By: Martianne Stanger
Costumes. Treats. Parties. Many think about these things at this time of year.
I think about our family’s guardian angels and say a huge, “Thank you!” to them.
Because my oldest boy is here with me right now. Yes, with great thanks to our guardian angels, he is here to enjoy another Halloween. In fact, as I type this, he is telling me that he thinks he wants to be the same thing for Halloween this year that he was last year: “an elephant, but I’m not sure. I might change my mind.”
A mind that I am still working to understand and one that synapses in ways that make impulse control difficult for him, which, in turn, gives our family’s guardian angels plenty of opportunities to do their work.
Picture this moment:
My husband is away. My two oldest children, who helped make their own costumes, still want to go trick-or-treating, and it’s my youngest child’s first Halloween.
At dusk, after setting a bowl of candy on our doorstep, I take my three little ones door-to-door along my street. Our two closest neighbors greet the children and me warmly, but most of the other homes on our street are dark. Thus, when the kids ask to cross the main street to the visit houses just opposite our road, I agree.
Up until this point, the children have been excited, but unexpectedly obedient. They’ve actually been taking only one or two treats per house, have not been running ahead of me, and have been remembering their pleases and thank yous, sometimes even without prompting. Their behavior is more than reasonable for their ages. The weather is good. The night is ideal. As I cross the road with them, it seems that the only thing “wrong” with our Halloween night is the fact that Daddy is away on business instead of home to smile with me at our little Elephant, Pink Kitty, and Lion.
Then, things take a dramatic and frightening turn.
After two more houses, I tell the children that it is getting dark and that older trick-or-treaters will be coming to our house for treats. “Won’t it be fun to see their costumes and hand treats out to them?” They agree they are as happy to head home to pass out treats as they were to head out to collect some.
Or, perhaps the better word would be eager – eager beyond my understanding and beyond the limits of impulse control for my eldest son.
At the sidewalk across the street from our road, I hitch my youngest up on my hip, drop my oldest son’s hand, but automatically pull him in toward my leg as a cue to stand close to me, and go to take my daughter’s hand in mine because, like me, she can be clumsy. I don’t want her to fall as we try to cross the street. As I grasp her hand, my oldest son ignores my cue to stay close. He bolts across the road just as a car comes along out of seeming nowhere.
I scream his name while grasping his baby brother as tightly as I can to my chest and carefully, but quickly, moving my daughter across the road to where the car now idles. I cannot see my oldest boy. I see the driver of the car, head down on the wheel, crying. For a fraction of a second, I want to crumble to the ground in a heap of Lion, Pink Kitty and Mourning Mama, but faith and adrenaline help me use the rest of that second to get across the road, where I find my Elephant steps from the rubber burning on the pavement. He is not only unharmed, but is also completely unphased.
He evidences no idea about what almost just happened.
As I say a quick prayer, I sweep my son into my arms, doing an instinctual accounting for bruises, bumps, and injury. I, then, knock on the window of the car to say thank you and I am sorry. The driver is in too much a state of shock to reply. So, I babble something to let her know that my son is safe, apologize profusely again and trail away with a litany of “thank yous.”
I ask my daughter, who senses the gravity of what has just happened far more than her brother does, to stand next to Mama as we make our way back to our house. I then realize I have practically suffocated my baby with the one arm death-grip I have been holding him in since crossing the road. So, I loosen that arm a bit while pulling my oldest in tight with the other arm.
As we walk back to the house, I try to maintain some modicum of calm, since I know the sensory input of Mom yelling or crying – or alternating between the two as I so long to do – will only exacerbate things. I talk to my son about what just happened. What he did. Why. How it was dangerous.
He truly does not get that it was dangerous.
All my weeks, months, even years of trying to instill road crossing safety mean nothing to him right now. Yet, he means everything to me.
I finally step into my door. I see all three of my young children in the light and cannot help, but to cry. They are home. They are beautiful. They are safe. They are still mine to love and to hold. Thank you, thank you, thank you, my dearest guardian angels.
And so begins the rest of the night – one spent between handing out treats, chanting road safety songs and acting out safety role plays.
A Year Later
Today, as I recall this story, tears slip down my cheeks and I remind myself that it does not matter how many literal and figurative roads my family may have safely crossed since last year. Children, neurologically unique or typical, have their moments. Those moments can be awe-inspiring and wonderful. They can also be heart-wrenching and dangerous.
I am certainly praying for the former this Halloween. However, I am also well aware that impulse-control is still an issue for my oldest son and that all of my children will need a literal hand if we cross the street for trick-or-treating again this year. So, come Halloween, we either will not cross the road at all, or we will do so two adults holding three children’s hands.
How About You?
As you think about costumes, treats and parties this year, will you also be thinking about how to avert anything more frightening than a neighborhood child’s costumes? What will you do to help your child have a safe, festive fun? Do you have favorite road crossing safety books, songs or chants to share? Halloween safety tips? Please do tell!