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The Loop, Part 2

Noah likes to take a pre-dinner bike ride around the neighborhood. It's part of his routine whenever the weather is nice: come home, snack, homework, load the dishwasher, ride his bike around the same set loop two times, maybe three, then back for dinner. I've encouraged him to explore the neighborhood a little more, but he got a little lost doing that not long after we moved so now he prefers to stick to the same path. It takes him around to the street directly behind our house, and he likes to wave at me if I'm outside or at the kitchen window. I wave back. 

The other night, I missed the wave. I was at the stove making dinner. Ezra and Ike came in from playing on the swingset and set the table. I put dinner out and realized Noah wasn't back yet. Which, okay, that's fine, he'll probably be back in a few minutes. 

He wasn't. I checked the garage for his bike, scanned the street out back, then the front. I went to his room on the off-chance he'd come back and retreated there to play without anyone noticing (his stealth move to get out of further chores, or practicing his saxophone). He wasn't there. But his wristwatch was, which: Crap. That's the back-up plan if he decides to take extra loops or deviate from his path: Home by 6 p.m.

It was more like 6:30, a really unusually long ride for him. Plus his dinner was getting cold. 

"He always comes back," Jason said, noticing the concern lines on my forehead and my restless pacing around the front door. 

"I know," I replied. 

I decided to hop in the car and drive around anyway, figuring maybe he went to a friend's house. Also not like him, but really all it would take is a neighbor kid mentioning that s/he had something-something-Minecraft inside he'd dump his bike on their yard and promptly lose all sense of space and time and hunger. 

I drove around his loop. No sign of him or his bright yellow bike. I followed the sidewalks around, here and there. I slowed at the sight of kids playing outside -- nope, not there. I drove further away and then doubled back to his normal route, just in case. 

"Is he home yet?" I texted Jason. "Not seeing him anywhere."

"No," was the reply.

"WTF," was the next one. 

Now, we are not helicopter parents by any stretch of the imagination. We chose this house and neighborhood specifically with the idea that our kids would be free and safe to just "go out and play." Everybody wear your helmets, Ike needs to stick with at least one brother, come home when you're tired/hungry/filthy, whatever. 

But in that moment, sitting in my car debating where else he could possibly be, my reptilian parental brain went straight to the worst-case scenarios. 

I keep meaning to buy a cheap phone or GizmoPal or something similar to send out with them; the fact that I hadn't yet for no damn good reason other than laziness filled me with familiar Ceiba's-not-microchipped levels of guilt. The fact that I hadn't reminded him to at least put on his regular watch added to the "what the hell were you thinking" voices in my head. He was wearing short sleeves and doesn't like to wear it on bare skin because he says it pinches his arm hairs, but I should have told him to put it in his pocket. It was almost 7 p.m. now. 

I started to feel a little sick to my stomach. Where was he? When exactly did he leave?  When was the last time I quizzed him on our address and phone numbers? At what point do we need to ask for help? Crap, what was he wearing? 

Blue shirt, grey shorts, bright blue shoes, green bike helmet. And on the Spectrum on the Spectrum oh God he's lost and he's on the Spectrum. 

Jason went out back and started calling for him; I asked a couple people out walking their dogs if they'd seen a little boy on a yellow bike. No, they said, looking alarmed. I smiled and said everything was probably fine, he was just late for dinner. Tell him to come home if you see him!

Then I'd drive on and let out a panicked gasp. Spectrum spectrum spectrum. 

"Did you check the next cul-de-sac overr?" Jason texted. "I hear kids."

I texted back irritably: Of COURSE I did. I've driven past it five times now. 

In fact, I was just about to make my sixth pass. I slowed down again and saw the same pack of kids riding scooters. And then.

On the far, far end, right where a driveway vanishes behind the main row of houses, I spotted Noah in his blue shirt, grey shorts, bright blue shoes. 

I parked and practically tumbled out of the car. I hadn't bothered to put my shoes on.

