Squeaker is a big kid now. Six. Full of life, full of himself, smart as a whip, but also, y’know, six. A child. Impulsive. Not always aware of consequences. Still innocent of the world’s hardness.
The other day, he ran away from home. The Mister refused to let him snatch a toy from his sister, and we were off to the races: “I hate you! You’re the worst daddy ever! I don’t like this family! I’m going to run away!”
And out the door he went. SLAM.
I was washing dishes, and paused for a moment to think. Do I chase him down? Do I let him run? How far will he get? What harm could come to him? I think about how young he is, how likely it is that our neighbors will watch out for him. I think about what it would be like if he were older, a 16-year-old black boy running for no apparent reason, and I think how that might change the outcome of my decision. We are, after all, living in the time of Ferguson, Baltimore, Freddy Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice … Ironically, a 6-year-old black child running alone down the street of our lily-white neighborhood, without adult supervision, is a hell of a lot safer than he would be if he were 10 years older.
Stuffing my perpetual mama worries aside, I decided to let him go, let him experiment a bit. I am a big fan of the Free Range Kids philosophy, and Squeaker knows everyone on our block. I didn’t think he’d go farther than the corner in either direction. We’ve set those guidelines for him pretty firmly. I figured he'd forget he was mad and just play outside.
I went back to washing dishes.
About 5 minutes later, he burst in the door he’d just run out of, wailing, tears streaming down his face. He ran straight up to me and grabbed me hard around the waist, shaking with sobs.
I stood quietly for a moment, let him breathe. Then, “Did you get worried?”
He nodded his head, sniffing, still hugging me hard, showing no signs of letting go.
I knelt down and hugged him. “You can always come home,” I told him. “No matter how mad you are, or what you said to me or daddy, or how long you’ve been gone, you can always come home.”
He squeezed me with his gymnast’s arms until I thought my ribs would break. We sat there for a while, me crouched on the floor, and him sitting on my lap like he used to when he was little, before he became a wiry bundle of muscle and sinew, before he wore glasses, before he had a sister to tease, before he could spell “l-i-t-t-l-e, LITTLE!”
That night, he asked “What if I ran away and didn’t come back?”
“I’d come looking for you,” I said, stroking his curls.
“What if I went a different way?” he fretted.
“I’d get a lot of people to help me look,” I said firmly. “And we wouldn’t stop looking until we found you.”
Again, he wrapped me in an enormous hug. And this mama’s heart broke in two.