I'm not sure whether it stems from a personality trait or whether it was learned from his first life in Ethiopia where children seem to roam with remarkable freedom in the rural communities, but Seth has a very hard time allowing someone else to be in charge of him. This is evidenced in many ways, but most dangerously, it has been very hard for him to learn that he simply can't run away from me in a parking lot, or run outside of the house without letting me know where he's going, etc etc etc.
The first time it happened was sometime last summer, soon after the younger kids had come home to Canada. I took the three kids into a drugstore to pick something up. Just as I was finishing with the cashier, I looked up to see Seth take off out of the exit and bolt into the parking lot. He didn't hear me yell for him to stop (or maybe didn't know my voice well enough to know that it was me, or maybe didn't understand the English word that I yelled), and my heart stopped when a car in the parking lot had to stop quickly in order to accommodate his mad dash. It felt like I was watching a slow-motion movie through the big glass windows of the drugstore. I don't think that Seth intended to do anything wrong - he was headed towards our van and was trying to open the door by the time I made it out of the store exit. But he didn't in any way appreciate the danger he was in, and simply didn't recognize the need to let me know where he was planning to go.
This pattern has repeated itself often enough that I am quite careful about how far I let Seth get away from me - I'm always trying to keep him within earshot. In parking lots, I hold hands with both younger kids and often have to clench tightly to Seth's hand as he struggles to free himself in order to run towards our destination.
On Easter Sunday, while out for lunch with family at a hotel, he took off again when I had turned my back for a second. He's so terribly quick and his course of direction can change with lightning speed: one second he was sitting beside me talking with relatives; the next second he was gone. I spent a frantic few minutes looking for him in the hotel lobby and (with my gut in my throat) out in the parking lot, before I discovered him in the women's bathroom chatting with my sister. I admit that my relief turned to anger pretty quickly and I grabbed him and sat down with him in the lobby for about ten mostly-silent minutes until I could trust myself enough to manage my voice to talk with him about the importance of not taking off. At one point, my eyes filled with tears and he asked me what was wrong and I said that I couldn't stand the thought of losing him. He said that he understood and that he wouldn't do it again. That felt good to hear in the moment, but I know better; and I understand that a young child's commitment, while genuine in the moment, doesn't hold water the next time something distracts him.
At home, the pattern is similar. I have worked very hard just to get him to tell me that he's heading outside. I keep telling him that I am thrilled that he loves being outside; that I just need to know where he is so that I can make sure he's all right. This morning, again, he took off somewhere and I didn't even guess he was outside until I was calling for him and Matthew told me that he'd seen him in the mud room. Sure enough...
Again, I have no thought as to his having ill intent. I know because he loves his life and his family that he's not trying to run away - he's very attached to us (huh - side note - I just noted with confidence that I think Seth's very attached to us - and I think it's true). Nor is he thinking about getting into trouble (or staying out of it). He's just a very independent little boy in some ways and, maybe more importantly, is not used to (or particularly fond of) being accountable to someone else. He tries so hard, this precious and serious and intense little boy of mine, and I know he's trying hard to listen when I ask (beg?) him to let me know where he's going. He's simply challenged by his innate need to get accomplished in this moment whatever it is that he has set his sights on...and unfortunately, what seems to catch his fancy is usually located at the other end of the parking lot.