I would be lying if I said I’d never thought about running away. There are fleeting moments of hopping in my car and my last words being something like, “you guys drove me one mile past crazy. I’m outta here!” There are other times when I feel like gathering up the whole crazy-inducing gang and leaving town and living in the middle of nowhere so that my kids are safe and protected from the scares of the day and the mean kids in school.
I would venture to say that I’m not alone when it comes to the thoughts of heading for the hills, and this week I’ve had to deal with two runaways from my own home. When the dog took off after a bunny or a cat, I knew she’d eventually come trotting home. But it boggles my mind why anyone would want to leave this miraculous place where their mother feeds them, clothes them, teaches them, and horror of all horrors makes them get along, practice piano, and do their homework. Still, such was the case a few days ago when I almost lost a redheaded son to the lure of the rails.
He comes by it honest, though, if I’m being truthful. I remember countless episodes as a child preparing my escape. I would pack a few clothes and my teddy bear into my Barbie hard-sided suitcase and plan to hit the highway, or at least the road to Grandparent’s house where I’m sure they would never yell at me and feed me bread and butter and peanut butter crackers and ginger ale until the cows came home. I never actually made it there, but in my mind I was already walking down my street and contemplating how to cross Sate Road, never looking back.
I don’t remember what set me off, and I’m guessing that my son has no idea of why he wanted to run away this week, but he was thinking ahead and really planning for his survival.
“Mom, I need you to go to the grocery store for me. I need some bottled water and I need it soon. I’m leaving at 8:00 sharp. Downtown.”
Naturally I dove right in, and asked him why he needed water and why it was downtown.
“I need fresh water to drink. And it’s a train, duh” (As a sidenote, he went through a phase of being infatuated with hobos and hobo symbols, and riding the rails seems pretty glamorous in his eyes.
“Hmm. Do you want food too?” I asked.
“Nope. I’m going to get a part-time job. That’ll be enough to pay for food and I probably won’t make it past age 14 anyway. Starvation, I’d guess.”
“Well, swing by your grandparents on the way out of town. I’m sure they’ll want to say goodbye. And I can drive you to the train station later so we can stop at the store and get some water for you.”
And away he stomped, off to sit in the tree house and eat crackers until he came to apologize and tell me he’ll stay which is good because I’m guessing life on the rails isn’t as lovely as it looks in the movies. Plus I kinda love my kid.
As silly as it sounds, there are a lot of kids that do run away for real, and as a parent I couldn’t even imagine how scared I would be. The US Department of Justice reports that over 450,000 missing children each year are runaways, and that one in seven children between the ages of 10 and 18 will hit the road. Some return in a few days, but most stay away from anywhere between one month and one year. A portion of the runaway children come back on their own accord, and others never come home—they either start a new life or find their own ended by assault, illness, or suicide. Sad statistics, and if you ever see a redheaded boy playing a harmonica with a handkerchief pouch on a stick, send him this way. I’ll be mighty appreciative.