Noah saw me and smiled. "Hi Mom!" he said. "I'm having a playdate!"

He'd left his bike up on a path that connects that cul-de-sac to the one behind us, the one that was part of his loop. It wasn't visible from either street. He hadn't heard Jason calling; they'd all been busy talking about Five Nights At Freddy's. 

A slightly older girl, assuming I was angry, assured me he actually was just about to head home after sensing it was probably getting late. "I invited him to a playdate," she said. "He's been having fun." 


"That's great!" I replied. "It's totally fine! I just got a little worried. Thanks for inviting him."

I got back in the car. Noah sped past me on his yellow bike, with his green helmet and a sneaky grin on his face. "RACE YOU HOME!" he shouted, pedaling furiously. 

I drove past him and stuck out my tongue. He laughed. 

Comments

sarah

awwww. I love it.

Tari

*phew*
Glad Noah made a friend and all ended ok and hey, he realized it was getting late without the watch, so progress?

Rachel

O M G My mommy-worst-case-scenario-brain went in to overload just reading this. I knew there would be a good ending, because there had to be, but still. I am so glad he made it home. This is one reason I love the find my iPhone feature, but my kids are old enough to be driving CARS around god only knows where, & I realize that's not a good option for everyone.

Don't do that to your parents again, Noah. =)

Springsteenfan

OMG. Progress! But geez!

Sue W

I knew he was ok, but dang did my heart start eating again when you saw his bike! Don't scare us like that again, Noah!

Chris

Dammit woman. BAWLING AT MY DESK. I remember the first loop post. And I am so goddamn proud of that kid and you. Thanks for sharing, as always.

Cara

Oh God. I'm glad you survived that and managed not to freak him out. Good job, parents. Noah, how about putting the watch on your bike handles so you can keep track even when you aren't wearing it?

Karen

Damn lady you are an amazing story teller. I think we all know that feeling and you made us feel it hard. Is there a word for that mixture of pride and omfg never do that to me again?

Lauren

Whewwwww so glad for the happy ending! I would have been right there with you in panic mode! Hugs!

jennifer

Get a Walkie-Talkie! Remember, like in the olden days? in my hood, we have lots of kids and it's a perfect loop with another street that's a cul-de-sac on the other. Our kids are still only 4/5, but we said when they get older and do the loops solo or walk to a friends house, we are getting Walkie-Talkies & I think the will love it! Glad he's found a new friend!

Bev

I'm in tears. I had the same experience with my on-the-spectrum son (not even diagnosed as that back then, simply LD) about 37 years ago. He was playing with a neighborhood boy in a grassy, slight ditch behind the houses that ran perpendicular to our one block long street. I couldn't see them from the street. I could feel your panic as I read this post.

Karen

That's our solution, Jennifer! We got one that clips to his bike handles, and he loves it! Letting them inch towards independence is SOOOOOOOO hard. I try really hard not to helicopter but I do get the impulse.

Vickie

My son, in high school, many years ago, had this experience with his youngest sister (my daughter).

She had a dog walking job. Regular loop she walked. She was late returning home. He could not find her or the dog (remember this was a young girl.)

He looped and looped and looped. Looking, looking, looking. More frantic by the minute. Considering calling the police. He called me and I walked out of an appt with no explanation and headed for home. Fast.

A large dog had bothered them in front of the dog's house. She got scared. So she locked herself in the dog's house and just played with him there. With no loop to give her idea of time, she had just gotten busy and lost track of everything.

And I always thought of those types of things as great education for the older sibling. He was absolutely as scared as any of us would have been.

Karen

My guys is just a little bit younger than Noah (you've helped us through so much) and also on the spectrum. He now has typical friends for the first time. We gave him an older iphone when we upgraded and recently added him to our plan. It is the best thing we could have done. I can check in with him all of the time via text and his friends don't know its us. He can tell me when to swoop in and rescue him or when he feels uncomfortable. Its a tough age and situation because they are becoming independent but sometimes too much so and they need guidance. Everyone says we're nuts but it works for us. I hope you find something that works for you and Noah's new social status (go Noah!).

liz

Utterly choked up. So glad about the end on so many fronts.

