This time exactly one month ago Grumpy and I had just gotten home from our friend’s wedding. We were absolutely exhausted. I can hear you thinking: “Exhausted? But it’s only 10pm!”. Yep. Exhausted. Physically and emotionally. “But why?” you ask. Well, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know I’m about to tell you.
At 4am on the 9th of March, 2013 we were woken by a knock on our front door. I made Grumpy get up and see what was happening – that’s what you have a husband for right? I followed him at a safe distance. I could hear talking then Grumpy called out “Is Chatterbox in bed?”. I can’t adequately explain the feelings of fear and confusion that swept through me when I ran into Chatterboxes room, turned the light on and she wasn’t in her bed. I ran out to the front door to find a policeman standing there and another one carrying Chatterbox up the driveway. The policemen took our details while I cuddled Chatterbox. The police told us that she had been spotted nearby but had run off from the off duty fireman who had first spotted her (she later told us that she told him that he was a stranger and she couldn’t talk to him (Umm …wrong time to decide to follow our stranger danger rules Chatterbox!!). Chatterbox said that she had gone for a walk to calm down. We have since worked out that she walked almost five kilometres!
We had thought that our house was secure. When the kids first came to live with us we were told that Chatterbox had run away from home plus from a previous carer so we always kept our front gate deadlocked. We had a video baby monitor in her room. We had a baby gate in the hall. We had some of these things due to her previous history and some because she never sleeps well – most likely due to her Autism and ADHD.
Due to her language delays we are unable to directly question Chatterbox as to what happened, how she got out and where she went. We are still slowly piecing information together but as far as we can tell this is how the night went.
Chatterbox woke up sometime after we went to bed at 11pm. She got up. Took her pillow, blanket and teddy out of her room and made her bed on the floor in the laundry. She went out the doggy door and had a play in the backyard. She came back in the doggy door, went under the baby gate, opened the front door, got a bucket, used the bucket to climb up and get the key to open the front gate down from next to the front door. She tried to use the key to open the front gate but was unable to so she went around the house and climbed the gate on the other side. She walked around 1km before she was found, then she ran off, walked past a big lake, and along the highway. She hid from cars that went past (not that there would have been many at that time of night in our neck of the woods). She was eventually found by the police 5kms away and was taken to the police station. She told them that her last name was ours. “I was having a joke”, she later told me. It was a very good ‘joke’ to have as our last name is very rare and we are the only people with that name in the area. They were then able to find out where she lives and bring her home. She told us that she wanted to go for a walk – she wasn’t running away.
Since then Grumpy and I haven’t been sleeping very well, unsurprisingly. We have so many things in place to make sure Chatterbox doesn’t get out again but it’s still hard to relax. We organised through her Occupational Therapist to get a monitoring system which buzzes when the sensor picks up Chatterboxes movements. Unfortunately she has worked out how to get past it without setting it off. We changed the baby gate for an extra tall one she shouldn’t be able to go over but we have found her on the other side of it. We have key safes with our keys in them next to the front and back doors so we can deadlock the doors but have the keys nearby in case of a fire or other emergency (we also have one hanging on our bed). We put a screen door on the back door so we can lock that at night and she can’t get out the doggy door. We put firm mesh on the side gate so she can’t climb it. We have a house alarm that will go off if the doors are opened at night. Chatterbox has a medic alert bracelet with her name, her diagnoses and my name and number on it, so if she does get out it will be easier for people to know where she belongs.
Now it takes us at least 10 mins to get the house ready for us to go to bed! We have to do the following steps.
- Take the dogs out to the toilet
- Get the house keys out of the back doors key safe
- Close and dead lock the screen door
- Put the key back in the key safe (and leave code at 000 so we know if she has gotten up and tried to get the keys)
- Put the cover in the doggy door so the dogs don’t try to go out (they are used to having free access!)
- Get the key out of the key safe at the front door
- Dead lock the front screen door
- Put the key back in the key safe (also leave code at 000)
- Set the house alarm
- Put the child lock on the pantry
- Check the windows are locked
- Close the baby gate
- Put child lock on the baby gate (as it is quite easy to open)
- Plug in buzzer next to the bed
On top of all this for the last few days we have put an alarm on her door. A really, really, LOUD alarm.
So our house is now Fort Knox and we STILL worry about Chatterbox getting out.