There comes a time in every young man's life when he realizes that it's time to grow up. No longer can he be constrained by the tyranny of his parents — he must learn to make it on his own. Early this year, in a show of this rugged independence and disregard for authority, my 7-year-old ran away from home for eight whole minutes. And, wow. We all learned something that day.
To be fair, his departure was completely justified. It began innocently enough with a friendly mother/son game of Monopoly Jr. But something terrible happened; an abuse of power so egregious it could not be borne. I won. As in, my son didn't win. And, reader, is that nice or fair?
But I don't think, deep down, it was just about one game. It was about the slings and arrows of outrageous despotism and indignity that he'd been forced to suffer for years. Cruel demands like "please get ready for bed" and "you have to wear clothes to school." Monopoly Jr was but the straw that broke the camel's back... and my second grader's will to remain in this toxic, awful family. He retreated into his room — his sole refuge in this fascist regime we called a home — and emerged a few minutes later with his teddy bear, a wooden sword, and his backpack.
"What are you doing, bud?" I asked.
He glared at me and walked out the front door. And, well, here's what happened next:
12:26 P.M.: A Declaration Is Made
I waited a few moments before I sighed and followed him out the door. I knew exactly what he was doing, but I wondered if he did.
"Sweetheart, what's up? Where are you going?"
"I'm running away," he replied darkly, looking away from me into the vast, untamed wilderness of suburban Connecticut.
"You are?!" (I was shocked. Shocked and stunned, I tell you.)
"Yeah. I'm done. I'm just done."
The sound that came out of me may, to the untrained ear, have sounded like a desperate attempt to choke back hysterical laughter but, I assure you, it was the sound of my poor heart cracking in twain. How could it have come to this? Oh, to go back in time and treat him better! More fairly! But now my world was crumbling around me. I looked down at his feet.
"Where are your shoes, dude?"
"I couldn't find them."
"You don't think that'll be a problem on your trip? Maybe you want to go take another l-..."
"I'll be fine," he barked, then glowered in the distance like a community theater Hamlet. His mind, clearly, was made up.
12:27 P.M.: A Reasoned Discussion
"Where are you going then?" I asked, biting my lip to hold back the tears and certainly not to stop myself from giggling.
"Hmph," he replied, as if to say I spit on your maternal concern, you harridan. Or perhaps, Oh sh*t, I hadn't thought about that at all. But in a moment he replied coolly, "Probably to Aidan's. From there I can figure out what to do next."
"I see," I said. Had he ever actually been to Aidan's house? No. Did he have any idea where it was? Also no. "What do you have in your backpack?"
"Do you have food?"
"A change of underwear?"
"I just want to make sure you're prepared."
"Aidan will have things for me."
"Are you sure?" I asked, definitely not beginning to sneak my phone out of my pocket in order to take some pictures of this not-at-all hilarious turn of events. "I just want to make sure you're OK, because I love you. I really wish you wouldn't go at all. We'd all really miss you if you left. My heart would be broken without you."
The silence between us was heavy and, for a moment, I thought he might change his mind. But his gaze hardened as he remembered that my jackboot on his neck was even heavier and he slowly began the walk down our long driveway.
12:29: A Sister's Plea
It was around this time that my 5-year-old daughter who, for some reason, was dressed as a unicorn ninja that day (which isn't all that weird for my daughter, TBH) caught wind of the hullabaloo and came outside.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm running away," my son told her, before staring at me. "And I'm not coming back ever."
This, clearly, was a hard and unexpected blow to my brother-worshiping little girl, who spent the next couple minutes appealing to every sensibility she could think of in an attempt to coax him back into the fold. I for sure didn't secretly record any of it for future viewing.
She offered practical arguments ("What about when it's nighttime?!") and emotional arguments ("Won't you miss mommy and daddy?"). She attempted to make him feel guilty and homesick. She grew more and more anxious and tears welled in her big blue eyes.
When she realized she was getting nowhere with her idol, she turned to me and finally sobbed.
"Mommy I don't want him to go!" she cried. "He doesn't have any pajamas! And he's not even wearing socks!"
But my son's heart was made of stone, and he just continued his weary walk down the driveway.
(It was about this time that I whispered to her not to worry, he wouldn't go anywhere. I could keep up this charade with him for a while longer, but she clearly needed some comfort then and there. At this point she giggled and went in the house for a snack, because Goldfish crackers make everything better.)
12:31 P.M.: Departure
Our driveway is very long and very steep — a formidable escape route for a weary rebel yearning to be free.
"Sweetheart I love you," I called after him, wondering how many years (read: minutes) it would be before I saw him again. "You can always come home!"
In the Bible, Lot's wife steals one last glance at her homeland as she and her family escape into the wilderness. My son spared me no such look.
12:31 - 12:33 P.M.: Standing On An Existential Precipice
I tucked myself away behind a grove of trees, maybe to weep, maybe to observe this sh*tshow unnoticed by my child at a distance that would allow me to run after him if he strayed to far. Who's to say, really?
I peeked through the pines and noticed that he had stopped exactly halfway down our driveway and was talking to himself. He was Raskolnikov at the crossroads; a man finding himself at two roads diverged in a yellow wood. He was talking to himself. I don't know and will probably never know what he said (though, I can promise, it was something super-duper extra) but, when I stopped, I saw him turn back to the direction of our house.
12:33 P.M.: Contrition & Return
I melted out of the copse of trees near the top of our driveway just as my little penitent reached the top. Wordlessly, he sobbed and fell into my arms.
Welcome home, my darling. I do not look forward to the next time you decide to pull this crap and, maybe even reach the mailbox.
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this story are true. No children, teddy bears, or unicorn ninjas were harmed or endangered--physically or psychological-- in the making of this adventure. My child never left my line of vision and, what's more, I've known this kid his entire life and knew he wasn't going anywhere. Also it was hilarious.