When your child is born with special needs, you imagine a lot of worst-case scenarios and hypotheticals. Health concerns, academic battles, fitting in, toilet training and improved speech. Sometimes, you don’t realize a worst-case scenario until you come THIS close to it happening.
I’ll fast forward by saying Zachary is OK and we’ve made a few tweaks (see below) to our everyday routine to make sure we don’t experience this again.
A lot of it can be blamed on complacency, perhaps. A bit of directing our attention to the other, more in-your-face things we’ve been facing head-on.
The other day, in the very early-morning hours, Zachary got out of our house. He left. Just literally walked out the (locked) door, without us even realizing he wasn’t peacefully sleeping in his bed.
Elopement, my friends, exists. And it’s huge and scary and hits you when you’re least expecting it. We’ve worried about Zach’s elopement for years. It’s been on all of his IEP paperwork in three different states.
We’ve seen him dart across streets without looking. We’ve gasped as he walks out a front door we’ve left open. We’ve chased him, not chased him, pretended not to chase him while chasing him and chased him again with every bit of speed we had. We’ve learned a lot from a lot of near-misses and close-calls in those early years especially. We adapted and learned and, — so we thought — moved on and well beyond it.
The truth is that Zach finding himself alone (meaning: not surrounded by those who understand him and love him) and in a bad situation is one of my greatest fears. It makes my heart leap into my chest, or my stomach or zig-zagging between both.
Here’s what we’ve pieced together from what Z-Man has told us and what clues he left behind.
We believe he woke up around 420-430am. He opened his door and then shut it behind him (looking for a closed door in the middle of the night has always been one of my clues that he was still tucked in, dozing). He crept downstairs, had a drink of water and read a few football books on the couch.
I should note that in the past, we actually locked Zach’s door from the hallways side due to him sneaking downstairs for late-night snacks, creating great messes and making me worry about the open washing machine, the non-blocked electrical outlet and more dangers. But as we fight the good fight with 100% potty training, keeping his door open and giving him the possibility of using the bathroom is essential.
So, after a few minutes, Zachary placed two of Scott’s work bags on the floor near our double-locked front door so that he could reach his pair of gloves and borrow one of my wool hats. And then, without a coat or shoes, he walked to the back sliding door, unlocked it, slid it open, closed it behind him, walked in the dark down our deck stairs and across our deck over to the backyard gate, unlocked that gate and closed it behind him before he walked two sides of our fence behind our house to our neighbor’s home. He went across their yard and up their front steps. It was in the low 40s that night, with a frost on the ground.
He never knocked. My friend’s dog started barking and wouldn’t quit. Finally she opened the front door, and there was Z, wedged between the screen door and the front door, smiling and saying hello to her as he walked in her house.
The back slider was opened at 443am. At 459am, a text:
”Zach is here.”
He got a piggyback up to our house and I couldn’t feel anything but his cold feet and gratitude.
Hours of What-Ifs filled my mind.
What if he had not gone to a familiar place?
What if he had walked and walked and walked?
What if he had gone to the small lake near our home?
What if he was hit by a car?
What if someone took him?
What if he fell and got hurt?
What if it had been much colder?
We have a lot of easy fixes we’ve already implemented:
Our alarm system (which we got partially for this possibility) is turned on EVERY evening again.
Our push notifications for our alarm system are back on on our phones. Anytime a door or window is opened, we immediately get a buzz and a notice.
We’ve added even more locks to our lower level doors and outside gates.
Some people also use things like monitoring bracelets. These are a great idea and work well for a lot of families.
It’s hard not to beat yourself up when you feel you’ve gotten lazy with parenting or predicting moments like these. The Mom Guilt was heavy for the first couple of days. Embarrassment at the idea of even sharing was huge.
But, sharing is important.
We fail. We all fail sometimes. But it’s only a true failure if you don’t learn from it, right?
We can learn so much from one another. Let this be a reminder to keep thinking one step ahead of your kiddos and be prepared for those worst-case scenarios — the ones you can prepare for, at least.
So, one last ‘What If.”
What if you are given a chance to come out of a difficult moment with a change in routine and a positive outlook? What if you are blessed to learn from a moment rather than have it crush you? What if you can help others?
What if you’re all OK…