Jack got lost at school yesterday. The principal called me around 12:30 and started the conversation with "everything is okay now," which always makes me wonder. He proceeded to tell me that while Jack was outside on the playground with two aides and some other students, there were two simultaneous distractions, which resulted in one aide going back into the school with a student and the other aide falling and hitting her head. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, Jack left the playground through the gate, walked around the school, crossed the length of the school and the parking lot, and went the front door of a nearby house. The woman inside heard something and opened the door to find Jack, who ran into her house and (in typical carpe diem Jack-fashion) began playing with her children's toys and watching TV. This mother, to whom I will always be grateful, must have figured out pretty quickly that Jack wasn't going to answer any of her questions, so she called the school to let them know they had a runaway. No one at the school even knew he was missing until this call came in, because both of the classroom aides though that Jack was with the other aide. So the principal and Jack's teacher, who was having lunch, went to the house and brought Jack back to school, before calling me.
For the past two days, I have vacillated between feeling sick about the situation, and feeling gratitude that it turned out the way that it did. I can't really blame the teachers for what happened. Jack has been known to slip out the back gate or the garage door when our backs are turned, and return a few minutes later with a neighbor, whose bell he rang and whose vacuum he quickly located upon darting into their home. It's happened to me, so I know how quickly it can happen. I have always felt very lucky to live in a neighborhood filled with really nice people. Some of our neighbors we know better than others, but they generally all know Jack and watch out for him and treat him with kindness and generosity. Jack is so innocent and childlike. His escapes aren't planned or premeditated--they are simply crimes of opportunity. And in his moments of unsupervised freedom, I'm so grateful to the kind-hearted, good people who care for Jack.
We don't often take Jack to the grocery store with us, ever since an event took place at the local big box store which we refer to as The Day the **** Hit the Floor, as that is indeed exactly what happened. I don't like to relive it by talking about it. I'm pretty sure that I have PTSD in some form based on my mental, emotional, and physical response to the mere mention of the Day. I'm not even going to go there. Just picture your worst nightmare with a mentally disabled person happening in the middle of a crowded store, and that was exactly what we experienced. Anyway, because of said Day, Jack usually doesn't go to the store with us. But many months after the Day, we again attempted a family shopping outing with Jack.
This time the most delightful thing happened. We happened upon several neighbors at the store who immediately came over and greeted Jack (not us) and told him what a great kid he is and how glad they were to see him. Jeff remarked at the end of this outing, "Jack, you are quite the man about town!" The same thing happens at the Chevron near our house. All of the cashiers are acquainted with Jack because he and a therapist practice appropriate social behaviors by paying a daily visit where Jack can choose a snack and wait patiently in line to purchse it. When I took Jack to the gas station over the Christmas holiday, the cashier beamed at Jack and talked to him with sweetness and enthusiasm. I realized, with much gratitude, that our son is surrounded by admirers. His behavior can be difficult, and to some people, daunting. But so many of our neighbors don't see just the behaviors. They see Jack. And they love him just the way he is.