Sunday, March 27, 2016

Running Away

Ethan's entered a phase lately that I remember Anna having, and I realize it's almost a "rite of passage" -- threatening to run away.

This shouldn't be that big of a deal. How many eighties sitcoms (or any era, really) featured that episode where the disgruntled child decided to pack up his or her meager belongings in a too-big suitcase and set out into the world? And of course said child usually made it three steps past the front door before mom or dad swooped in and made everything right.

Anna one night at about Ethan's age packed a bag and tried to head out during a rainstorm. Another time she threatened to take off down our camp road in Maine. This is life, I know. This is them asserting their independence. But with Ethan, it's making me especially nervous. It doesn't help that I already lean towards anxiety and imagining worst-case scenarios. But then throw in the fact that your non-quite typical child is the one talking about taking off, and yeah, I'm a little jittery.

I'm trying to be better about not imagining there's an evil stranger lurking behind every tree, but when I think of Ethan and how literal and, while super smart, how gullible (at least initially) he can be, and I wonder what happen if he took off and somehow came across the wrong person. This is the child who insists whatever another kid at school said, it has to be true, because, well, he said it.

Ethan often comes off as a regular kid, but there are times when his emotional response to things is either exaggerated or different than you may expect. Lately, if he happens to be in a "mood," something that may sometimes just bug him instead seems to be driving him to be rather impulsive. SO, if he's a little "off," telling him Wii time is done is not just irritating to him but outrageous.

That was all it took, the other evening. He went outside to play after and I thought everything was fine, but when he came back in he told me that he had been out there thinking about how mean I was to him, and that he came very close to running away. Apparently he climbed the ladder at the fence in our backyard that borders woods and looked out towards the nearby schoolyard, pondering. This follows an incident a few weeks ago where he actually went outside, in the dark, and hid behind a tree for a few minutes.

I am never quite sure how to respond to these moments. Dan feels it's better to blow it all off and not make a big deal. He thinks Ethan isn't really going to go through with something like this, but I'm not so sure. He is a kid who does what he says he's going to do. And sometimes I wonder if NOT acting like it's a big deal will make him feel more slighted and determined to run off.

While Dan has said matter-of-factly, "Ethan, you're not running away," I've gone the opposite route. The fear factor. I hate to be doing this. Maybe I'm wrong to be doing this. But yes, I've tried to scare him out of running away. Yes, I mentioned he could get hurt and no one would help him or about bad strangers who like to grab little kids and trap them in their cars. I don't want to be doing this. Actually, if he showed a measure of fear or concern when I talk like this, I'd probably stop. But this talk seems to make him more determined (maybe that in itself is proof it's the wrong tactic). He keeps listing reasons why he'd fight off a bad guy, why he wouldn't get hurt or lost. I'm glad he has confidence. But cockiness has gotten one too many kids (especially boys) into trouble.

I'm pretty sure it'd be a disaster to go the "reverse psychology" route. I think I remember reading this in a Ramona Quimby book when I was a kid. Her mother actually volunteered to help her pack. This shocked Ramona, until she realized her mother had packed her suitcase too heavy for her to carry. If I volunteered to help Ethan leave, he'd probably start shouting about how he knew we didn't want him, and would hurry his way out the door even more quickly.

And then there's the guilt route. Yes, I've tried this, too. I told him how much we would miss him. How Chloe would call for him and there would be no answer. How we would no longer have a son. This worked too well, when he was in an overly emotional mood. Next thing we knew, he was crying. Then I felt awful.

Again, feeding him with worst-case scenarios can't be the best answer.

Of course we have asked him why he wants to run away. We tell him how much we love him, what an important part of the family he is. We give hugs. We listen to his concerns (which usually are vague and involve things being "unfair").

And I try to fill his mind with knowledge, that I hope and pray he'll retain if he ever goes ahead with this. I make sure he knows our address and phone number. I talk about the safest kinds of strangers and not going anywhere with anyone. About staying in one place if you're lost in the woods and calling out. Any tool I can give him, he has.

"Mama," he keeps telling me. "Don't worry. If I run away, I won't go far." This is not exactly comforting.

In some ways, this is out of our hands. I think that is what is most difficult. I can't predict his every reaction. It's impossible for me to keep an eye on him every moment, especially as he grows older. He wants to do things like run over and play with the kid next door. I'm thankful he wants to do that. I'm thankful that I can leave him for a while outside while he climbs a tree or plays with a soccer ball.

I just have to be a little extra vigilant, I guess, about his mood. And do whatever I can to calm the horrible news stories in my head. And say many, many prayers that he will have wisdom and self-control when he most needs it.

And if anyone else has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

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