I decide to check on Ryan. It is after school and Ryan has been playing in our fenced in backyard for the past 10 minutes. I usually peek out of the window every so often to make sure he’s o.k.. I scan the backyard. He’s no where in sight. He’s probably hiding behind the shed. I walk out the door and onto the deck. I look toward the shed and he’s not there either. Then I see the gate to the fence is open. The gate is NEVER open. It’s ALWAYS locked. I begin to run. I run through my next door neighbor’s backyard, then my next neighbor’s yard. I run down the hill and up the street. He’s not anywhere I look.
This is the second time Ryan has bolted. The first time was before Christmas at school. He was on the swing at recess, and suddenly decided to run off the playground. He’s fast. His teacher started chasing him. The other teacher called for help on the walkie-talkie. Before long, the principal, assistant principal, and another teacher were outside searching the area around the school. They finally found him hiding behind a bus in the bus lot. I don’t know how long he was gone. I really don’t want to know. I don’t want to think about the busy street in front of the school or the deep woods behind the school. Ryan has no sense of fear. He doesn’t understand that cars won’t stop for him if he runs into the street. He doesn’t understand that he could get lost or not be able to find his way back.
Ryan ended up in the principal’s office, which made no difference to him. He doesn’t understand the stigma of going to the principal’s office. In fact, he thinks going to the principal’s office is fun. I give the principal and his teacher credit for trying to make him understand how dangerous it was for him to run from the playground. I don’t think it sunk in.
Ryan now has recess on the kindergarten playground since it is totally fenced in. The school can’t completely fence in the second grade playground because it would be too expensive. But that’s a whole other story.
Today, as I look for Ryan, a million things go through my mind at once. He could be anywhere, in anyone’s yard, behind any tree, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of a busy street. I know that time is ticking. I try to figure out the best way to find him. I’m out of breath and realize running from house to house is not the most efficient use of my energy. Should I call 911? Should I get in my car? Should I call my neighbors? Then I see the boy from next door walking down the street. The middle school bus just dropped him off. I ask him if he saw Ryan. He did, way at the top of the hill, almost a half mile away, standing behind a car parked in the street.
I run into the house for my keys. It seems like it takes forever to dig through my purse to find them. I sprint to the car, back out of the garage, and head down the street. Then up ahead I see Ryan running toward my car. Behind him are two girls and their dad. The girls also just got off the bus. They saw Ryan, recognized him from church, and started following him. Thank God they decided to follow him. I stop the car and run over to Ryan. I’d give him a big hug but he always pulls away. I grab onto his hand instead. I hurriedly explain the situation to my neighbor, how Ryan has the tendency to bolt, and that we have safeguards at our house. The gate in the backyard is always locked. It was open today.
Another woman pushing a child in a stroller joins the group. She reports that Ryan had gone into someone’s mailbox, pulled out the mail, and threw it on the ground. Yes, Ryan is obsessed with mail trucks and mail right now. She says that she saw him run the whole way down the other street. Her voice sounds critical. And why shouldn’t she be? Wasn’t I just as critical of the mother of the boy in California who ran out of the house in the dead of winter with no coat or shoes? And the ending was not a happy one. Didn’t I criticize her to myself and wonder how any mother could not watch her child better than that?
It only takes a minute when a child has a tendency to bolt. We have our garage door button covered up so Ryan can’t open the garage door. We have extra locks on our doors. The fence gates are always shut and he can’t open them. Or are they? It only takes a minute. . ..
I put Ryan in the car and drive him back home thinking all the way that he’s older and bigger now. He has a mind of his own. And he’s smart. If he wants to run, he’ll find a way. I tell him that he’s not allowed to leave the house or backyard without Mommy or Daddy. I ask him if he understands and he says yes. But he still doesn’t seem to get the enormity of what he did or how much danger he was in. Again, I thank God that nothing bad happened, and realize that each passing day will continue to bring new and challenges and that we’ll always have to stay one step ahead.