The Day I Told My Son I Ran Away

I was unloading some wood bark from our pickup with my 10yo son when I told him I ran away from home as a child.

I can’t remember how we got on the subject. I think he asked why I lived with my grandmother as a teen, and somehow it came to this.

“Did you just say you were going to run away? Or did you really do it?” he asked. 

It was November and rainy in Oregon. The bark had been in the truck since summer, and we were just now getting around to unloading it. Tristan was in a hoodie and brown shorts, and I was in a raincoat. We were both standing in the back of the pickup.

I leaned on my shovel.

“I didn’t cry wolf,” I said. “I was 14, and things had gotten pretty bad at home. My dad left 5 years earlier. He’d been in and out of jail. My mom was stressed and yelled a lot. It seemed like all we did was fight. I’d started getting in trouble.” I didn’t tell him much more, but I’d started using drugs. “Home wasn’t a good place, so one evening, while Mom was at work, I packed up my things and left.”

I paused for a moment. Took a breath.

“I bounced around for a bit. I stayed with my dad for a time. I stayed with friends. I eventually landed at my grandmother’s. Honestly, it was the best thing I could’ve done. If I hadn’t left, I’d have gotten in more trouble.”

I looked at my son’s shocked face, and I couldn’t help but think of how I’d feel if he ran away while I was at work. The situation was different, surely. Tristan has two loving parents. Our home is much happier than the one I grew up in, no doubt, however I have to assume having a child run away hurts the same regardless of the situation.

For the first time I understood why running away damaged the relationship between my mother and myself. We didn’t talk much for years after I left. I’m 35 now, and I was 30 before we could talk without an elephant in the room.

“I don’t think I’d ever run away,” he said. He looked me square in the face, his blue eyes focused and sure, and the empathy I felt for my mother shifted to a wave of gratitude.

I was suddenly grateful that my children wouldn’t be placed in a situation where they’d have to make the choice I made to find a stable home. And when I think about that, I realize that this is what breaking the cycle really looks like.

“So what you are saying is, you feel happy in our home?”

Tristan nodded.

I took a scoop with my shovel and tossed it into the wheelbarrow. “Good,” I said. “I’m really happy too. Happier than I ever was as a child.”

Tristan smiled up at me. I put my shovel down and put my arm around him. He wrapped his arms around my waist. Then we picked up our shovels and got back to work.

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