People look at me quizzically when I tell them that I kept my daughter in a stroller until she was four. Yep you heard that right- four! When she first learned how to walk, she would never stay by my side. She was fast! I'd turn my head to talk to someone or look at something. The next thing I knew she'd be a football field away. I tried getting her one of those backpack leashes. That was a joke. She just laid on the ground refusing to move. She was smart enough to figure out that the leash was going to constrict her. She wanted no part of that. Eventually I let her out of her prison. I mean stroller. She no longer fit in it and she was getting better at staying close by me or so I thought.
Recently I've noticed that as she is gaining confidence and a sense of independence, she is wandering away from me again. She'll see a shiny object, a dog to pet or a child to comfort. She also has OCD. She likes to hear the sound of the crunch of the perfect leaf. Rocks and shells demand to be picked up. Then there's all manner of sewer and drain covers. Each one must have her footprint on it. She feels compelled to go over to whatever is drawing her in. I constantly worry that she will get run over by a car or be kidnapped.
I have tried to instill in her the importance of safety, but it is an uphill battle with her. Her teacher noticed it too. She recently told me that she worries that Princess is in her "own little world." She believes that this is a safety risk for my daughter.
Since I cannot keep her in a bubble, I have taught her what to do if she ever gets lost. She is to find an employee or another mom. She's to tell this person that is she lost and have them call me. She memorized my cell phone number a long time ago.
Still I have to have my head on a swivel whenever we are in public. I frequently offer little reminders to stay close by.
Then last night my daughter gave me the scare of my life. We had gone to the mall to buy a Christmas dress. Thankfully we found an outfit that we can both agree on. Afterwards, we decided to stop for dinner at the mall's food court. We even had a blue moon event because my daughter decided to actually try something from a new to her restaurant. She told me what she wanted to eat then asked if she could take her iPad and find a seat for us. My daughter's getting older so I do want to honor her sense of independence when I can. I know she knows not to leave the area without me so I let her go off by herself.
After placing our order and getting our drinks, I went to go find my daughter before returning to get the food. I looked once. I looked twice. I walked the entire perimeter of the seating area. I did not see my child anywhere. I started to panic a bit. Finally I saw two of the janitorial staff. I was going to ask them to call security. I know time is of the essence. That I really have only a matter of minutes before the predator who took my baby drives off with her. I quickly said a little prayer and scanned the area again.
That's when I saw her. She was sitting at a table that had a booth bench on one side and a chair on the other. She was thinking of me because she knows that I prefer to sit in a chair rather than a booth. What she didn't consider was that the booth was about half of a football field away. She didn't stop to think how far away she was. She never even considered staying close. After all, in her mind she was still in the same general area.
Once I spotted my lost child, I went over to her and told her what a fright she had given me. I was so relieved. I just wanted to scoop her up. I felt like hugging and kissing her until midnight. Somehow I contained myself. She never left my sight the rest of the night though.
My prayer is that I never have to see my child's face on the side of a milk carton. For all of those mommies who have lost their babies due to wandering, please know that many of us can empathize with you even if it is in minuscule proportion to what you have gone through. I also pray that more people take this wandering epidemic more seriously.
If you are the parent to a child with autism or one who is prone to wandering, please give them an extra hug and kiss. Let's all be mindful of where our kids are and how to keep them safe.
Photo is of my little cherub when she was three about the time when I tried the backpack leash.
You can also follow our journey on Facebook.