The day Connor jumped out of his bedroom window was hot and cloudless. The vibrant greens of early summer had given way to sun singed yellows while cracks threaded the soil in complicated paths beneath withering grass. It was Father’s Day. Convention was not completely lost to us, so picnic snacks were packed and loaded into the van along with four children and the Labrador puppy. Visions of eating tart apples in the shade and splashing beneath waterfalls kept Eric and I in elevated spirits despite Connor’s impatience to leave quickly. Walls were pounded and broken glass needed to be swept up before the shards could pierce small, bare summer feet.
A mile into our trip, I realized I had left the apples on the kitchen counter. Connor did not tolerate returning home after a journey had begun. Paths were not to be diverted from. I impulsively decided to make a quick stop at the nearest grocery store while Eric waited with the kids in the van. Leaving the store, I heard Connor’s screams punctuated with menacing thuds against the windows as the store’s automatic doors parted. Xander had lost a fist full of fluffy blonde hair. Connor was scolded and told he needed a time out before traveling to the park. We changed our path and drove home.
Connor’s bedroom had become a suburban fortress. Window glass had been replaced with plexiglass and locked shut with a bolt that required a key. The door had a deadbolt that could only be opened from the hall. In many places, plywood covered the sheetrock to hide holes punched by strengthening adolescent fists. I led him to this room for a time out while the others waited in the air conditioned van. Walking up the stairs, Connor pounded the walls. I knew that after five minutes alone in his room his tantrum would pass. I locked his bedroom door behind him.
I sat in the living room waiting for him to calm down. Looking outside, I saw my recently potted hibiscus wilting and went outside. The water I poured pooled in hesitation as if the soil no longer remembered how to absorb liquid. Connor’s yells seemed louder as I continued to coax water into the pot. There was a thud, a moan, and then silence. I realized what had happened but did not want to believe it. Several steps around the outside of our house revealed Connor lying on his side, unmoving on the hard, sun baked ground. His second story window was partially open and the screen was torn and hanging limply against the siding. My scream overtook the sudden silence and I ran for the phone to call 911. Eric sat cradling Connor and Spencer was given the responsibility of keeping his siblings in the van.
Though the ambulance arrived within minutes, Connor was already up and walking around. The time out was over and he was ready to resume the journey. The paramedics wanted to strap him to a stretcher in case he had sustained a serious back injury. Connor refused and waivers had to be signed. He rode sitting up in the ambulance next to his dad, pleased to be heading in the right direction.
Kind neighbors watched the other children while we coaxed Connor through numerous X-rays . With disbelief, doctors told us our son was physically fine – he hadn’t sustained a scratch. Connor was laughing hysterically on the exam table and told us he was ready to go.
We took him home without incident, collected the other children, thanked the perplexed neighbors, and reloaded everyone, including the puppy into the van. The kids were hungry and someone asked to go to Pizza Hut. As we were eating, an elderly couple told us we had beautiful, well behaved children. Apparently the puppy had been hungry as well. He ate all the apples and threw up enthusiastically and repeatedly in our absence.
Finally at our destination, we clung to the shady banks along the water and watched dragonflies and turtles engage in their mysterious activities. We spotted a family of ducks, a mother and father proudly parading four little ducklings along the placid surface of the water. For a few moments, we all watch quietly as the babies paddle earnestly behind their parents. A snapping turtle seized the last baby in line and the parents quacked in avian despair. Connor had lost interest and was skipping too far ahead. Xander was dangerously close to the edge of the water. Spencer and Maya were frozen in silence. We needed to move on quickly and get back on the path.