Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CODE RUNNER

So at the very beginning of June, we had a playdate (the day after I announced on here that I would be taking a blogging break).  A playdate is no big deal. We have a lot of playdates. But this particular one had a moment that almost breeched into tragedy.

Let me back up a moment.

Aaron (being the awesome dad that he is) built us a big deck on the front of our house last year. This deck is securely enclosed all the way around- with a gate that is locked like this:

Beyond that gate lies a path, the driveway, and bit of yard but then all too close is an extremely busy road. It is not uncommon for semi-trucks to go speeding past on this road.
Now Carter can easily climb over the entire gate around the deck (he can pretty much climb anything)- he can also open the gate latch (this is why we added the extra lock…which I can barely get on and off- the kids can't touch it). We have been working a solid year with Carter to not climb off the deck. Just because he CAN doesn't mean he SHOULD…type of thing. He has become quite good about this- he will climb up and dangle on the edge (my gray hairs have also increased in number), but he will not drop down to freedom.

If the gate door is open- Addison runs out. She has not yet comprehended the concept of staying on the deck on her own. If she CAN she DOES. We have worked and worked on the road being dangerous. We have worked on walking the path up to the house from the car (she used to run straight to the road the second her car seat was unbuckled. At least we have made progress here.)

We have a strict NO DRIVEWAY policy. We go on the driveway only to get in the car. I figure with this extra buffer, it gives me time to catch them if they start running. If little feet so much as touch the driveway without permission- time outs are administered. This is serious business.

When I am home alone with the kids- the gate is kept locked. The kids all stay on the deck. Because I don't trust Addison, and I need to be able to leave them alone on the deck for a minute or two as I step inside with the baby or something.

But on this particular playdate, I left it latched but not locked. Why? Because Carter was to the point where he wouldn't try to undo the latch himself. Because I was out there with a friend and we were watching the kids like hawks. Because there was another little girl Carter's age and they were both quite good at following instructions to "stay on the deck". Because the only one who wouldn't follow those instructions on her own couldn't physically undo the latch. Because I was feeling a bit frazzled and behind (I didn't even have a chance to get dressed for the day before our play date arrived) and this decision was made quickly and in the heat of the moment.

What I didn't anticipate was Carter showing off for his lady friend (ha). When my friend and I stepped inside for just a minute with the two babies, Carter opened the latch to go show his friend his slide and swing set (on the other side of the house). We caught them immediately- and focused on ushering them back onto the deck so that we could keep them all safely contained.

What I didn't realize was- when Carter opened the door during that one unguarded minute, Addison escaped too- and went straight for the road. Very, very quickly. So quickly that I didn't even realize that she left.

We were conversing and watching the almost three year olds play while holding the babies, when I noticed my yellow shirted girl wasn't on the deck. Hmmmm- did she go back inside? She was rather whiny that morning, wanting to just lie around and play with my phone instead of actually playing with the other kids.

I raced back in the house calling for her (but no surprise, she didn't answer. She wouldn't answer even if she had been there.) I checked each room quickly (thank God for a small house). It was then I realized that she had escaped and I had absolutely no idea where she was.

I immediately raced off the deck, calling for her, feeling more than a little panicked. Nothing can describe the feeling of having no clue where your child might be- especially that close to whizzing semi trucks- especially when your child has absolutely NO concept of danger. I don't know why I didn't immediately check the road. I guess I was hopeful. I thought that since the other kids were headed toward the swing set- that is where she would have gone too. I checked the trampoline- the swing set- the back deck- nothing. Our neighbor has 200 acres, and I pictured her lost- like a needle drifting in the proverbial haystack.

It was then that it hit me- the road.

I ran like only a panicked mother can back toward the road- praying desperately.

Now I know that this point isn't really important to the story- but in the moment of running it caught my attention, forcing me to focus on a mundane detail so that my mind wouldn't go crazy with the real possibility of tragedy. I hadn't had the chance to get fully dressed. I am still nursing Eli. I was running barefoot and completely unsupported toward the road. Eli's food factory swayed, rocked, and jumped ahead of me ten feet as I stumbled forward wishing I had worn something- anything to help the poor girls out in this moment. It was awkward. It was painful. But I ran anyway. Fast. Because that is what you do when child rescue is on the agenda.

It was then I noticed that traffic on this incredibly busy road was stopped. Completely stopped. A long line of cars were parked on this road- not moving- the drivers all seemed to be watching my every move. I felt even more awkward, but pressed on because my own dignity really matters not at all when you don't know where your child is.

The next detail that I noticed was a police car- parked- right in front of my driveway.

Yellow shirt. I need to find a yellow shirt.

My mind was racing incoherently on a slow setting- I couldn't get myself to think past the color yellow. Must. find. yellow.

It was then I saw her.

She was standing at the foot of our driveway- holding Carter's hand. They were both standing there- like miniature statues made of wiggling jello. There was movement, but no steps forward back into the road- yet.

I think I sprouted wings (strong enough to lift all of us-ahem) and flew down to them. Grabbing my yellow-shirted girl, I clung to her and didn't know what to say. Carter went back up the driveway. I was surprised to see him down there. He KNEW better. The road was off limits. The DRIVEWAY was off limits. Why did he disobey?

As I stood there holding tight to my princess, the cop who had parked right there slowly got out of her cop car. She stood with one arm on the open door and one arm on her hip.

