal independence one too many times. She took me to the door, opened it, and told me I could go.
I looked up at her. She was wearing a blue cotton dress with little flowers all over, button-down front, tailored at the waist. I barely reached the hem. I considered the prospective spanking, then turned and looked up the long sidewalk steps leading from our house to the highway, almost a full block up a hill. I turned back toward the house and said that I could run away later.
"No, I'm tired of being threatened. Do it now."
Mom closed the door on me, went inside and got my sweater, helped me into it, buttoned all the buttons for me, and then waited.
"It looks like rain," I said.
The door closed. A moment later, out came my toy plastic umbrella and red rubber galoshes. Mom handed me the boots while opening the bumbershoot. I pushed my shoes into them. She gave me the umbrella while fastening the tops of my overshoes, helped me stand, brushed off the backside of my yellow dress, and turned me to face the hill.
I turned back. "I want to say good-bye to Daddy."
"No," she said. "He won't be home for a long time and I have to fix dinner for him. Better get going now."
Finally out of excuses, I took a deep breath and looked up at my mother's face one more time. She seemed quite serious. She turned me away and gave a little push against my back. I swallowed hard and headed up the hill.
I was walking slowly, and it was a long steep hill. The cars were pretty far away, yet, but they were worrying me. I knew I wasn't allowed to cross the street alone, especially busy ones. I decided to turn left at the top of the hill and follow the road to town, about two miles from where we lived, and then look for my grandparents' house. I had been that way hundreds of times, was hopeful I could find them, and pretty certain they'd take care of me since my parents didn't want me anymore.
I don't think I made it more than halfway up the hill when Mom grabbed me from behind, swung me around, then carried me back home. I had just begun to adjust to the idea of really leaving and was almost disappointed, all the moreso when, at dinner that night, she told Dad I was crying and upset the whole time. I distinctly remember that I was not crying, and was taking things rather calmly, but mine was not the version told to every family member, friend, and chatty acquaintance over the next year.
I never threatened or tried to run away again, though I considered it often. She took that as evidence that her parenting skills had worked.
I just never thought of a foolproof plan.