Wil may have only been about 4 years old, but he had mapped out every “Employee Only” door in every grocery store he’d ever been to. As I turned to pick an item off the shelf, he’d make his move.
My stomach dropped as I noticed his absence, then my brain registered what happened. I quickly scanned the area for the nearest “Employee Only” door. In the line of sight from my cart to the “Employee Only” door, Wil would surely be found making his mad dash — if I was lucky. Other times I’d look up to see the door swinging, and knew in a moment an hair-netted employee would walk out holding Wil’s hand.
When Wil had barely learned to walk, I took him to Kohl’s for new shoes (Kohl’s had the extra-wide high-top shoes that fit over his ankle-length orthotics). Wil was securely seated in the baby seat of the Kohl’s cart. I knew the shoe I wanted so I only had to scan the shoe boxes for his size. In the seconds it took me to find the right size, I turned to find both Wil and the cart gone. My heart seized. Someone had wheeled off with my child.
“Lost child?” A nearby shopper read the fear on my face. “Is that him?”
I followed her point to see Wil’s little self, his arms stretched as high as they could reach, pushing the cart down the aisle. Not only had he barely learned to walk, he’d also Houdini’d himself out of the safety strap in mere seconds.
About 5 years later, Wil escaped the eyes of a group of mothers at Chrysler Arena during our daughters’ basketball camp. “He was just right here!” One of the mothers said. “Exactly,” I replied. Fortunately, the arena was only open for our daughters’ camp, so there were no other visitors. We split up to find him, sprinting down the empty halls. One of the Chrysler Arena employees spotted Wil on the security camera nearing the outside doors. When I caught up to him, he said, “Car, mom.” He was done being at Elizabeth’s basketball camp.
Now that Wil is nearly 14 years old, he doesn’t run off like he used to. Occasionally I’ll get a call from his paraprofessional that Wil bolted out the door at school, and that she’s chasing him across the soccer field in 20 degree weather without a coat. Most of the time though, Wil tells us when he is tired, overwhelmed and needs a change of scenery. But his taste for adventure has not dissipated with his increased vocabulary.
On the weekends at home, Wil puts on his coat, hat and gloves (the only help he needs is starting his coat’s zipper). Then he says to our yellow lab, “Come on, Woody, we are going on an adventure.”
I watch them run off into the field together, thinking of all the ground we covered to get to this place.
When Wil returns he throws the door open, pink cheeks lit by the cold air, his whole being exuding an aura of energy only the outdoors can deliver. I breathe it all in thinking, this is what Paul Bunyan must feel like after an adventure well-lived.