I Nearly Dialed 9-1-1

Whenever I’ve been out with my two kids, and we return home, I like to give my son a little freedom to make his way into the house. He enjoys the outdoors and has certain spots he likes to check to see if any animals have appeared. In particular, he’s always on the hunt for frogs and rabbits. After all, we’re in a semi-rural location with some land and lots of places to explore.

Today, just after noon, we returned from some errands. I took LL from her carseat and set her on my hip before picking up the myriad bags I needed to take inside. I hollered for BB to come along so we could eat our lunch. He scampered up behind me and I heard his heavy footfall on the porch behind me. I rounded the corner and made it to the door. Once inside, I set LL down to play and put all my bags on a shelving unit near our front door. I couldn’t have been inside more than one minute, but I couldn’t hear BB anymore.

I stepped back outside and looked around. Didn’t see him. I walked back to the parking area. Not there either. As LL watched from the living room window, I walked around looking in all of his usual haunts. When I couldn’t find him there, I went back up to the front of the house and looked around. Still didn’t see him. I started to get concerned. I went back to the parking area and walked down to the street level. I looked up one side of the sidewalk and down the other. I peered across the way to a park we frequent. Still no sign. I was getting frantic at this point. I started calling his name in that scary broken voice of panic. Nothing.

My mind was swimming. What if he got too close to the road and someone had picked him up? But, how? He was out there for no more than a minute and he had been on the porch. Where could he be? I walked back up to the front of the house still calling even more terrified. I started to walk to a small man-made pond near the house when I saw him. He was running toward me happily yelling “VULTURE!!” He had gone down near the water feature to look at a volt of vultures that had been sunning themselves along a wrought iron fence surrounding the water. But, because of the topography of the land, I couldn’t see him from the house.

He hadn’t done anything wrong per se. He was in a location we visit often together. He hadn’t gone past the “line” which is a joint in the concrete of our parking area beyond which is a busy state highway. He is very good about stopping at the line and never crosses it without an adult present. He also knew from experience that I curtail his adventures for a while when he ignores a safety limit. Whenever that happens, I hold his hand all the way into the house to make sure he’s ok. It takes time for me to trust in his judgment again.

But, this time, he followed the rules. All except for announcing himself or coming to me when I called. However, thinking back, it was probably a very short amount of time between when I first started calling and when he showed up. It just felt like an eternity when I thought I’d lost him.

This is where it gets really tough. How do I give him freedom to learn to be responsible and protect his safety at the same time? I’ve been thinking about the situation all day since it happened and I realized that my next step is to set a firmer boundary on the side of my house near the water feature. He needs a physical marker to know where to stop. I also need to work on having him respond or return when I call.

But, what I will not do is punish him for being a kid who respects the rules we already have in place. Even though my mommy heart was gripped with terror, I know he needs opportunities like this one to know he can always run back home and be accepted even when he hears that fear and upset in my voice.

BB Just Bolted Into the Road!

We were at the supermarket when it happened. LL is home with Peaceful Dad, and I had BB with me. It was an ideal opportunity to let him participate in the shopping process.

I had him holding onto the cart handle with me as we cruised through the store. I pointed out the groceries we needed and told him how many to pick up. He counted along as he picked up each item, “one, two,” which is pretty incredible considering he was barely speaking just one year ago. We arrived at self-checkout where he scanned the items and slipped them into bags (almost entirely) by himself.

Uh oh. There was a twinkle in his eye. My body instinctively started toward him even before I registered what was happening. He ran. When autistic kids do it, professionals call it elopement. Whatever you call it, it’s terrifying watching your child run toward danger.

I knew I had left behind all my groceries, my phone (with credit cards), and my car keys, but I didn’t care in that moment. It was all replaceable. I ran. I yelled, “stop!” I clapped my hands to get him attention. All to no avail. Everyone at the store entrance stared at me with surprised expressions. They were frozen. A store employee yelled “hey!” and a man in the crosswalk area spun around and grabbed BB, letting his own cart continue careening through the lot. I caught up a moment later and took BB’s hand. I thanked the man and calmly started back as he looked on with a stunned expression. He had enforced a limit and, in the process, showed BB that bolting is not acceptable.

I saw everyone watching me and I knew they were waiting to see what I would do. Would I be a proper southern mom and whoop him right there in front of God and everyone or would I be “that mom” who didn’t know how to discipline her child? I could have explained loudly, “He’s autistic and he bolts sometimes!” But, I make an effort not to reveal aspects of his identity he hasn’t consented to me sharing, and I’m actively working to destigmatize autism. Neurotypical kids bolt too. It’s kid behavior and I want folks to be understanding of children. I didn’t explain anything. I simply let the “thank you” stand.

We walked back into the store and completed our transaction while I told BB that running into the street is dangerous and that he’d scared me. I told him that I’d keep him safe next time by using our wrist tether. Prevention is key when it comes to childlike behavior.

But that doesn’t mean it’ll be this way forever. We’ll try again and he may still bolt. It’s ok. These instances are decreasing in frequency as he gets older. If you have a bolter too, I get it. Gentleness is for runners just like it’s for kids who reliably stick right next to you.

I will continue to teach my son how to walk safely next to me with and without the tether. I’ll ignore all the moms online who crassly liken tethers and harnesses to dogs on leashes. I’ll thank the strangers who step in to help when we need it. And, I’ll know I’m doing my best.

You are too.