He refused to come back to me at school pickup. I asked, he shook his head. I walked towards him, he ran away. I sighed and turned back. I call him, nothing. I walk away. He watches me leave.
I get my girls, both. I call him again. He pretends not to see me. I call again. An almost imperceptible shake of the head informs me he’s seen me but he’s not coming. Not yet. I call again. Nothing. I wait. He thinks I’ve gone. He chats animatedly with his friend and they leave together. He catches sight of me a few feet before he gets to me. He halts in his tracks. I beckon him over. He ignores me. He keeps walking. I let him think he’s lost me. I reach out and grab his coat at the exact second he decides it’d be best to run. I hold his coat. A dinner lady asks him if he’s okay. I see her look at my hand holding his coat. Gripping it. I know what she’s thinking. She asks him if he’s ok. He ignores her. She looks at my hand, looks at me. I ignore her too.
We walk like this, us and the girls, until we get past the crowds. I ask for his hand, he agrees. We hold hands. When we get to the park I let go. I always let go, it’s his chance of freedom, a quick run before we get home. He runs off around the park like usual. I wave to him and he shakes his head. I keep walking. By the time I get to the steps, he’s still on the other side of the park. I call him and there’s that shake of the head again. I’m so tired of this. I keep walking. We go up the steps and out of the park. I keep turning to see if he’s following. He makes it to our side of the park but we’re out of the gate now. I keep my eye on him and watch the road so the girls can cross and go over to our house. I make sure I know where he is; still in my eyeline. I turn away for a few seconds to get the 6 year old across the road. When I turn back he’s gone. Disappeared. My heart sinks. I ask the 10 year old to tell her big brother what’s happened and that if I’m not back with him in a few minutes to come out and help look. It’s raining. We’ve been out in the rain for 40 minutes in total now. My hair is soaked. I’m dripping and it’s cold. I don’t notice.
I go into the park. I can’t see him anywhere. I remember he likes to hide behind trees. I check behind all the trees on this side. I look behind bushes and all along the road. I can’t see him. He’s disappeared. I start to panic. I sit on the bench in the rain and hope against hope that he will see me and come to me. He doesn’t. 10 minutes passes. He’s still not here. Several people have been in and out of the park in the time I’ve been waiting. Every worst case scenario has gone through my head and I’m thinking I need to call 999 because by the time I get home it will have been half an hour and for an 8 year old that’s AGES.
I walk the perimeter of the park. Still can’t see him. I decide to go back and get the car and check the local roads. My oldest son comes into the park and asks me if I’ve found him yet. Clearly not, he agrees to get my phone and help me look. He takes one side of the park and I take the car. I drive up and round the outside edges of the park before getting a phone call. He’s in the garden. We wait. He’s walking up the path. More waiting. He’s not going inside, my big boy goes and gets him successfully, no more running. Takes him indoors and locks the door. I drive home, relieved we found him but heart sick.
His coat is lying on the floor where he dumped it; his shoes too. Soaking wet and he’s sat on the couch, warm, in his underpants and he’s watching his favourite tv show like nothing has happened. I’m so glad he’s safe I don’t say anything. I stroke his hair as I walk past and I sit down and I try desperately to bottle this emotion up, to keep it inside and to not let the tears escape. I’m so close to crying, to breaking. But I don’t. And he’s home.