I'm not sure how long he'd been gone when we noticed, but I remember the panic I felt as we tore around the house and yard looking for him - a pit in the bottom of my stomach and a creepy crawly feeling on the back of my neck. It's funny how vividly feelings can stay with you.
Sure he was just hiding, I looked all over the place, carefully checking drawers and cupboards that were far too small for him to fit into - even checking in the silverware drawer, because you just never knew. He was tricky that way.
My mother was doing that thing where you are trying really hard to remain calm, but your anxiety manifests itself in the urgency with which you perform every action - almost slammed doors, clipped words, choppy movements.
In the backyard I yelled out, "STOP HIDING. Come out RIGHT NOW. You are in SO MUCH TROUBLE." And then I burst into tears, because where on earth was he?
We eventually found him around the corner, calmly sitting on a stranger's front lawn, watching with interest as construction workers across the street framed houses. He didn't understand all of the commotion - clearly he'd been right there the entire time. Why would anyone be worried?
I remember giving him a big relieved hug, even as he was struggling away from me. I was very upset by his laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing, and scolded him repeatedly on the way home. "I'm glad you're o.k., but don't you ever do that again, you naughty boy." He made a face at me, because I wasn't his mother, after all.
I don't think I let him out of my sight for days afterward.
When my older sister was fifteen, she ran away. I was in the bathroom getting ready for an early class at school, and when I came out, our bedroom window was open and she was nowhere to be found.
I remember wandering around the house, puzzled, looking outside, looking in the bathroom again, checking our room and our tiny closet. After about thirty minutes, I woke up my parents, who exchanged panicked expressions and sprang into the same quiet, tense, anxious activity I remembered so well.
Over the next few weeks, I repeatedly fought the urge to check silverware drawers and the tiny cupboard under the blue hutch. I remember posting flyers and fighting the urge to yell, "STOP HIDING. Come out RIGHT NOW. You are in SO MUCH TROUBLE." And then crying every night as I went to sleep in the room we were supposed to be sharing, because where on earth was she?
After she came back home for good, I had a hard time letting it go. I know in the after school specials they have that one big discussion about it, and then everyone is happily-ever-after o.k. with everything, but that wasn't what happened. I kept bringing it up, over and over again - "Yeah, well you ran away! For three weeks!" - hitting her over the head with it whenever we had the slightest argument. It seemed much easier to continually scold her for leaving than to tell her - I was so scared. I'm so glad you're back. Please don't leave again.
I wonder if she realized that my obnoxious, self-centered, judgmental behavior was actually poorly expressed worry, fear and love for a sister who I idolized in spite of all of our differences.
These days, when my children do something dangerous or especially foolish, I find myself needing to fight the urge to overreact. I may be absent minded and oblivious in the middle of the day-to-day stuff, but let them do something even slightly risky and it's an entirely different story. The caution signs in my brain start blinking and I let fear and anger completely run the show.
"GET DOWN RIGHT NOW! YOU COULD LOSE AN EYEBALL LIKE THAT! GET DOWN! I SAID NOW!!!!!"
- paired with the always handy -
Faced with anything scary, I totally freak. Unfortunately, any lesson I'd meant to teach about the danger of their behavior is lost, obscured by the dramatic delivery of my message. After all, watching mom's head spin around is way more interesting than thinking about what they've done wrong. A day later, they don't remember that time they almost lost an eyeball - they just remember that mom completely lost it.
I sometimes flash forward a decade, to a time when I'll have a 14 year old, 16 year old and 17 year old. It scares me. Not just the idea of being around so many teenagers (who terrify me on principle), but the idea that I might get stuck in continual worry-wart scolding mode, and that we won't ever be able to talk about anything important because they know mom will totally freak.
I can already see a future version of myself, stuck on repeat, worrying them into silence, and somehow I don't think the fact that I was born this way will be much of a consolation to any of us as they stalk sullenly out of the room.