We've been getting Alex used to running errands with us over the last year and so today, when I needed to pick up some unexpected school supplies, I didn't think too hard about going with Alex.
The first few stops inside Walmart went well but when I stopped to pick up more sweat pants (since many of Alex's have become more sweat capris than pants), disaster struck.
He pulled a pair of pants off the shelf and threw them on the floor. I bent down to pick them up and when I straightened up, Alex was gone.
At first I didn't panic. I thought he must have gone to the baby display, which is a favourite area of his and right next to the boys' clothes department. I searched the aisles, calling his name.
Now I'm starting to worry. I have no idea which direction he's gone and I can't think of any other area in the store which might have attracted him. Pride vanished and I went to customer service to let them know I'd lost my child.
They responded very promptly and luckily someone had seen Alex running out of the store to look at the vending machines outside the doors. I retrieved him, thanked everyone and grimly finished my shopping one-handed.
This incident demonstrates with terrifying implications just how quickly Alex can vanish. He is socially aware enough to realize when an opportunity presents itself without having enough social awareness to pick up on the potential dangers or consequences.
Immediate consequences: no cheese bagel at Tim Horton's and having to hold Mommy's hand throughout the rest of the errant (which he hates with a passion).
Long term consequences: fewer errands or other opportunities to go out. He's destroyed about six months of accumulated trust this afternoon and it won't be easily rebuilt.
This is one of the gut-wrenching parts of parenting. I have to give Alex opportunities to grow and learn but that means that sometimes I will have to accept adrenaline-pumping failures as a possibility.
I'm glad and relieved things turned out okay. I'm also relieved to know that Alex is registered with the autism registry with the police. If he had simply wandered off (in search of a park or some other obscure destination), the police already have his description, photograph and brief outlines of how to approach him.
This could very easily have turned into a parental nightmare. I believe I've taken all reasonable precautions to prevent disaster but that doesn't change the fact that I'm still running an adrenaline high.