Narrowed eyes, twisted lips, feet that stomp around trying to find purpose.
That's how it begins.
Sometimes there's a grand, You'll-Be-Sorry announcement, but its equally likely the dejected will disappear with a rucksack and fill it to the brim with provisions needed to live a life of solitude.
Forever and ever …
With another family …
Who will love them and treat them better than you do.
Did you hear me? I'm running away! FOREVER!
The declaration had come from left field.
We'd been playing baseball in the yard and he'd stormed past me and into the house while I tried to straighten out my smile.
He was mad that I was trying to insert rules into his game. He didn't WANT to run counter clockwise. Why should he leave the bat at home plate? What do you mean base runners rarely get to bat from first to second, second to third and third to home? It's possible he was also miffed that the pitcher (me) staunchly refused to hurl using my mitted hand.
“You catch with the mitt, bud, you don't pitch with it.”
“This is not how I play,” he replied in an accusatory tone.
Evidently I'd wracked up my third strike.
“I'm leaving and I'm never ever never coming back. Ever.”
He tossed the bat and the ball onto the porch and stomped upstairs in his cleats, changed his pants -- which had gotten muddied on one knee from sliding into Pretend Home – and started emptying his dresser drawers into his backpack.
I listened from staircase, trying to sound more concerned than amused.
“I'm going to miss you, Kiddo. Don't forget your toothbrush and flossers.”
When I was his age I ran away from home twice: The first time I got as far as the edge of the overhang on the front stoop. It was raining in sheets and I didn't want to get wet. The second time I got all the way to the mailbox, where a neighbor, noticing me just standing there holding my plaid suitcase, packed to nearly bursting with toys and clothes, asked what brought me there.
I told him I was running away from home. He laughed a little, then mentioned I really hadn't gotten that far. I told him it was as far as I could go since I wasn't allowed to cross the street.
A few years from now this moment will seem more serious. It's hard to assert yourself when you’re in preschool. Not if you need your mom to make you lunch and help you tie your shoes.
It's my daughter I worry about, though.
When Ittybit decided to exert her independence (around age 5) I was unpacking groceries. She'd walked past me in her usual flair; with a kind of brisk pounding of feet and a dramatic flounce of hair as she trudged down the hall to her room.
"She's packing ... " my husband said a few minutes later. "She says she wants to leave."
Before she stormed out I had heard her voice chirping away, flittering between octaves "... ip ip ip ip ip ..." as I opened and closed the refrigerator door, "ip ip ip ip ip ip" as I folded another emptied the shopping bag and stowed it with the other recyclables. "Ip ip ip ip ip ip ip. ..." I really hadn't been listening.
But unlike my son, who appeared before me in February wearing a winter coat, shorts and carrying two backpacks – both filled with clothes that will probably fit him … someday – my daughter's bag was lighter and packed with purpose.
It contained only a few things. A dress. A toy and a book. Nothing I'd given her.
She was crying, but she gave me a second chance to listen to her complaint. As we sat on her bed, a tiny lifetime of upset streamed out with her tears. Upset that seemed to go back as far as the hospital ... when she was born.
"I remember another mother. Not you. A mother who was nicer to me. Who listened to me. Who didn't just SAY she was going to do something she DID it. That's the mother I'm going off to find."
I felt her pain. Everything she wanted from me was always just another In-A-Minute away. And my minutes take longer than her minutes … unless I'm timing them at the park. Those minutes, like all the years between my own childhood and theirs, go by all too fast.