My biggest fear as the mother of an energetic preschooler who runs like an Olympic champion is one day he'll run from me and get hurt or lost.
If you know our family, you know we have two happy, curious, adorable and high energy children. Noah's love for adventure and exploration makes days around here pass by quickly, and it gives me lots of hope for his future. Children who explore the world and engage with it have a good chance of succeeding within it.
But sometimes, his sense of adventure leads him to climb higher, run faster, travel farther and push boundaries beyond my own comfort level. He's good about holding hands and looking for cars when we cross the street, as long as there's not a bird he needs to chase, older kids running across or something he's "s'pose" to do.
That said, it's something I worry about often. For the last 16 months of his life, I've been pregnant or had a baby attached to me. I can't run as fast as him, and one time he ran in the street moments before a car when I was eight months pregnant with his sister. He stopped as soon as he set foot off of the curb, I scooped him up, and the car didn't even see us near the street as it drove by. All was well, but I had visions of what could have happened.
By the time he was two, he'd outgrown the park designed for kids 2 to 5. He moved on to the one designed for the 5 to 12 crowd. He seemlessly climbs the highest rock climbing walls, the curvy ladder I couldn't figure out how to stand on, and he does these things quickly, without his foot slipping or his heart skipping a beat. As a parent, I have had to learn to let him do what he can. I stand there in case he falls or wants help. I offer a hand, but give him the space to explore and to be himself. I hover, unapologetically. Some parents don't have to but Noah will jump, climb, and try anything once. Twice if his body doesn't hurt too much after. And many more, if it was fun, whether or not it hurts.
Two days ago, we spent the morning with my in-laws who stopped over for a visit. The kids adore their grandparents so when Ash's parents left we were all still full of energy and enthusiasm for life. I knew Noah needed a nap because one of his friends had a birthday party starting in a couple of hours, and I didn't want to bring Noah to an indoor playground tunnel party with his energetic friends without a nap. So the kids and I headed out for a car ride. It took longer than I planned to get the three of us out the door. Maya stood up while palming the wall and banged her head on the corner of the door way. We gave her ice, cuddled her and then headed out.
We have a usual nap route. We ride past a yard about 3/4 of a mile from our house with a horse, a pony and a goat in the yard. Then we cut down a nearby road and head to a traffic calming circle and do it over and over. For some reason, I missed our turn, so I turned down another street, knowing we'd have to detour passed a local elementary school. I sighed to myself. There wasn't going to be enough time for Noah to nap, wake up, and head to the party without being groggy or grumpy. My plan wasn't coming together. Things weren't happening as I envisioned they needed to.
Just then, we turned down the street the elementary school is on. There was a school bus stopped, and I saw a group of teachers in the grass outside of the school. Then, I saw a boy, probably around 8, running in a zig zag before darting onto the sidewalk away from the teachers. I could see the grin from ear-to-ear on his face, and my heart sank. A few teachers took off cautiously after him, calling to him. They followed, he ran faster, without turning back. I immediately put my hand up to the car behind us and do to the amazing turning radius of the Prius did a three-point-turn in two.
I pulled up next to one of the teachers and rolled down the window offering to give her a ride. She declined saying they didn't want to scare him. I parked the car, deciding to wait in case the teacher changed her mind. She ran for a while after him about a block away from our car. A man a few cars behind where we had been rolled down his window, and I explained they wanted us to wait so we wouldn't scare the boy. He drove ahead before turning his car around too. By now, the teacher strarted waving for me to come to her.
As I approached, she hopped in the car. The boy had gotten out of her line of vision and was running much too fast for the teachers. Noah yelled, "Don't get in my car! This is my car!" I gently explained the woman was someone I'd invited in so it was okay.
The teacher ducked down so the boy wouldn't see her. I drove fast enough so the boy wouldn't think I was suspicious, but slow enough so I could stop quickly if he darted in front of the car. The area we live in has lots of woods, so my hope was that he didn't dart in front of cars or off into the woods.
I pulled the car beyond where the boy was running. The teacher got out of the car, and at first he didn't realize she was coming for him. His face still lit up with joy. I saw the other teachers coming up from behind, but still, too far down the road. Then, the man a few cars behind us road up, parked his car, and as the teacher ran for the boy and he darted into a nearby wooded area, the man ran after. The boy got caught by some loose branches on the ground. The good samaritan man caught up to him and held onto him, and his teacher reached him a few moments later.
They shouted thank yous to us, and we pulled off immediately. I burst into tears thinking about that boy and what could have happened. I felt conflicted. Worried for the boy and curious about how that happened. Had the school broken a protocol? The teacher had said something that implied he had some sort of specials needs. Would they notify his parents? Our car couldn't carry more than one other person, so we weren't going to be any more help at that point. We continued on our naptime car ride, and it took a little longer than usual because of the excitement.
We drove back by the school a few minutes later, and the police were there. My guess is one of the teachers called when the boy took off. I wondered what the police would do at this point.
I can't stop thinking about that little boy. The joy on his face, the fear of the teachers, the kindness of that random man, my toddler's frustration and how sometimes life is bigger than the plans we make for ourselves.