It's a weird feeling to misplace your child. It's never really happened to me before this week. One minute I was on the playground chatting with another mom about orthodontists, the next Smunch came out of his classroom without his sweatshirt. I told him to go back and look for it. He couldn't find it. I told him it was probably on the hook outside the classroom. He couldn't find it. He said, "I wonder where I could have left it." And he took off toward the other side of the playground.
Assuming he was off looking for his sweatshirt, I kept chatting. He didn't come back. I finally decided he must've been distracted by an afternoon game of shoot-out or wall ball and headed out to the playground myself. I didn't see him. I went back to his classroom where his lonely sweatshirt hung out the hook outside. I asked his teacher if she'd seen him. Nope. I walked around the playground again, figuring I must've missed him somehow.
I still wasn't feeling very panicky. I mean, he and Mam often take off into the larger playground if I stay and chat too long. It's annoying because I have to head out there and get them if I want to go home, but it's hardly dangerous. He had to be out there somewhere.
I was getting hot walking around and around on the blacktop, overdressed for the warm weather in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. I walked around again and again. I went in the office. Nope. I went back to his classroom. There were now three first grade teachers in there and they all sounded concerned. "Would he have gone home?" one of them asked. "I don't think so," I said. "Has he ever gone home by himself before?" "No."
At this point, I'm starting to feel a wee bit panicky, remembering the note from the superintendent that went out the previous day, describing a potential kidnap attempt on another student in the district. My mind starts visiting unimaginable scenarios. I can't think for the life of me where he could be and can't imagine he would have gone home all alone. I walk the playground again. His teacher goes to the office and sends out a school-wide page over the intercom. "Smunch Ryder, please come to room 12!" Nothing.
I decide I'd better head home, just in case. I tell his teacher to call me if he shows up. In turn I promise to call her if he's at home. I head as fast as I can for the crosswalk, which goes across a busy street, but has a friendly crossing guard. "Did my son go across here?" I pant. He nods.
Although I wonder what he was thinking crossing Smunch without me (he's held both kids for my arrival many times before), I thank him and walk faster. I cross another street that is often busy. No crosswalk. No crossing guard. I can see my housecleaners leaving, but waving and gesturing. Clearly, Smunch has made it home and he's in the house. Turns out they've been trying to call my cell phone...which, naturally, isn't on me. They're awesome for realizing this was an unusual situation. They didn't even see me leave and head to school, as far as I know.
I walk in the house and there is Smunch, not the least bit abashed, beaming from ear to ear. He's so very proud of himself for doing such a big boy thing. I have a split second to think about what to do. Should I yell? Should I speak harshly? Should I tell him I'm glad he's safe? I came up with what I thought best fit the situation. I knelt down on the floor and gave him a hug. With Smunch giggling with pride, I burst into tears.
It was the right move. He apologized profusely and I could tell he actually meant it, for a change. Then I told him how worried I'd been, and asked why he'd left without me.
"You were talking," he said.
Hurumf. For the record, I've had much more important conversations while standing on the playground and talked for much longer. It didn't make him take off. I called the school office and cancelled the search of the campus.
We talked for a while about the necessity of telling me if he's going to leave. I told him how his teacher was worried and how he'd been paged all over school. He seemed both mystified and entertained by the whole idea. Now he was famous. Or infamous, at least.
What I will never, ever, ever tell him is that there's a little part of me that's really proud of him too. My shy, anxious little first grader decided what he wanted to do and did it...independently and with no help from me whatsoever. It was absolutely nothing I would have expected of him. It was gutsy and showed a side of him I've never seen. It's so nice to know that not everything scares him and that he can take pride in doing something a little scary and succeeding...even at the risk of his mother's fragile mental health.