When collegeman (DS1) was three years old and HSB (DS2) was 6 months I used to take them to the city playground by myself. I never really thought about it. I figured, the baby is stuck in the stroller and collegeman would do his thing with me keeping an eye on him. It was a really nice little playground near us. It was very kid friendly and for the city at least, very kid safe-there was only one entrance and exit. There was a jungle gym; slides, monkey bars, and a fountain in the middle were the children would go in the hot days of summer and sun under the sprinklers. There were benches around the fountain where the moms would sit, talk and get some adult time while they watched their children play.
It was not a big deal to stand with collegeman and watch him play. While we didn’t know at the time that he was autistic we knew that he didn’t talk and interact as other children did, but everyone told us there was nothing wrong but a slight speech delay. I didn’t think that I had to watch him extra careful. He always did seem to be underfoot and quite happy to do as he was told.
Well, it was a bright beautiful day in the neighborhood. The park was full of children and their moms running, playing and laughing. It really was a scene out of a1950s suburb but of course it was in the middle of the city and so there was no grass, but a lot of concrete. Collegeman was having a great time. He loved spinning the wheels of the jungle gym and was quite content to do that, after a few times on the slide. (Yep, a missed indicator I know). Well, I decided it was time to go home. It was getting late, the baby needed a nap and I needed to start dinner. I told collegeman that we needed to leave. I bent down to fix a strap on HSB’s stroller and when I looked back up collegeman was gone. Now he wasn’t gone in the sense that I could see that he had run over to the monkey bars. He was not anywhere in sight and would not answer when I called his name.
I can’t even begin to describe the terror. I know for a second I was in disbelief that he wasn’t in front of me and not answering. I ran from apparatus to apparatus. I ran out to the front gate, and asked the hotdog vendor if she had seen a little blond boy leave all by himself. No one had seen him. I ran back inside and kept calling his name. The mommy bunch on the benches, asked if I wanted them to watch the baby. I thanked them profusely and proceeded to run around, sans baby and stroller I had been pushing the stroller as I went running around the playground calling for and looking for collegeman. This time, I even went into the nooks and crannies calling collegeman’s name. Finally I wound back at the mommies and one of them asked me if he was the blond boy by the spinning wheel. (Of course, he had returned to his favorite spot after he had been who knows where inside the playground.)
I ran over to him, grabbed and kissed him and began to yell at him in the middle of the park. I continued to yell at him at home. I fed him his dinner and sent him to bed early so he would remember not to run away. I know you can probably understand the panic. Collegeman never did anything like that again. Neither one of the boys are runners. HSB however, would at times in his life decide that he didn’t want to be somewhere and decide to leave, but that’s not the same as just exiting or running. (You have to understand HSB, he gets something in his craw, ratchets up an attitude and decides he isn’t going to listen to anyone.)
Meanwhile over the years, we never truly faced an issue like the playground again, probably because I also never went back to the playground by myself again. We never went anywhere alone with the boys until they were both much older and even then, we would go in groups of threes everywhere including the ladies room if the need arose. I remember being in a major bulk market needing to go to the ladies and taking my ten and seven year old in with me. I don’t know if the other ladies cared. I don’t know if the other ladies thought something was amiss. (Of course if anyone knows me they also know I wouldn’t have given a damn either) I even took them into the stall (did have them turn around though). In this world you need to do what has to be done. My children, nor yours, need to become a statistics because someone has no idea about the real world and the problems in today’s society.
Anyway, fast forward to today. The boys are much older and we thought more cognizant of the world and people around them. We thought that they understand that when we tell them to call us they are supposed to call. We thought they knew that when they made an appointment to meet someone that that person will be waiting for them. We thought they knew that when people expect you to be someplace and you are not there, those people begin to worry. Not on your life. It was a really fun day yesterday. Collegeman is glad he’s too big to send to bed early.
Collegeman was supposed to meet his art class coach after his law class, have lunch with her and go see his art professor about some projects he was working on. He has done this for several weeks so I didn’t really think I had to remind him what to do. I did remind him to take his portfolio with him. That he would have forgotten. So off he went to school and all was right with the world. (Well, actually HSB was really sick with a viral infection, complete with headache, hacking cough and fever. He is fine now but think Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, complete with blanket over head, complaining how sick he feels and the refusal to bend over because his sinus’s hurt. At least HSB doesn’t like vic’s vaporub on his chest and didn’t ask to have me sing him “soft kitty.” Just set up the computer, humidifier, TV and recharge his phone to play his games.)
Shortly after 1pm the art coach called and asked if collegeman had come home by mistake, because she had been waiting for over an hour and he had not shown up. I decided to try not to panic at this moment and tried to call him on his cell. He did not pick up. I tried again, again he did not pick up. I texted him. He did not respond. The coach called back and no she hadn’t been able to get him either. She decided to take another walk around the campus check out his favorite spots (the library and his advisor’s office) while I called hubby. I texted hubby and he did not respond either. So I called him on his cell.
