Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Runaway

Today I experienced real panic as a mother. I came face to face with the idea of losing my son. He ran away. Just disappeared out of the back yard.

It had already been a rough day, full of tantrums and bathroom accidents. I told him, "Mommy needs a little personal space," and that he could either go play in his room with his toys or go play in the snow in the backyard.  He chose the snow. We bundled him up in his snow bibs and boots and hat and mittens and sent him out into the fenced back yard with the dog, as we've done many times before. He knows he's not supposed to go in the front yard without Mom or Dad. He knows he's not supposed to let Sadie out. So when I stopped hearing the sounds of his play, I didn't think much of it. I assumed he had moved into the lawn area, away from the house, and was happily rolling around in the foot of fluffy stuff we've been blessed with in the last two weeks. After about ten minutes of the silence, I went to check on him.

He wasn't there.

I saw one set of size 10 boot prints and one pair of Boxer paw prints leading away from the yard. My first thought was, "Oh, crap! Sadie!" Our dog isn't the best with other dogs. We had an incident with a neighbor dog once before and I did not want a repeat. I threw on my coat and boots and trotted out the front door, assuming I'd find them loitering in the front yard and that I'd scold my son for doing as he knew he shouldn't and letting the dog out.

They weren't there.

I still wasn't worried. Annoyed, more like. "He's pushing it," I thought, assuming he was in the neighbors yard. Again, no. Thanks to the freshly fallen snow, I could follow his tracks for a moment, but when he joined up with the well-trodden sidewalk, I had no idea which way he had gone. I picked up the pace and started to call for him and the dog.

Nothing. No sounds. No recognizable tracks. No sign of movement in any direction.

Now I was running. Running, and screaming. I ran in a star pattern, unsure which way to go, always returning to the house, praying that somehow he had thought it was funny to hide in the backyard. Neighbors started to notice. I shouted at one woman I'd never met before, "Have you seen a four year old little boy??!!" She just shook her head no. I turned and ran in the opposite direction, now nearing hysteria.

Finally someone who was unloading their car in the driveway right across the street from my own house asked, "Are you looking for your son?" When I shouted that I was, he said, "He just went that way with a dog." I didn't feel grateful. I felt exasperated. How long do you need to listen to a mother scream before you decide to mention that you saw her child? I ran past him with what I can only assume were crazed eyes. As I ran he said, "He said he was going to school. He seemed to know what he was doing." A four year old.

I had already run past the preschool once, having thought of that possibility. He wasn't there. Finally, I saw a woman walking down the alley toward me, holding my son's hand. I almost collapsed.

I was relieved and furious. "Drake!! Where did you go??!!"

"I went on an adventure with my dog," he said. The kind woman said he appeared to be following Sadie. I felt embarrassed, like I needed to explain. Breathless, I said, "He had been playing in the backyard, and then he just wasn't there." She said she understood. That she had a three year old "who's just like that."

"He isn't "like that,"" I thought. "He's never done this before!" But I didn't say it. It seemed rude after her kindness.

As I blustered between gratitude and embarrassment, Drake interjected with heart crushing words, "My home wasn't special anymore. I wandered off to another special place."

I'm not paraphrasing or altering his words in anyway.

"My home wasn't special anymore."

"I wandered off."

I just stared at him, dumbfounded, until he told me he was sorry of his own volition. As the fear drained out of me, the guilt slid in. I should have gone outside with him. I'd been meaning to go out and play in the snow with him for days and still hadn't done it. Childhood should be full of adventure. I should have provided it.

I asked him if he still wanted to go for a walk. We dropped Sadie off in the yard and I put on my hat and boots. I told him I would follow him and he could decide where we went. He held his hands in front of him as if reading a book and said, "My map says to go left... My map says to go right..." And we wound our way through the neighborhood as I felt myself collapsing inward under the unbearable weight of total parenting failure.

It's been a day...

1 comment :

  1. How scary! This is the moment where other moms can be such a powerful force in our lives. Thank goodness she was kind and was aware that maybe he needed help-even if he didn't think so.