I run after him, dodging picnic tables, reaching out to try to grab a collar or an arm. I can't get close enough, quickly enough. He's giggling as he runs but suddenly the giggles turn to tears as he runs straight off the edge of the patio. He hasn't even noticed the stairs - I don't think he could see the difference between where the patio ended and the concrete began three steps below his running feet. He is face down in the parking lot as I reach him, snatch him up and hold him close as he sobs.
I wanted to take him somewhere nice this morning. I'm finally on summer holidays and despite still having essays to do, at least we're no longer commuting to Nottingham. He loves the ball pit with its slides and climbing platforms at one of our local pubs so I thought it would be great to follow the schoolrun with some time there. He hates the schoolrun now, because when his big brother gets out of the car and leans into the backseat to say goodbye with a tickle and a smile, he begins to laugh...but then Brother closes the door and walks away and he howls. "I don't want brother to go! Is he leaving forever?" His tears convey his sadness and confusion and he screams as we pull away from school. The fact that we also return every afternoon to pick up Brother again doesn't register. Each day is as upsetting for him as the last. The ballpit would be a welcome distraction.
We were ten minutes early as toddler time starts at 9:30am but he was already restless, having been cooped up in the car for forty minutes on the school run and via the fish shop to pick up some algae wafers for 'Munch', our bright orange Plec. There was a patio outside the pub, overlooking the carpark (empty at this time of day) and full of picnic tables. I thought it would be perfectly safe to sit at the picnic tables where he could roll his car back and forth until the ball pit opened. Weaving our way through the tables, I chose one closest to the door and therefore furthest from the parking lot and he climbed onto a seat with a grin. As we sat there, I held onto one of his arms while he rolled his car with the other. It was a natural position for us as he is so prone to taking off without warning - he has absolutely no sense of danger and with minimal communication skills or understanding of language, shouts of, "Adam, stop!" or "Adam, no!" are as meaningless to him as is, "Adam, danger!" But after a few moments, I started to feel self-conscious, like an incredibly over-protective mother, so determined to keep her child close that she will not allow him even an inch of wiggle room. Then, his car rolled just out of reach across the table and as he strained to reach it, I let go of his arm to allow him to retrieve his car.
"Is it a game Mummy?" He looks up at me with shining eyes. "Mummy, chase me!" Was this what was going through his mind when in the tiniest of instants, he glanced up at me before taking off? Or was he just completely and utterly unaware of either safety or danger? As he wove and dodged between the picnic tables, wobbling and bouncing from one to another, I ran after him, cursing loose flip-flops that twisted on my feet. I tried to reach him, seeing out of the corner of my eye that the parking lot was immediately beside the patio and the busy road beyond that. I couldn't get to him in time. As he ran off the edge of the patio, his little legs churning in empty air, there was no awareness of stairs, visual recognition of a drop or any understanding of what was happening until he was in a scraped, bleeding and bruised puddle, facedown in the parking lot. Thank. God. That. Parking. Lot. Was. Empty.
Seconds later, I snatched him off the concrete and wrapped my arms around him as he flattened himself into my neck, sobbing. I soothed him as best as I could, "I've got you baby, you're safe now, Mummy's got you..." Slowly, I walked back to the picnic table, cradling my boy in my arms as my heart stuttered in panic. Mama-bear had reached her cub and wasn't letting go. Bruises. Cuts. Grazes. Gravel and grit in his mouth and nose. But thankfully, nothing serious. Thank God that parking lot was empty. Thank God it was only three stairs.
This is just one example of life with my precious baby boy. He doesn't comprehend danger at all. He has no conception of keeping himself safe or of staying near me. If I am not holding him at all times - an arm, reins, in a carrier or pram, even by the collar on occasion when I can grab nothing else in time - he's gone. In a heartbeat, he takes off. Shouting after him, telling him to stop or that he's in danger simply doesn't register. I have no idea if he doesn't hear or if he doesn't understand but I know nothing other than physically reaching him and pulling him back will make him safe again. And once the tears are mopped up or he is released into what should be a safe environment (the fence enclosed garden for example) he will do exactly the same thing again. If going headfirst out of the window of his Wendy house results in falling on his head, he will accept a cuddle and go straight back to do it again - the only difference is that this time, I am beside that window to catch him in time. His ability to learn from mistakes or accidents seems negligible.
And yet, life is not all gloom. Ten minutes later, he was released into the ball pit where he "splashed" about, giggled, ran, slid down the slide, climbed and played until he was breathless with delight. I chased him through the padded aisles as he stumbled and wobbled, trying to keep his balance (never an easy thing for him) and on reaching a wall, turned to face me wreathed in grins. Grins quickly turn to giggles as he's lifted high into the air, turned upside down and released to run again.
After an hour, moaning with tiredness and thirst, he told me he was finished playing so we strolled back to the car in search of his (currently favourite) stacking cups, some fruit-milk and later, some lunch. Where in addition to his cheesy toast, he grabbed and tried to stuff four slices of peeled apple into his mouth at once and began to choke. Sitting beside him, I dropped my mobile phone and started thumping his back as I pulled as much apple from his mouth as I could while he choked, coughed and gasped for air.
On the other end of that phone was his Dad. I had been telling him that Adam's Disability Living Allowance has been renewed for another year - and that because of his many complex needs, he has now been granted the highest weekly rate.
It was a good day for that letter to arrive.
Thankfully, lunch concluded (offering one tiny chunk of food at a time and keeping all others out of reach) stories and snuggles proved a far safer occupation as he slowly fell asleep in my arms. Now, I watch the camera as he sleeps and wait for it all to start again. My precious boy, I love you so - because you are you.