I intentionally started running in 2013, but when I think back, it really started around late 2009 or 2010. When Wil learned to dash.
The kids and I were part of an amazing parent-based learning program called First Steps (for babies up until your child went to kindergarten). The program was held in a school, within two adjacent rooms. There was a wide door opening between the two rooms. As Katherine and Elizabeth are twins, and Wil only 20 months younger than they are, it seemed the 3 of them were always going in 3 different directions: Katherine would go immediately to riding the little tractor in one room (one day she earned herself a huge goose egg on her head, propelling herself along as fast as her legs would let her, until she encountered a countertop), Elizabeth in the other room with quieter tasks like the wooden puzzles, and Wil, as soon as he could walk, always found a moment to escape through the door to the open adventure of the long hallway.
With all of the parents in that room, Wil could have eluded even Columbo. He sought his moments in time when we were thus distracted, and he’d slip out the door and tear down the hallway in his little Stride Rite shoes.
Though every mother in that room was understanding, I always had an underlying “bad mom” feeling that my child was the only one constantly trying to escape. Then our Down syndrome support group started having indoor play dates with a University of Michigan student group called Motley Crew (a fun spin on the legendary rock band’s name as student group began volunteering at Mott Children’s Hospital).
The college students of Motley Crew set up a single classroom at one of our local schools full of crafts and games. Despite this fact, I found that 95% of the kids in that room’s favorite activity was finding just the right moment to escape to the adventure of the open hallway. Instead of being the minority, Wil was just one of the “runners” as we moms called our kids.
Most of our kids would enjoy the crafts for a bit, but before long, even as fun and encouraging as this group of student volunteers was, the majority of the play date ended up being repeated games of Duck Duck Goose (at least that way our kids ran in circles and not out the door!).
As Wil got older, his running and escape methods improved. While at a basketball camp in the ginormous Chrysler Arena, all of the basketball players and their families assembled in the gym for a group picture. Wil was standing next to us one moment, and was gone the next. One of the moms standing next to Wil exclaimed that out loud, “He was just here!”
There were no other events going on at the arena, so it was basically empty, but my largest concern was Wil getting outside and running near the road. I knew all of the moms there and we immediately split up and ran in search of Wil. Down one hallway, I came across an employee. “Did you happen to see a young boy with blond hair? He has Down syndrome?”
“No,” she responded. “But we have cameras up. I’ll see if I we can spot him.”
We ran down to her monitor room. Sure enough, Wil was going toward the outside doors. I made a mad sprint to get him.
As he’s gotten older, he’s not so much of a runner. However, when he does decide to go somewhere, he still slips out silently. Sometimes he’s still in the house, and he won’t answer me, so I’ve gone in desperate search for him only to find him in the basement bedroom quietly watching his iPad.
This is a common occurrence amongst other parents I’ve spoken with in our support group. One young man used to slip out to other houses in the neighborhood. It wouldn’t be uncommon to find him on a neighbor’s house watching television. One morning before school, his mom couldn’t find him. She called out his name with no answer, so then started calling her neighbors. He decided he wanted to read a book in the clothes dryer that morning, but didn’t respond to a single one of his mom’s calls to him! Not surprisingly, our Down syndrome support group often has discussions on alarms that can be fastened to a door so we will be alerted when our kids slip out the door.
Now that Wil is a teenager, he’ll go off on what he calls “adventures.” The good news is he takes Woody, our yellow lab, most of the time. So if Woody is out the door, I know Wil is. Wil loves to collect sticks, so I’ll find him along our tree line (we live in a rural area and have 10 acres) finding the perfect specimens. He’ll come home hefting up either an impressive pile, or one solid walking stick. “Look what I found on my adventure, Mom!”
As Wil has low thyroid, as well as low muscle tone, this type of exercise, especially as it’s self-motivated, is good for him physically. The challenge is, of course, his safety, which again, he doesn’t fully comprehend. It’s a delicate balance as I certainly don’t want to quell his adventures as they are important for his health and his independence. I just wish he’d tell me when he decided he was going on one!
But like everything with Wil, things come with time and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of repetition and explanation. And I’ll likely always be a runner…at least as long as Wil is.