Does everyone have a story where they “threatened” a parent with running away and they parent in response helped her pack for the trip? I’ve heard many. The retelling sounds so cute and makes the listeners nod with appreciation, connection, and approval of the parent’s wise response and predictable outcome—that of a short journey around the block or across the street to a friend’s house.
Unfortunately, when the child is older and struggling to consistently make “good choices”, running away conjures visions of homeless kid sitting on the sidewalk, back against a street sign holding up a cardboard sign asking for food…or a “kind” adult offering a meal and a place to stay that is in actuality a step into the world of sex trafficking. These were the thoughts that ran through my mind when I heard my husband voice on the phone say “COME HOME NOW! LUKA’S GONE.”
More than the words, his voice carried with it an urgency and insistence that screamed EMERGENCY! As I sped home, at dusk, almost night, I saw a boy riding his bicycle on the side of the highway and thought “stupid kid…no coat, no helmet, no light…wait…” The way the boy moved, the tilt of his head, the set of the shoulders, the way his legs moved the pedals…it was Luka. I checked the traffic and whirled the car around, and around again. Coming up from behind him, I beeped and he jumped off his bike. “What are you doing?” I screamed.
“I’m leaving! No one loves me!” He screamed back.
My response…”You are NOT riding on the highway!” now seems so inadequate, so beside the point.
Luka dropped his bike, crossed the highway, and ran up the embankment and off the road. I struggled his Trek into the back of my SUV. He began running across a recently harvested and plowed cornfield. (The field looks empty and flat from a distance. But the reality of running over the corrugated peaks and valleys is exhausting.) Luka soon outdistanced me.
Coming to the edge of the field myself, I crossed farm yards and a residential area. Calling , calling, calling…LUKA!
Rather than running far away, I was afraid that he would perhaps hide in a shed or in a winterized boat in the nearby marina. Then without a coat or appropriate protection from the dropping November night temperatures, Luka would succumb to hypothermia. With preadolescent anger, my son would die within feet of our frantic search.
We called grandparents, my sister, an aunt and uncle. Cars began cruising the area with family calling “LUKA…LUUUUUUUUKA!”
That is when my husband asked, “Should we call 911?”
With only a moment’s hesitation, I replied, “Yes.”
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Three minutes later, the police sirens and lights drew family members like mosquitos to a garage light. My mom and I were both sent home to check if Luka was at either of our homes, or to wait for him to show up.
Just minutes later, my mom called my cell phone to let us know that Luka was walking up her driveway as she arrived home (a distance of about 3 miles). He had initially gone to the Middle school and was able to enter because of an athletic practice—but he had been afraid of getting “caught”. He had also seen a police vehicle and dodged behind some bushes. Ultimately, the exercise and our strong family bonds brought Luka to a place of comfort and safety.
Hopefully he will always have a place to run to that is warm and safe.
Hopefully he will always have people to run to…people who will hold him, listen to his problems, and offer a shoulder to cry on.
(Perhaps that friend and happy place will be farther away than that short journey around the block or across the street…but that’s what technology is for, right?)
Hopefully he will have both the people and places in his life to help him do the messy work of confronting his problems and doing the hard work of living.