Next month, my son Pablo will turn ten. Like many kids with autism, he has occasionally wandered, when something has truly caught his interest. During his early elementary school years, he loved to run along the fence that bordered the school playground. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the playground fence, it was the privacy fence running along the back of the houses near the school – and it went on and on and ON. He would take off and run alongside that fence and completely disappear from sight, in what seemed like the blink of an eye. I can’t tell you how many times I ran after him, while begging other playground moms to keep an eye on the three girls for a moment. Luckily, Pablo’s developed a little more impulse control over the years, and he hasn’t been much of a wanderer lately – or so I thought.
I needed to make a big shopping trip this week. After making my giant list and compiling my fat stack of coupons, I headed out, and left my teenager in charge of the little ones. I took a head count before I left, and didn’t see Pablo. My little girls assured me he was just outside riding his scooter. Not unusual. We live on a cul-de-sac near a small pocket park, and all of the kids regularly ride their scooters and bikes all around, popping in and out of people’s houses, since we have a street full of friends. Off I went.
As I was driving to the store, I was suddenly hit with the worst feeling of dread I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had times where I felt like something wasn’t right, where things were just a little “off” – and this was nothing like that. That feeling you get in your chest and stomach when you get horrible news, when you can’t catch your breath for a moment, when you audibly gasp – that’s the feeling I had. It scared me to death. I pulled over and turned around, and headed straight back home.
“Where is Pablo?” I asked Kayley, who was surprised to see me back already. We glanced around, called for him, poked our heads into all his usual hangout places. Over the next fifteen minutes, I searched. I called every neighbor. I circled the block. No Pablo. I had a houseful of kids, between my three girls and the neighbor kids who were over to play, but no Pablo. The other kids jumped onto their bikes and headed out to track him down. My little heroes.
Moments later, I heard Mallory’s sweet voice yell for me, “I found him!” Holy cats, you guys. The relief that washed over me was overwhelming. Then, they appeared from around the bend – Mallory on her bike and Pablo on his electric scooter. Even from a block away, I could see on his face that he knew he was in trouble! “I’m sorry, Mom!” As they approached me, I burst into tears. Pablo threw his arms around me and started to sob. “I’m so sorry, Mommy!” I told him I was moments away from calling the police. He cried harder. “But I don’t want to go to jail!” Oh, Pablo.
Turns out, Pablo has been spending a lot of time on Google Maps – which isn’t actually unusual for him – and he’s been memorizing all the routes in the neighborhood to get to the places he likes to go. I don’t think he truly INTENDED to hop on the bike path and head all the way down to the BIG park, which is more than half a mile from our house – but he got pretty far away in a hurry on his electric scooter! And practically gave me a heart attack in the process. Naturally, we had another long talk about boundaries and rules, and I’m crossing all my fingers that this doesn’t happen again any time soon. Still, I’m looking into getting some sort of tracking device for Pablo, just in case my intuition doesn’t kick in next time! If you have any tips for me, I’m all ears.
What are your rules for your children, when it comes to playing in the neighborhood? Do you allow your kids to visit nearby parks without you?