Jake ran away from me in a busy parking lot 20 minutes ago and despite that diagnosis of cerebral palsy ataxia, he moved so quickly that the only way to get him back was to leap and tackle him.. on the asphalt, in the middle of a moving car line at the pick-up where his sister had camp today.
I got a hold of him, straightened myself up and walked on the campus, my hand firmly around his forearm, no longer bothering with his hand at all. A very kind counselor who could not possibly have been more that 18 noticed me, and must have known that something was up by my demeanor. When she asked if I had a question, I broke into tears and said "My son just escaped my grasp in the parking lot and got away from me. He's fine, but I need to get it together before my daughter sees me." She graciously said, "Why don't I go get her for you and you can take a minute."
Jake and I sat there on the edge of the little playground, me firmly holding a twisted knot of the back of his shirt, his hands sifting through the tan bark. I wiped my tears, assessed my physical damage, pledged not to be angry with my son, and took a deep breath.
Lucy bounded out with the sweet counselor who brushed away any of my apologies as completely unnecessary, and as we left, Lucy said, "Mom, I want to play on the play structure." and headed two feet away from me. I reminded her that she was headed to a birthday party and she happily came next to me and we all got into the car.
Then I had this flash, not of how frustrated I am, or irritated, or disappointed that such a simple errand could not be completed without major incident.. but a flash of how my son must be having all of those feelings and more. When he "ran away," he probably just wanted to play in the tanbark at the edge of the parking lot. Sitting right near our car was a little slice of what my son must think is paradise. That big fresh pile of tanbark just waiting to be spread abut the flower beds at this beautiful elementary school campus, siren calling him, and he probably just wanted to put his little man-hands through every piece of it.
He wasn't necessarily running away, he could have just been running. And how could I possibly know the difference?
Can you imagine having all of the desire to do something as simple as putting your hands in tan bark, and being unable to do it because you just couldn't tell anyone that's what you wanted to do? Lucy asked to play on the play structure, turned away from me, and I certainly didn't lunge after her.
But, of course, she came back to me. And I know that she would do the same thing in a parking lot, or an airport, or Disneyland. She comes back to me, and before she leaves, she looks both ways to make sure she will be safe. I can count on that. I taught her, and now she knows it, and that's the end of that, and anything other than that is her being naughty, but even at her naughtiest she is always safe.
I remember having a discussion with one of Jake's teachers when he was at his previous school where they had proudly put "I want to go to the bathroom." push-talkers near the door frames of both exits of the classroom, so the children could press the button on their way out the door. I thought it was a great idea, except for the part where Jake is not allowed to get up out of his seat during work time. How could he ever communicate a desire to go to the bathroom if the icon is across the room? How humiliating, how degrading.
Does he live his life with the hope that I will be there to intuit his needs? That his next caretaker during the day will be able to understand his subtle facial expressions and vocalizations. Here I was, so worried about Jake being injured this afternoon, but I'm not sure that it isn't perhaps more painful for him living every day, just hoping the people around him will take a moment longer try to understand what he wants, where he wants to be.
I am crushed to think of how many times I have been impatient with him, wishing he would just do one single thing I asked him to do, when he is probably wondering if today will be the one day that he gets to choose to play on the play structure, linger. But I can't let go of his arm; I just don't know that what we have tried to teach has stuck in there.
And how will my son ever prove to me that he will come back if I can never trust him enough to let him leave?
This post was an editor's pick today at OpenSalon.com