Last night was the absolute worst night of my life. Rather than take responsibility and face the consequences of his actions, my 12 year old son chose not to come home from school.
He should have been home around 4:30. When he hadn’t made it home by 4:45, we started searching for him. Alex rode his bike up and down the streets of our subdivision and the one next to us. He searched the library and the tennis courts, the parks, and the local shops where Andy might have gone. I drove around the back streets of the neighborhoods, checking the beach and the skate park, and double backing to them later when I got there again. I called the transportation department to see if Andy had been on the bus that afternoon. I went to the school in hopes that he’d stayed late for tutoring – without our knowledge – only to find out he’d told them he had his bike that day and would ride it home.
He’s not allowed to ride his bike to school. It’s old and rusty and doesn’t have reflectors, and it needs to be replaced. He’s not even allowed to ride it anywhere by himself in case something happens.
The transportation department confirmed he wasn’t on the bus, Manny confirmed the bike wasn’t at home. By then it was almost 5:30. Where ever Andy was, he had almost 1.5 hour head start to get there.
By 6:00, Alex was home waiting while Manny and I sat in an interview room with a photograph of our youngest son, listening to a very nice police officer explain that our son would be listed as a runaway, and he’d most likely show up when it got dark and we should just go home and wait. We listened as he explained they really couldn’t escalate it to a missing person case unless he was still missing today.
With family and friends praying and asking what they could do to help, we left the police station and drove around some more. Further than I thought it was even possible for him to have gone but I had to check anyway, just in case he was there.
We drove until it started getting too dark to easily spot him, and then returned home as we’d been told. I gave Alex his brother’s cell phone and told him to start calling everyone in the phone book. I pulled up our cell phone bill and started calling the most frequent numbers. I prayed we’d reach a friend that knew where he was, or could tell us he’d said something about going somewhere after school. Most numbers were not working or not answered. I got on Andy’s facebook account hoping some of his friends were online and could help. Two of them were online and did help, but they didn’t have any better luck than we did.
Two police departments were looking for him as they patrolled the city streets. His principal called together a group of her staff and teachers and they started driving around looking. Our church family was on the lookout for him as they headed home from the Wednesday night meeting.
I wanted to be out there looking some more, but knew I needed to stay put just in case. I wasn’t in any real condition to safely drive anyway. I was worried about my boy, scared for him to be out there after dark by himself, not knowing where he was or who he might be with. Was he safe? Had something happened to his bike and we didn’t know? Even worse, had someone snatched him? I was sick to my stomach with fear and terrified I’d never see him again. All I could do was keep praying. God, protect him and keep him safe and bring him back to us. That became my mantra as I watched the clock keep ticking away. I gave myself a deadline of 10:00. If he wasn’t found by then, I was calling the very nice officer and doing whatever was necessary to escalate the search.
Just before 9:00 the call came in. “We found him,” they said. “Thank you, God,” I said. He’d been spotted by a teacher a nearby pizza place and they were keeping him there until we arrived. Five minutes later, my boy was safe and sound in my arms.
We talked with the junior high staff for a little bit. They talked to Andy for a little bit. Andy said he was at a friend’s house – he never left our little part of town – but admitted he didn’t plan on going home. He knew Dad was angry and he didn’t want to face him. I called and texted pray-ers and searchers to let them know he was safe. Then we headed back to the police station. The officer met us there and, with our permission, read him the riot act. He explained to Andy the potential impact this could have if he has further negative issues with law enforcement, that we have the legal right to discipline him as severely as we wanted as long as it was justifiable – and that this certainly fell within the realm of that justification.
I think Andy was just as scared as we were. Some part of me hopes he was because I hope it will ensure it never happens again. I pray he fully understands his actions were not the right ones to have taken. I pray he understands it’s better, and easier, to be truthful and take responsibility from the very start. I pray this will be part of his “rock bottom “and he’ll only go up from here.
He was honest with us when he got home. He admitted he’d found the lighter, taken it to school, and burnt the paper. He has 2 days of out-of-school suspension which translates to hard labor at home under Dad’s supervision. Right now he should still be cutting grass with scissors. I don’t know what else is on the agenda but Manny’s very creative when he wants to be.
We’re still waiting for a decision from the school on whether this most recent act, combined with several other acts of insubordination earlier this school year (the most recent one just 2 weeks ago), will result in him being recommended for alternative school placement. We’re still in prayer over our response, should that recommendation be made.
Part of me thinks the more rigid, formal structure might be good for him for a few weeks; that he’ll see the other kids there and realize his life and his problems aren’t as horrible as he thinks they are, and it’ll give him the self-encouragement he needs to change things for the better. But part of me thinks it could have a negative effect on him; that if he goes there he’ll decide that since he’s already there, what’s the point of even trying anymore. Homeschooling may also be an option.
I told my best friends this morning that everything at work is so normal but I still feel like my world is upside down, and it’s really weird. One said it was such a terrifying situation for us that we may feel like this for a while. The other said it was a huge scare and a reality check, that our time here is fragile. She pointed out that this is one of those things that happen to OTHER families, and she’s right. I thought about this morning. I sympathize with the parents on the news when their child goes missing, but I never dreamed one day it would be MY child and MY family. But it was, and there was nothing I could do but lean on my faith in my Lord and pray for my son’s safe-keeping and return.
I thank God we strive to live our life in His will, and to raise our boys to do the same, because I know it was His power that kept me sane last night and that is keeping me strong today. It is His power that will give me strength in the days to come as we pick up the pieces of our messy life.
I thank God for watching over my son, His adopted son, and keeping him safe and sending him back to us.
I thank God for whatever purpose these trials have and that someday we will see and understand the fruits of Andy’s testimony.
I thank God for family and friends that love us and that prayed for Andy, believing He would watch over my child.
I thank God for living in a small(ish) community where a missing child, even a willful runaway, is a priority.
I thank God for police officers that look for a runaway child on their patrols.
I thank God for teachers and school staff that care enough about their students to take time from their evening and their family to help find my child.
I thank God for loving me, because without Him I do not even want to imagine how last night could have turned out.
In the words of one my favorite artists, Francesca Battistelli:
This is the stuff that drives me crazy
This is the stuff that’s getting to me lately
In the middle of my little mess
I forget how big I’m blessed
This is the stuff that gets under my skin
But I gotta trust You know exactly what You’re doing
It might not be what I would choose
But this is the stuff You use