Firstly, let me start by saying it does get better.
I have a beautiful six-year-old boy. From the moment he could walk he was fiercely independent and would toddle off down the street as soon the front door was opened. I would leisurely stroll down after him, bring him back, and repeat. He never made it further than the mailbox. As he got older and faster, he would zip out and get halfway down the street with me shouting and running after him.
This independence was soon coupled with a rebellious streak and it became very stressful taking him anywhere on my own. We would go to the playground or shopping centre and he would be 50 metres ahead before I knew it. He asked me at the age of three if he could walk to the shops on his own!
It was about this age that he also started climbing out his window. One night while we were sleeping, he actually used our keys to unlock the front door and escape outside. Needless to say, we took to hiding our keys every evening.
When we ventured out, my husband and I tried to keep him buckled in his stroller but he loved to roam around. Despite the challenges that created, we wanted to encourage the physical activity.
At this point, I'm sure a lot of you are nodding in agreement, but perhaps you're also thinking, "this is nothing compared to my little one". Just wait. The best is yet to come.
One day in winter, we attended a birthday party in a playcentre. This is normally the type of place I enjoyed taking my little man as they are completely enclosed and secure. I sat myself near the exit and enjoyed chatting with the other parents, occasionally seeing his little head pop up on the equipment, without the constant stress of trying to verify his whereabouts.
Then all of a sudden, a parent approached me with my little Houdini in tow, explaining that she'd found him down near the main road walking by himself. I was utterly shocked and horrified! When I asked him how he managed to get out, he proudly pointed to the fire escape door. After further investigation, it seems the door's alarms hadn't been activated properly. We were extremely lucky the outcome wasn't more serious, but I was, of course, beside myself imagining what could have happened to my beautiful boy.
Unfortunately, this escape routine played out again a few months later at a different playcentre where, yet again, the alarms didn't go off. This time, I was sitting next to the fire escape door with a friend and was able to run straight out after him.
Throughout these incidents, we had many discussions with my little one about not going outside alone for safety reasons. Obviously a three-year-old doesn't have a great understanding of the potential dangers, but we just kept repeating them. However, much to our horror, our little runner saved his best trick for last.
Tears and relief
It was October 31st (Halloween) and I had just arrived home from work to collect him from daycare. I then received the phone call every parent dreads - a teary call from the director of the centre - explaining that my four-year-old had managed to escape.
Apparently, a teenager riding past the centre had seen him running down the road in his Spiderman costume and knocked on the door to tell them. My son had walked out the back door, climbed the fence next to the manager's office window and taken himself off on an adventure. They had no idea he was missing. Fortunately he was found safe and sound shortly afterwards.
Once again, we found ourselves having more teary conversations with him about the dangers of traffic and 'bad people' who could take him away from us. We spent hours googling 'child harnesses' and 'leashes', which ultimately, we decided not to use. It was a very stressful and difficult period in our parenting lives.
Then gradually, without us even realising, our little escape artist matured and his need to flee dissipated. I loosened the reins and gave him only one rule for when we went out - "stay where I can see you." My husband started to let him ride his bike on the footpath outside our house, up to the corner and back, while he was out the front working on his motorbike.
By giving our son these small moments of supervised independence, we were rewarded with a charming little boy who began to understand his boundaries and the safety lessons that went with them.
The relief has been overwhelming. This journey, at times, felt like it was never-ending, but I can assure you that the 'Houdini' phase definitely has an end point. If you've got a runner on your hands, hang in there! Hopefully, like us, you will end up with a self-assured and confident little person on the other side.