Now hubby was in a very very very important meeting, but he answered and I started to yell a little about not being able to find collegeman. Yes, he said, call campus security. So I did. They know collegeman because he gets picked up and dropped off every day in front of the building where their office is. They also know him because the disability director introduced collegeman to them. They should know who he was (one of them happens to be a special education teacher by trade and understand aspergers) plus they are all trained as EMTs incase collegeman has a bad seizure; he should know that they will be there to help him. I explained the situation how he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and he wasn’t answering his cell and I am concerned because of the seizures that he might be hurt somewhere. I also told him that when you find him and he is ok, yell at him for me. “We can’t do that ma’am he told me. I have to let you yell at him. But we will go look. Don’t worry.”
Meanwhile, after several more minutes of anxiety, trauma and thoughts of him being tricked into a situation where he was in mortal danger, collegeman called. He was actually annoyed that the art coach was not waiting for him in the place he was supposed to meet her even though he was one and a half hours late. You know I yelled at him when he was three and took off in the playground, this time I used every four letter word I could possibly think of.
Now was it the best parenting moment I had. No, not really, but then again I don’t think I had ever been so afraid in such a long time. He claimed that he didn’t hear the phone ring (He kept telling me that so I resolved that once he got home I would check his phone to see what was going on) and that he was doing work in the library and then just grabbed food in the café. He truly did not understand that anyone would be worried about him.
Meanwhile I told him that the coach would meet him at the art professor’s office and to get his ass there. I immediately called the security office and told them I finally heard from him. Apparently they were also worried about him, because he had sent half his force out looking for collegeman. He also insisted that even if he came by the security desk, he could still not yell at him.
Collegeman called on his way home and didn’t want to get yelled at. He had had enough and wanted everything put behind him and decided we should move on. Oh no, way in hell. When he got home we had another loud discussion. But it had more to do with the fact that he had was not grasping in any way shape or form the reason that anyone would be worried about him. I tried to explain it to him. Then of course he got angry at me that I called his father. Not because he would be embarrassed but that I had the nerve to bother hubby at work. He hates when I bother him when he is doing his work and I have no right to do the same to his father. More yelling and more who do you think you are. I called because no one could find you and I needed some advice on what to do next. I fixed the ringer on his phone.
Now the thing that he didn’t want to deal with in any way shape or form was having an additional talk about this with his father. He had had enough and truthfully I was not getting through to him. (Yes I know a combination of teenage stupidity and asperger mindblindness)Hubby called and spoke to collegeman and promised that they would not talk about it when he got home from work. This morning was another thing, as collegeman kept insisting that I had no right to bother his father at work. We tried to impress upon him how frightened we were. That when you tell people you are going to be somewhere and don’t show up that they will worry about you. I actually even told him, the thing he should have done was go to meet the coach, tell her what you wanted to do and then go do it. This seemed to mollify him a bit, but I think he still really doesn’t get it. Truthfully whether he gets it or not, is no big deal right now, what is important is that he understands what he has to do when he wants to change plans and others are depending on him to be at a certain place at a certain time.
Well true to his word, hubby came home as I said, and did not mention the incident to collegeman at all. We ate dinner. Watched TV and everyone went about their usual evening business. The boys went to bed and dreamt their usual dreams. Unbeknownst to them however, hubby had found a service through the wireless phone company that allows you to track the phone users’ whereabouts. He called the phone company and bought the service. He set it up for each boy, not trusting that HSB one day wouldn’t pull the same crap that collegeman just did. Luckily both boys obsessively take their phones with them. Collegeman takes his phone because it is what grown-ups do, along with taking with you when you leave the house your wallet (complete with id and money) and keys. HSB takes his phone so he can play the games he’s downloaded.
So the boys dreamt their sweet slumber of innocence and dreamed the dreams of teenage boys. They awoke the next day and off collegeman went to school. Secure in the knowledge that the issue won’t be discussed anymore, but innocent to the reality that we had just lo-jacked his ass.
Until next time,
With child locator in hand,
Elise is a parent of two youngmen with aspergers. She is all about advocacy and support for those with special needs. Elise has been a volunteer child advocate in her community for over ten years and is a certified college transition coach for those with aspergers. Additionally, Elise is also a moderator on the on-line support group The Coffee Klatch, aka tck. TCK is a twitter based interactive support group made of up parents of special needs children for parents of special needs children. You can follow Elise through her blog Raising Aspergers’s Kids, http://asd2mom.blogspot.com, on twitter @raisingASDkids, on Facebook as “Elise Aspergers-twomom”. You can follow The Coffee Klatch @thecoffeeklatch and on their FaceBook page of the same name.