One thing I learned about my son and autism is that he seemingly has no fear or concept of getting lost. As he gets older he seems to understand a little better. We have had tense moments through the years where if we took our eyes off our son for a few seconds in a crowded area it could be a frightening experience if he was to wander off. I know that we had to chase him in the mall more than a few times as he just seemed to run off and we always have to catch him and hold him real tight. I have also encountered moments where when we go clothes shopping he likes to run and hide in the circular clothing racks and it can wear on you. We always have to be firm with him and explain that he just can not run off like that because he can get lost and that would be a very bad thing and it would make my hair turn a shade of gray. When we go out we have to travel together with Matthew because he is too much to control for one person.
I learned my lesson when I wanted to treat Matthew to a day out. I was hoping to take Maria and her mom too but she had to work and her mom was feeling sick. I decided to still take Matthew out for the day and we went to Great Adventure in Jacksonville, New Jersey. It was a nice sunny day in August of 2006 and he was 7 years old. The drive there was fun and we drove over the Verazzano Bridge which my dad played a part in building and I always have a smile as I think of that. Matthew also says “There’s pop’s bridge!” Yes, Matthew that is true, I always say to him. We were all excited driving there and Matthew and I were both looking forward to a nice day but wished that mommy and grandma could have accompanied us too.
When we got to the park I told Matthew to stay by my side and not to run off because there are lots of people here and it would be too easy to get lost. I made sure he understood that before we went any further and he seemed to understand. I also asked him to remember the parking area we parked our car so we won’t be looking all over the place for it later on and he committed the designated area to memory.
The first thing we had to do when we arrived was to purchase tickets and I had to make sure Matthew was right next to me as I paid for them. Once I had the tickets and Matthew’s hand we went into the park and grabbed a map so we could figure out where to go. Matthew enjoyed the area in Bugs Bunny land where there is an enclosed area where sponge balls are placed in cannisters and propelled towards the ceiling and it seems like it is raining sponge balls. It is a lot of fun for the kids but for me I am always watching where Matthew is running to and the hard part of keeping track of your child is that there are 2 levels and lots of kids and sponge balls. I was always keeping my eye on him and it was exhausting. I was hoping he would tire after a while. We spent over an hour and a half there but luckily we left together. I was a bit stressed but managed to get through it and Matthew had fun.
After we looked at the map Matthew suggested the kids area where there are sprinklers and water themed play areas. As it was getting a bit hot I agreed we could check it out. As soon as we found it Matthew ran towards a kid’s bridge that led to an upper level and I shouted to him to slow down but he kept going and I could not see him in my immediate line of vision. I was surrounded by kids and their parents and every young boy looked like Matthew from behind. I started to worry as I did not see him and the crowds of kids were affecting my clear vision. I started to panic and felt I had to shout his name out of fear and frustration. It was very unsettling to all of a sudden lose your child in the crowd. I could not venture out of the immediate area as I needed to try my best to locate him. As I looked in every direction I headed for the upper level of the bridge but he was no where in sight. I was really starting to panic and shouted his name but no Matthew was to be found. It was the most scariest feeling I ever had to go through. As I went back to the lower level and headed for the sprinkler area I saw a glimpse of a boy who looked like Matthew. As I approached him I realized it was not him. As I turned to look for someone to help me there he was running back in my direction and I felt this overwhelming feeling of relief and I grabbed a tight hold of him and told him to never ever run off like that again as I thought he was lost and I was very worried. I told him if he wants to stay here we have to hold hands and stay together the rest of the day or we were going home now. He promised me he would not run off anymore so I promised him we could stay then and I suggested we have lunch and he agreed.
We stopped at Papa John’s in the park for 2 personal pizzas, 2 orders of fries and 2 sodas totaling a whopping $38. We were hungry so I guess I had no choice but to pay that exorbitant price. After we ate our lunch we walked around the park and headed for the carousel and the log flume. We were having fun and enjoying the day. We walked around the park for an hour after the flume ride which Matthew loved because we got soaked and needed to as it was hot and felt good to be cooled off.
We headed for the teacup ride which Matthew loves and then we went to the old fashioned car ride which is always a lot of fun. We also went to see the dolphins and the diving show. There was a sponge bob show playing at 6:15 pm so I told Matthew that we should leave after the show as it would be after 7:00 pm and we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us. It was a long day and we were both getting tired so we decided we should head back to the car after the show which Matthew liked as sponge bob is his favorite cartoon character.
When we got back to the car I was happy we managed to have a fun day together and except for that couple of minutes that Matthew disappeared from my vision which seemed like an eternity I was relieved we were both safe in the car and heading for home. I called Maria to tell her we had a fun time at Great Adventure and we were heading home. I also learned that next time we come here or go to a big park we are all going because I do not ever want to go through that experience ever again of losing sight of my son. That was a hugh wakeup call for me and I will never let Matthew out of my reach ever again!
I was just so happy we were together and driving home and Matthew uttered the words ‘There’s pop’s bridge” and I said “You’re right again Matthew!” as we smiled together and headed for home.