JenVegas

Oh well played mom. I probably would have lost my cool completely.

elsiroomom

First - so impressed that you kept your cool and helped Noah feel that this wasn't a mountain instead of a molehill!!!

2nd or 3rding the Walkie-Talkie. Our kids have LOVED them. We've also used them on our Black Hills vacation when our kids were about your kids' age, and we wanted to go down a couple floors to the lobby for a drink and let the kids go to sleep (big improvement over sitting in the hallway with our iPads - ha!).
I had a somewhat similar experience recently when my daughter was out biking. For some reason I DIDN'T got up to the top cul-de-sac (which would have been logical in our case) and instead drove the other direction, didn't find her, began to feel panicky while trying to reassure myself- only to discover her exactly in the first place I probably should have looked.

Glad all is well!

Lynn

I saw the title and kind of froze a little. But you know...that's parenting. Little moments of being frozen and then your heart thaws out again. My mom says it still happens, and all her kids are adults.

Erika

So glad he's ok! I felt truly frightened for you. Love the gps watch idea but anyone know of good options for ones not associated with a phone company specifically (i.e. We don't have Verizon)?

Jen

Oh I know this panic!! I started to feel it just reading about it!

Cobwebs

A long time ago James Lileks wrote about a similar experience where he couldn't find his daughter for a bit, and he noted, in part, "You know everything’s probably okay, but what if? What if? The sensation of losing your child is so all-consuming that you would simply trade anything to find her NOW. Anything. Which is why I don’t carry around the deed to my house in my pocket, for example." Which pretty much sums up the feeling. The Stephen King Lobe of your brain kicks in and you start envisioning yourself tearfully being interviewed on TV, begging for your child's safe return. It's horrible.

Denise

So maybe it's the pregnancy hormones, but SOB! I panicked for you because of the huge what ifs. I got lost at a mall when I was 3ish. I don't remember, but my mom loves to tell the story about how terrified she was, and the relief when she finally found me.
As a side note - I lost my 3 year old in my own house. Found him 10 minutes later asleep behind the rocking chair in his room. The wave of emotions my Mommy heart rode!

Delora

With the days getting longer, it's so difficult to tell what time it is. A few short weeks ago, at 6pm the sun was starting to set slightly and the light was changing. Now 6pm is super bright and still warm.

The rule at our house is you can't go to someone else's house without telling a parent. Maybe enforce that for next time? Playdates are cool (maybe not right before dinner....), but mom and dad need to know where you are. Glad you kept your calm over the whole thing!

Courtney S.

Yes!! We have used our GizmoPal in this EXACT situation! Did you know they have one that does texting and stuff as well? I like that I preset the numbers he can communicate with, too. And that it will show me where he is in a map. Was also super useful on vacation when I got separated from my hubs and the dude. I just found them on the map. In a few years we will just upgrade that number to a flip phone, then into a smartphone at some point. Basically, that phone number is his now, forever. Also helps that I work for the company that sells them, lol.

Cheryl S.

My daughter has a phone and I still flip if she "disappears" when she's outside. I'm so happy that you have a neighborhood where he can have some independence.

Sirena

J'aime.

Tamara

Ha, I have a similar panic moment a few weeks ago. My son is 14, the baby. I've managed to raise two into sort of functioning adults and he is the only one left at home full time. He spent the night with a friend and it was agreed that I would pick him up around 4:00 the next day. I go to their house and no one is home, and he isn't answering his phone. I spent the next 45 minutes talking myself down, ranting to myself for not getting the parents phone numbers, etc. He comes home and apologizes...his phone was dead, they had a dance recital for his friends sister, and he couldn't remember my phone number. Us parents promptly shared numbers :)

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