"You really need to watch your kids better." She said. Her eyes squinted toward me and her chin lifted in distain. The only color I could then see was judgement. Her pressed and clean uniform glinted in the sunlight like an impossible standard of perfection that I couldn't possibly maintain.

I wanted to protest. I am the most paranoid mother you will ever find. I spend my day dreaming up possible disaster scenarios and then elaborately planning how to keep my children safe from them. Aaron and I just had a fight about this- "You're so paranoid and anxious with the kids. You need to relax more. They're fine!" He said. But I never relax. I always obsessively check them, watch them, and care for them. Because it is my job to keep them safe. They are my responsibility. I take this very seriously, and I go to great lengths to make sure that they are protected.

All of this went through my mind as the cop looked down her long nose at the pajama-wearing, unsupported mother who couldn't keep her kids out of the road.

I wanted to protest. I wanted to yell "I am a good mother! I promise."

But I looked around and saw the lines of stopped traffic. I savored the feel of a whole, alive child in my arms. I looked into the eyes holding a gavel and wearing a black gown, realized I had no ground to protest at all, and I just said "Thank you."

She stopped traffic. She saved my daughter's life. Nothing else mattered.

That same cop stopped by the house later (Playdate was over. The kids were all sleeping) to "assess the situation." Oh my. Never before had I been terrified that someone wanted to take my kids away because I wasn't doing a good enough job- until that moment.

I was on trial. The inconvenient stake of toddler terror seemed like nothing compared the licking flames around the "bad mommy" stake. I had failed.

I explained Addison's disability- that she doesn't comprehend danger- that she doesn't follow instructions- that she is a runner. I explained what happened- that a system set into place had a tiny kink in the armor. I talked quickly. Nervously. Hopefully that this day would not be held in higher regard than all the good days when I DID keep them safe. Did one moment of one child slipping out doom me forever?

The trial ended quickly. I was found "not guilty". The eyes softened and her demeanor became  friendly (ish).

And then I learned this:

The cop was driving by the house to an appointment. She saw a little girl with a yellow shirt walking DOWN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. She stopped her car. She then saw a little boy race out into the road, grab her hand, and pull the little girl back up onto our driveway.

That's why Carter disobeyed. To save his sister.

Oh my.  (Daddy later asked Addison where she was trying to go, and she said "Papa's House.")

Four things saved Addison's life that day:

1. The highly visible yellow shirt (it was on top of a random, unfolded clean laundry pile and it was the first thing I could grab. Points for being behind on laundry)
2. The brother pulling her out of traffic (he earned himself a thousand "GET OUT OF TODDLER JAIL FREE" cards with that move
3. The cop who arrived on the scene before any other cars
4. And last but certainly not least- The protection from an almighty God who had control of this main road and the traffic that would be there in that exact moment.

A couple of things have changed around here since that day:

1. I don't put unreasonable expectations on Carter to think that he can keep Addison safe through his own reasoning and decisions. He is 2. I need to just assume that I need to keep her safe from him and his decisions as well.
2. The lock goes on the deck door whenever we are outside no matter what the circumstance. Always.
3. We have not hosted any more playdates since then. I just don't want to up my level of distraction while we are in a CODE RUNNER phase. There will be time for playdates later.
4. I purchased a Buddy Tag to help me GPS track her. I am still figuring it out and navigating it- and I will do a post on all the pros and cons (and whether this does the trick for us) after I have given it a fair chance. (I have been putting it on her ankle. She cannot get it off.)
5. Always get dressed first thing. Always. With plenty of support. If I am going to be sprinting across town chasing a wayward child- it helps if the milk jugs aren't slowing me down. (yes- this is part of the "censor" thing that I was talking about)

A few weeks later, Addison escaped from church nursery. This is a VERY good nursery with an excellent staff. Addison is just that fast. The sermon hour was interrupted by a little girl meandering up the aisle as if doing a reverse confession. This incident made me feel better that she has legitimately reached "runner" status and it isn't me just doing a terrible job. This doesn't make it easier- but it does help me plan and keep her safe. She wore her Buddy Tag to nursery the next week.

So that is our story. I am extremely thankful because this story could have ended so, so, so badly. God was good to protect her life that day.

She is getting increasingly difficult to protect as her gross and fine motor skills grow beyond her reasoning and sense of danger. I didn't see this coming. Don't get me wrong- I am working on high alert to keep her safe in every possible scenario, but this has been a difficult month as we have had several incidents as my eyes were opened to this new phase. Sigh.

Any tips? Have you dealt with a runner? What did you do to keep him/her safe? How did you hold in anxiety when your child feels literally minutes away from death if you let your guard down for a second?

I know that God is in control, and maybe that is what He is trying to teach me through this accident prone month. I don't know. I turn my anxiety over to him often- but I often triple check all locked doors and make sure three blonde heads are within my sight constantly. I could also be accused of waking up multiple times a night just to check three sleeping children and make sure that they are all still breathing. What is a good balance between keeping our kids safe in a dangerous world and trusting the God who created them to sustain them?

I don't expect you to answer that. In fact, this is what I was talking about with being afraid of judgement (sorry if that came across weird in yesterday's post). I have been beating myself up enough about this. Please don't grab a club and join the beating force. I'm not sure I could take it.

But if you have faced a similar situation yourself, I would love to hear thoughts and practical tips how you all survived the phase.

And also- was it a phase? Did it eventually end? I really, really, really hope so.

 (new photography success: accidentally blurring out the mess in the background)

Like peanut butter on the fingers of a curious toddler, this post is begging to be shared.

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