Independence begins . . .
This story is the follow-up on Matt taking his first unaccompanied stroll. Matt is in North Carolina with my husband Tom (where Tom works) and I am at home in Virginia. Yesterday was the practice walk. Tom gave Matt his own key and identification card and a key to the mailbox. He also gave Matt a note for his wallet which provided all the emergency information. Matt put it in his wallet without question. Tom and Matt took a practice stroll together earlier in the day, turning left out of the apartment and walking to the mailbox. From the mailbox they took a path that passed one of the swimming pools and circled around toward the front of the massive complex of apartments and straight toward the weight-room. Matt practiced using his new identification pass to unlock the door and they scoped out the various equipment. Shortly after, they strode back to their apartment and Matt got to use his entry key. No problems.
Later that afternoon Matt decided it was time for his own walk. He left the building and unexpectedly turned right. Matt is a creature a habit. Each time he has been out so far has been with Tom and they have always taken the exact same route. Both Tom and I expected Matt would continue this same routine. Tom watched from a safe distance as Matt disappeared around the next corner. He never looked back.
He walked with confidence and purpose. His gait was quick. Matt called me. “Hi mama!” he exclaimed. “Hi Matt!” I exclaimed back. “Well, I’m on my walk!” I could hear the excitement in his voice. This was his time. “Great!” I said, “I’ll talk to you later”. “O.K, bye!” he returned. Matt was alone, outside, in an unfamiliar town, taking a leisurely, yet purposeful stroll around his neighborhood. I looked at the clock. I paced. I played some computer solitaire and I thought about my son. The phone rang again. “Hi mama!” Matt exclaimed into my ear. “Hi Matt. Where are you now?” I asked. “I’m back at the apartment” he replied. Really? So soon? I looked at the clock again. Only four minutes had passed. He told me he had gone all the way around the complex. I could hear in his voice how proud he was of himself.
Tom called soon after. He told me how he had watched from the window as Matt turned right at the sidewalk. He revealed how anxious he was when Matt disappeared around the corner - out of sight. I knew Tom must have been holding his breath. I told him I had timed him and it had only been 4 minutes. He told me he had timed him from when he left the building and it actually had been 6. We both marveled at how fast he lapped the complex.
Today, Tom is working. I asked Matt to please not go for his walk until after 4pm. Routines are needed and at 4pm each day I should be home for his call. The closer it got to 4pm the more anxious I got, waiting for his call, waiting to hear he was on his walk. Finally the phone rang close to 4:30pm. “Hi mama!” Matt said. “Hi Matt, are you on your walk?” I asked. “Uh, no. I already been.” Matt had gone on his walk – and forgot to call me first. We talked about his path,where he decided to go and it turned out to be the same as usual – even turning left from the apartment as he had done many times before. He had decided to stick to old routines. He had even gone to the weight room, but someone was there and he left almost immediately. Matt is wary of strangers (thank God!).
So, his first independent walk went well. He will walk almost every day and at sometime in the future, perhaps next week, perhaps next month, Matt will choose a new path and venture out. He’ll slow down and take his time as he investigates the world without a hovering parent. Matt has shopped in stores alone, he has stayed at home alone and now he ventures out alone. Someday we will move forward again and Matt will take a bus to a destination of his choosing. That used to feel a million miles away. Now it feels as if it could happen tomorrow.