Thursday, April 12, 2012

Keeping Him Safe.

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.


  1. How scary for you Ruth- I feel stressed just thinking about him running towards a car. My good friend had a little guy that bolted as well and she had many heart-stopping moments. I'm sure you are right that there is no intent here, just impulsivity and not being old enough yet to remember to let his poor mom know his plans! I'm sure it will come (and in the meantime keep hanging on tight!)

  2. I really relate to this. And I appreciate your perspective on his attachment and desire to please in the midst of this chronic issue.

    Our little guys show tons of great attachment, but they do consistently lack awareness of the need to have permission to leave our immediate vicinity in public places, or before handling things that "are not toys", etc.,...and this past week, even in our own yard, when they hopped the fence while they were out playing on their own, to go visit complete strangers who were doing yardwork for our neighbour).

    After this incident, one child began to sob when he realized our alarm. The other stared blankly and seemed a bit confused as to why it was an issue, stating that he did it because he likes to play with people. This particular child is constantly taking matters into his own hands and calling the shots for himself and his siblings. I can't tell how much reflects where he is at with attachment, and how much is his personality (he was described as being very social and a bit demanding in the foster home where he grew up) combined with learned patterns (while not unsupervised, per se, I think he had a bit more freedom to "decide" things in his previous life, and was praised often for being very smart and independent - unfortunately smartness and independence is not translating well into wisdom yet).

    It is alternatively concerning (safety-wise and peer-wise - he would never think to consult us before copying whatever the most exciting peer was doing, regardless of rules or consequences) and FRUSTRATING to have a child who both doesn't think before acting (true at times) and doesn't always worry much about what the adults will think (also true at times). In some ways he seems very eager to please and be recognized positively. He loves any attention, and enjoys affection. But I still feel real distance between us in this whole area of looking to authority, and at times, deferring to adult guidance.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I feel your pain, and appreciate your thoughts.

  3. I just posted a similar piece about my 3 year old. He takes off due to a stress/panic reaction, and at a friends place out in the country he took off a week ago. Gone into the fields and bush no where to be seen. It was terrifying. We found him and he was safe thank goodness. But last weekend two little girls fell through the ice in a nearby town. One girl did not make it, and I know that could have been my boy that day, I have been an emotional wreck since hearing about these girls so recently after our scare. It is soooo scary. I wish I had 10 eyes and 10 hands so I could keep track of him!

  4. We could also chat for a very long time about this and our boys. How does one make another believe that they are the child and they can't just take off where and when they wish! Much like yours sounds, ours also isn't a runner who is trying to get away from us, but he just doesn't grasp the safety in staying by me (angels have protected him on many parking lots and in Ethiopia we were told parents let kids run and find out what happens, but drivers in Ethiopia would stop or avoid him because they are used to people on the streets etc). It so frustrates me that our guy just can't grasp why I need to know where he is and if others can go by their selves, why he can't...

  5. Oh, thank you so much for your comments - I'm clearly not alone in this type of occurrence! And Dancin' Momma, I can only imagine the jolt that it must have been for you when you heard of that poor girl, in conjunction with your son's heart almost stopped when I read that.

    Thanks so much for commenting folks!