Letting Joey out of my sight right now is like watching a child take a plunge off the diving board for the first time. You know they can do it. You've seen them swim, there is a lifeguard right there just in case, but you still hold your breath and pray hard until that head comes back up out of the water. And for us, we still watch them like hawks at the pool. It's what parents do.
But it is all that much more when you know your child is a bolter. An eloper. When you read a story in the news about a child who "wandered" away, and the tragedy of losing that child forever, and you ache for that family not just for their loss, but to know that, but for the Grace of God, there your path lay. It could be you next time, weathering the barrage of ugly comments about how horrible a parent you are to have ever let your child out of your sight and "letting" them escape.
It could be us.
So you have to know how huge a step it is to let my 11-year-old son go to the corner, by himself, to wait for his brother's bus. There are adults there, and they are all aware of Joey and his needs. They know I am sitting on the porch, a loud yell away. Joey is so proud of himself, going to get his brother all by himself. It's a little bit of independence.
I still wasn't ready for today.
We have neighbors around the corner, and we have often had the kids here, or gone over there. Their oldest is just under Andy's age, and their middle one thinks Joey is the bees' knees. They are wonderful, awesome people, who think my kids rock. Now that their oldest is into Pokemon, he and Andy are really going back and forth a lot more. There have been lots of "I'll see you tomorrow"s and "I'll come by later"s. There have been children appearing in my house like magic. It's pretty awesome.
Today, Andy decided he wanted to go over there instead. It's a few houses down as the bird flies, only a few more as the sidewalk turns. Nothing unusual for a 9-year-old, to go over and play at a friend's house when living in a town. Except I don't have usual kids. We said OK, because I knew I could ring over to the other house and alert them, just as I call and let them know when one of their kids appears here.
Then the words appeared, slashing through the air and dancing on my nerves with an odd, shimmering vibration:
"Come on, Joey, let's go!"
That Joey was coming, too, was just a foregone thing to Andy. I was going, and therefore Joey was going. He was old enough, so Joey was old enough. It was simply the way it was.
I balked. I know, all that assume competence and have faith and believe in your kids and all that, but if one small thing went wrong on the walk to the other house, Joey might be off to the races. Andy might say something wrong. Joey might trip and fall. Even the smallest thing can become a sudden and dramatic big deal. Besides, they would have to go around the corner to get to this house. I couldn't just watch them from the porch or even an upper window.
Joey would have to go out of my sight, and with only Andy to help him.
Joey knows we balked. We explained to him why, because you know what? He has the right to know that we are concerned about him running. We are worried about his well being and safety when he bolts. He love him.
And then we decided to let him go.
When I was still pregnant, I remember my mom saying something about parenting being a constant letting-go. She also said something about it hurting. My mom is a smart lady.
When I called, they didn't pick up the phone, so I pulled on my coat and shoes and trotted after the guys. If the neighbors were not there for some reason, Joey might melt down after the anticipation of going to see them. I got to the corner, and stared down it. They were no where in sight. I opened my phone to call again, and found the battery was dead. So I trotted the rest of the way to make sure they made it. They had. The family was there. All was well with the world.
So I went home.