It was a typical Sunday afternoon. Laundry was in progress, Sparky was playing with his Legos, and the cats were snoozing. I was printing some pictures for a project I needed on Monday. Ok, a lot of pictures. So naturally I ran out of ink. I debated for a little while whether or not I really, really wanted to make a run to WalMart on a nice Sunday afternoon when there would no doubt be lots of people out. In the end, the trip won out as I really did need to finish the project up.
So I packed up Sparky and off we went. He was slightly disgruntled over being disrupted from his Legos but he gets over things quickly and by the time we got there he was over it. I made my way over to the electronics section so I could get the ink I needed. I let go of him (I always hold his hand for safety’s sake when we are out but my cast really limits my ability here) and picked up the ink. We went on our way and I told him we were going to stop to get some sheet protectors. I looked from him and looked down the aisle I thought was correct and looked back.
He was gone. Just like that. A blink and gone. I looked around. I checked up and down several aisles. How could a 4 foot 9 inch, 12 year old in a red coat disappear that quick?!?!? I could call his phone! Shit…. It’s in my purse. The ONE time it isn’t in his pocket is the one time he disappears. Fuck….. Now what? I keep looking. I check the games knowing he usually likes checking those out. Nope. Too much time is passing….
Too much time…..
I spot a group of about six employees gathered around the sewing desk. I stop and ask them if they’ve seen a 12 year old boy in a red coat come by. Blank stares…. One asked me what he looked like and I grabbed my phone to pull up a photo of him in his coat (thank god I take so many pictures!!!) and another asks if I want her to call him over to the desk. I looked at her dead in the face and said, “He’s a 12 year old Autistic. He won’t know what this desk is or how to find it.”
I was met with six panicked faces. I faltered.
I show the one employee his photo and she calls out on the radio. Another asks if I want to call a Code Adam. “Umm… Well… I don’t know that it’s necessary….” (MORON!!! Why wouldn’t I say YES! Always say YES folks! ALWAYS!)
While I fumble more time ticks away. “Call it.” (Why would I even debate that?!?!?!)
Just as she had the phone in her hand and was about to call it I hear myself being paged over the PA system to report to the service desk. He’s been found!
I take off straight to the desk and find him there, cool as a cucumber with an employee and a lady and her husband. She started telling me how thrilled she was that they were able to get him to me and told me how well he did. She said he walked up to her and said, “I think I’m lost and need help.” She and her husband immediately walked him to the service desk so I could be paged. I thanked her far too many times and the kiddo gave her a hug. She kept saying he did very well and she was just glad to get him back to me. Sparky told me he was very proud of himself because he saved himself. Yes, buddy. Yes you did…
I tucked his hand under my arm and we went on our way. It wasn’t long before the whole thing hit me and I was fighting back major tears. Again. This happened again. I thought we were past major things like elopements and random wanderings. His separation anxiety was always enough to keep him in check and keep him close by. This time I managed to ward off the worst case scenarios that threatened to take over my mind.
I can’t even tell you how proud I am of him. If you would have asked me if he would have known what to do in that situation I would have been skeptical enough to tell you no. He usually panics if he can’t see me and we are in the same aisle. How could he know what to do if he discovered he wasn’t in the same aisle? Or even the next aisle over? When push came to shove this kiddo kept his cool and found help further proving that he is full of marvelous surprises.
I learned a lot from this and was fueled a little to anger as well. Things I learned? Always go with the Code Adam. While not enough time passed for him to have gotten out of the store by the time the employee was going to call it, you just never know. You just don’t. I was fortunate enough that Sparky approached a couple of respectable folks and not someone shady for help. (I have always said he was a great judge of character, yay Sparky!) Also, always put his phone in his pocket. I did buy the damn thing to be able to track his whereabouts and make sure he can reach me. Anything can happen at any time. Even in the store. A minor oversight could have had major consequences.
Why was I angry? Because society doesn’t really give me a great way of keeping him with me. To make things worse, I was limited in what I could do because of my cast. I really only had one hand to work with. It’s not like I could tie a tether to him to make sure he stays with me. (This totally reminds me of the great bathroom debate with taking older boys into the women’s restroom.) I’d be crucified by people for daring to “leash” my son. Just look at what happens when parents put those tethers on their typical toddlers! He’s too big to stick in a cart. So really, what do I do? Even when I have two working hands on my side it is difficult to keep him with me. Not because I’m negligent in anyway, but because wandering kids literally can disappear in the blink of an eye. You don’t realize that it’s the case until it happens to you. Until then, it seems impossible.
But, reality is reality, and this is my reality. Wandering happens for many reasons: curiosity about something they see, distraction, zoning out, the list goes on. While I may never know the reason why he wandered off, I will continue to be amazed at the speed of it. Even the most prepared among us can be caught unprepared.