He Wandered Away

Today’s my birthday.  Yesterday, a boy from Savion’s class in the Autism Resource classroom, eloped from home. It was early morning and by late afternoon, he had been found by the police a mile away from home.

A year ago from yesterday, 5/22/2015, Taj wandered away from home…and then the police came and took our three boys away from us.

I had gone to my mom’s to get a cake pan. Earlier that morning I had bought bright blue frosting, confetti cake mix, and candy letters for a fun baking experience.  I was discussing how best to remove cake from a pan without crumbling when I got a call from Victor.

“Is Taj with you?”
“No. I left him with you and the boys.”
“He’s not with me!”

I shuddered and my heart started beating faster. I would have to call 911. Again. My mom overhearing said, “I’ll go to the house.” Victor would start driving in the neighborhood, so I ran outside and started yelling.

“Taj! Taji! Where are you Taj?!” Come to me Taj!” Victor saw me running on foot while he was driving and we went back to the house.   Mom was on the front porch, with policemen standing close by and in the front yard.   Three police cars were in front. I dreaded what was coming. The last time one of my boys had run away I had been told, “This can’t keep happening, ” by a police officer. Was Taj ok? Were my children about to be taken away?

I stepped out. In the front yard a woman came up to me with Taj.

“My husband was biking and we thought he looked familiar, we brought him to the police. He’s been so good.” She handed him to me and Taj grinned, grasping a bag of Fritos.

“We have to look out for the kids..” I heard one police officer say to Victor. Anwar was bewildered, standing next to my mom, Savion hopped from one foot to the other and Taj munched his Fritos. I knew then. They were taking my boys away.

I pinned my hands to my sides and took deep breaths. I didn’t want to be seen as unhinged or emotional, I was already seen as a negligent parent. I turned my back though, when I realized I was glaring.  I then sank down on the front porch and started to cry. My mom put her hands around me.

We were told to get a bag together for the children. Victor’s voice started to raise in agitation in response to a police officer’s question.

“Calm down honey, please,”I said.
“You don’t tell me what to do, I’m an adult!” I knew that his anger wasn’t at me, but at the helplessness of being in the situation we were in, but it still hurt.

I wiped my face with my hands and smiled at the boys. What to say?

“Mommy is going to pack your bags and you are going for a ride with the police officers.” I smiled. Pretending. Victor and I didn’t know where they were being taken. Topeka? Manhattan? Lawrence? Would the caretakers know about children with autism? We were told to go to the police station for further information.

At the station, we were told that the Department of Children and Families would be in contact with us. I thought, “My children are well-fed, we don’t beat them, we love them…but it’s not enough.” We got a call from the DCF, and it was decided that while our case was being decided the boys could stay with my parents, but no visits or phone calls. I made sure to give my mom the cake mix, frosting, and candy letters that the boys had been so excited to make.

My mom told me later that the first night, Anwar sat at the table and sobbed. He knew something was wrong, even if he couldn’t understand it.  Savion kept asking, “What happened to my house? Is it gone?” Taj, surrounded by his grandparents and brothers, was happily unaware of what was going on.  Victor and I got a lawyer to represent us.

I was instructed by the lawyer to draw up a resume.   I listed autism conferences I had attended, my participation in the autism support group, and parenting classes I had taken.   Second to that I listed my degree and community involvement.  I needed to get across that I was aware and trying my hardest keep my children safe.  Victor also provided a resume.  It was a long, lonely and sad birthday weekend.  I was comforted in knowing that the boys were safe with my parents, and making the cake they had been so excited about.

The boys had to stay with my parents during half of the next week, so a babysitter had to be found.  Luckily, a paraprofessional that had taken care of them before was available.

A DCF worker came out to visit Victor and I and asked,
“Why do you think this keeps happening?” I was frustrated with this question. Didn’t she know about the diagnosis of autism and the behaviors prevalent in those children diagnosed?  I politely answered with my explanation asd and what it looked like in our family.

The day of court, Victor and I dressed nicely and went up to the lawyer’s office. Victor and I didn’t even make it to the court house. The prosecuter said our case never even should have gone so far, given the boys’ diagnosis. That same day, we went to my parents house to pick up the boys.

“Mommy, you came back!” shouted Savion.
“Mommy, home?” Taj giggled. Anwar came and pressed his forehead to my mine, as I squatted down to give them hugs. The baby-sitter was just as excited to see that we were together. The DCF worker came to inspect the changes that had been made to the house and found them satisfactory. Alarms on every door going outside, doors that unlocked only with a key and a fence between the front and back yard. The DCF worker also gave me the name of a hospital, that made visits to children’s schools, to help develop plans of action to quell negative behavior.

So, a year later, I am thankful that my boys are still with me. Thankful that the little boy from Savion’s class was found safe yesterday. And yes, I’m thankful to the police, for every time they have brought them back to me.