We were in the kitchen and I was figuratively standing high up on my soapbox, espousing my views on same-sex marriage and why it’s absolute bullshit that we don’t have marriage equality in 2011. I was preaching to the choir, of course, but I didn’t care. An evening of listening to cable news shows on MSNBC had me unhinged, as usual.
Then, all of a sudden, it hit me like it often does out of nowhere. It was too quiet.
WHERE WAS JUDE?
Ed and I both ran to his bedroom. Not there. I ran out to the backyard. Our front and back gates were closed.
We weren’t quite in full panic mode yet but we were getting close. I avoided Ed’s eyes. I knew it would be like looking into my own.
I went back to Jude’s room and checked his closet, a favorite hiding place. Nope. Not there.
I ran through the house with Ed on my heels. I opened the front door and ran outside.
“Was the door locked?” Ed yelled behind me with fear in his voice.
“No!” I shouted back. We try to always remember to lock the deadbolt. Jude hasn’t figured out how to open it yet.
“No as in it wasn’t locked?” he repeated.
“The door was not locked.”
We looked right and left for a tiny figure in the darkness. Our street was empty except for the constant activity that emanates from the girl’s clubhouse next door. I tried to contain the fear that gripped me. Stay calm. We’ll find him. After all, how fast can he run? Actually, he can run pretty fast for a little boy. And he knows the beach is just a short distance away. But in the dark?
I stopped conversing with myself and headed left, toward the clubhouse. The girls and moms must have seen a crazy lady headed toward them. I turned to the sane moms and asked with a voice tinged with more than a hint of desperation if they had seen a little boy running around. How little, one asked.
Three, I answered. And I kept running somewhat aimlessly, not knowing which way to turn. Which way was the right way. Several of the moms quickly sprung into action. What’s his name, one mom yelled into the darkness.
"Jude! His name is Jude!" I screamed.
“He has autism!” Ed yelled.
“Did you look under the beds?” one of them asked. Good question. No, we hadn’t but under our beds was not his hiding place of choice. He liked closets. And then I remembered this morning he had managed to climb into a large kitchen drawer. Closets and drawers.
Ed rushed back inside. I followed.
“Ana, I found him!”
Ed was holding our son tight, head buried in the little boy's neck. He wore the anguished look of a father who had gone into battle and had emerged victorious – but barely. Meanwhile, Jude seemed mighty pleased with himself.
Hmm, was that a smudge of chocolate around his mouth?
“He was hiding in the closet. He left behind some clues,” Ed said wearily, nodding to the area in front of our bedroom closet. A few metallic chocolate wrappers were strewn about. Jude had found the bag of chocolates I had just placed on my desk a few hours earlier.
The kid didn’t miss much.
After our hearts went back to beating at a somewhat normal rate, I wondered if this episode was a peek into our future. Eloping is common with autistic kids. We had already experienced it with Jude a little bit. Every time he ran out the door, however, one of us were just a few steps behind. I could jump over three of the four porch steps now without falling over myself.
And, of course, there were the stories. Just a few weeks ago, a mom was telling me how her non-verbal, autistic daughter had walked out of the house and had gone missing for a very long 10 minutes. A nice stranger found her.
“Thank God Seal Beach is a fairly safe area, but still,” she had said. “It was scary.”
I thought of our doors and how eventually Jude will learn how to open all of them easily. We’ve talked about installing higher latches, but would it ever be enough?
Then, there’s Richard. Not matter how much we nag him my teenage son he’s not the best when it comes to closing our four gates in the backyard. We try to impress upon him what’s a stake, but like most teenagers, he thinks it’s not that big a deal.
It’s been nine months since Jude has been diagnosed. There are good days and bad days. Lately, it seems like his behavior’s been getting worse. He’s more violent, more aggressive and more maladaptive. He spits out his milk, squishes his food until it’s barely recognizable and does things that, forgive me for saying this, are just weird.
I thought I was done with the denial stage but it recently flared up again. I find myself wishing he was just normal.
I can’t count the times Ed’s gotten his face bloodied. I get bit, pinched, punched and kicked on a regular basis, too.
But at the same time, I’ve never known a more charming, adorable little boy. Jude’s charisma is already legendary among those who’ve met him. His smile is so infectious that at times it’s easy to pretend there is nothing wrong with him. That it’s not so bad. That we’re really just exaggerating about his neurological disorder. That he's high-functioning and therefore, OK.
But as much as I’d like to believe he’s just a regular kid, he’s not. He has special, unique, and hopefully, not insurmountable challenges.
As his mom, I often wonder if I have the patience to deal with what lies ahead. I honestly don’t know. I want to be that patient and saintly Mother Teresa character, but instead I find myself getting angry, frustrated and impatient with his lack of progress. I feel less than motherly. And yes, sometimes I even feel sorry for myself.
Then something happens and he gives me a big flash of hope. Like tonight.
I was reading him a bedtime story about Winnie the Pooh while he sat on my lap. At one point in the story he randomly mentions how one of the characters needs his mommy. It takes me by surprise because this seems to be a well-formulated, independent thought. Nowhere in the story was a mommy mentioned. That’s odd, but I go with it.
I ask him, “Do you need your mommy?” He looks me straight in the eyes and leans his head against my chest.