I work in the basement where, despite its many inconveniences, the boys cannot color on or disturb my work-in-progress. Since the basement does not yet have a working telephone line, I rarely concern myself with phone calls when my husband is upstairs. This call was no different. The phone rang. I paid no attention. Mark answered the call, but it didn’t seem to concern me or he’d have called down the stairs for me to come up. I didn’t know my son had been lost and was found again. I didn’t know I needed to encircle him in my loving arms once more in order to regain my equilibrium. Blissfully unaware of the almost-disaster, I continued my work despite the Labor Day holiday.
It’s strange how that feeling of panic and worry can arise even after the danger is over. My boys are runners, meaning they don’t like to be confined to a specific space and will run if given the opportunity. Willy was our most ingenious runner. When he was four years old, and my youngest was just an infant, he would “escape” out the sliding glass door that lead to the sidewalk and the parking lot outside our apartment. Being a problem solver, he would wait until I was feeding Ben to make his getaway. He never went far, but he went outside without supervision. In a diaper. In the winter. We tried everything we could think of and asked everyone we knew to try to keep the door closed. We tried various devices, including tape over the latch and a rod that held the door shut. Each and every time, Willy found a way around our attempts to keep him inside. Eventually, we broke our lease and bought a house, because the landlord would not put in a bolt lock to keep the door closed.
The advantage of owning our own home was not that we could guarantee the boys didn’t get out. It was that once the boys found a way out we were free to do whatever it took to shut the way as permanently as necessary. Our measures to ensure our children’s safety would abuse the aesthetic sense of just about anyone, but aesthetics is very low on our priorities. For example, we have a big, beautiful bay window in our living room. One window is big and cannot be opened. On either side are two smaller windows (half the width, but the same height) that could be opened when we first moved in. The screens were fairly easy to pop out – just exert a little pressure. The locks on the windows were stiff and our children had trouble with things like buttons, so I didn’t see it as a potential danger spot. Until, one day, while I was doing dishes, Alex opened the window, popped the screen out, and went outside to get a closer look at the cars. The ones that moved. On a very busy street. By standing in the middle of the road. It took him less than a minute to get from our safe, seemingly secure living room to the middle of the street. I heard the honking and took a peek. There was Alex, happy as he could be close to so many cars with their engines whirring, completely unaware of the danger. After a few attempted solutions, I nailed them shut from the outside. It’s not pretty, but it works. The boys haven’t gotten out that way again.
They’ve gotten out other ways, though. Through the garage, through the fence, and through a door someone left just a little unlatched. Most times we catch it pretty quick. But there have been times when we’ve called the police for help. If they want to run and they get out, a minute out of sight can mean they’re also out of hearing. It’s always scary and there’s always a period of panic, right under the surface, despite the necessary crisis management. Each time there’s a voice inside me nobody can hear that’s screaming and weeping.
It’d been quite a while since any of the boys had run, though. The last time was when we were at Willy and Ben’s school (back when they went to the same school) and Alex had slipped away in the press of bodies and gone to the playground. Mark had the boys in the Early Childhood room, while I was filling out paper work. Mark was doing something with Ben when the door opened, shut, and Alex was gone. Within moments the school’s staff was mobilized. People knew Alex, because he used to go to Roosevelt. I heard about it over the loud speaker and rushed back. It seemed like an hour, but was maybe twenty minutes, and he was spotted on the playground and brought to us by one of the therapists. That was about three years ago.
Then, last week, it happened again. Not at our house. Not at school. Alex was outside in his respite therapist’s fenced yard playing happily. His therapist was inside for the moment. Then, another adult came through the gate in the fence. With a big dog. Leaving the gate open. Alex, who is a bit skittish around dogs, went out through the gate to get away from the dog. The therapist spotted the lapse quickly. He went looking, using his cell phone to call the police. But the police had already found him. A couple saw Alex and stopped him from crossing the street against the light. They tried to get Alex into their car, but Alex wouldn’t go. They had no bad intentions, but Alex wouldn’t get in their car. So, they called the police and the police car came and picked up Alex. Apparently he went with the police without a problem. This is good to know. I’ve always worried that Alex, never responding to lessons about strangers, would go with anyone. I was wrong and am glad to be wrong. Safe with the police, they took Alex back to the therapist’s house. It took all of ten minutes.
Then, the therapist called us to tell us all about it. When I finally came upstairs and learned what had happened the same panic and worry flooded through me. I knew Alex was safe and was with his therapist. But the anxiety didn’t go away until I could take Alex in my arms once more.