Eloping is one of those funny words – it has more than one meaning, and most people only know one. The fun one. The “run-off-and-get-married-on-a-whim” kind of meaning. Which makes it really odd and considerably confusing when I write a sentence like this:
Today, my son tried to elope.
No, he didn’t run off to get married. He’s only 7, of course. Instead, he did something far more dangerous and scary. He tried to run away.
The medical term
Elopement is a medical term used in the psychiatric field in particular. It can be interchanged with “wandering” and “absconding,” but both of those terms have slightly different implications about the mental state of the patient. Most doctors I’ve met use the term elope. Basically, it means run away, generally in an unsafe mental state. It has some serious safety implications, especially if it involves a child.
Both my oldest and youngest elope, but usually for different reasons. My oldest generally does it in a triggered, upset sensory episode. My youngest is more likely to wander off and not pay attention to where he’s going, then panic and run scared trying to get back. My daughter doesn’t elope so much as wander around looking for attention, secure in knowing that her parents will tear the place apart to find her. Annoying, but not nearly as scary because she’s calm and able to talk to emergency responders.
Today was bad. Today was also good. I’m so tired of these see-saw roller coaster days of emotional upheaval!
We headed to the dentist this morning to get the Engineer’s molars sealed before we move. His dentist – who knows to bring the x-ray vest in for his sensory issues without being asked – recommended that we seal his teeth to avoid cavities. She said it would be less traumatic for him than a cavity would be, and I had to agree.
He did great! He chilled out with the heavy vest over his chest, his coat over his legs to keep him warm. Under the vest he clutched his bird stuffie for comfort, and he watched Netflix on their tablet while they worked. No fighting, no screaming, no struggles. He was amazing!
In fact, he did so well that I figured we could run an errand afterwards. We ran to Costco for more packing tape and boxes, with the dangled reward of samples if the kids behaved. They didn’t exactly behave. In fact, I ended up confiscating the stuffed bird toys after they proved to be a distraction and a problem.
No sooner had I confiscated them than the Engineer lost it. He screamed. He fought. He tried to run.
The heartbreaking need to restrain a child
I ended up restraining him. He’s so tall now that I have to restrain him standing up, or he can throw me to the ground and break my grip. I spoke calmly, encouraged him to breathe and calm his body down, but nothing worked. This episode lasted at least 5 minutes, which felt like forever when the other patrons in the aisle were watching with gaping mouths.
When he calmed down a little I released him. He promptly ran like a scared rabbit. He screamed that he was going to run away for good since I took his toy away. Luckily I was still in adrenaline mode and chased him down quickly. I caught him by his coat, then restrained him again as he fought and screamed.
I’m way too used to this to cry now. I almost cried when my daughter acted like it was totally normal and continued to interact with me, to the point that I asked her to move away so my son didn’t hurt her. My kids are used to this. That hurts.
He calmed down. Finally. And when he did, we moved on and did our errand. We got our samples, and we managed the periodic behavioral flares that happened again and again.
In hindsight, I should have never taken him out after his appointment. The high stress, the difficult experience, and the laughing gas they administered all triggered him into something he couldn’t handle. I didn’t know that – and he handled it so well I didn’t realize it was an issue. That’s on me. Not him.
I was lucky this time
I’m lucky that this happened inside a store. Because when it happens outside, it’s far more dangerous. He runs, unheeding, into certain danger. He is fast – much faster than I am, and I have to worry about leaving the other 2 kids behind. I know deep in my bones that if this episode had occurred outside in the parking lot, I would have had to tackle him to the ground before he got hurt. That scares me to death, but not as much as the thought of letting him run through a busy parking lot towards the street.
Eloping is not a fun word
Eloping isn’t a fun thing in our world. It’s a scary, frightening, dangerous thing to live with. It’s not something I was told about or learned about – it’s something I know because of living with my son. The first time a doctor put a name to the behavior I did cry – later – where my kid couldn’t see me. Because that meant it wasn’t just us. We weren’t the only people who experienced this scary, out-of-control behavior.
Experienced parents tell me he’ll probably grow out of it when his brain catches up. I hope they’re right. And I look forward to the time when I don’t have to worry about my kid dying because he got upset. Eloping sucks. Truly, deeply, sucks. For all of us.