When your kids surprise you, in a bad way

This week, the last before school finally resumes, we've let the kids watch Wild Kratts on the iPad each morning when they wake up. They're happy and quiet, and T and I get a few more minutes to sleep or simply talk quietly before our days begin. You can imagine our horrified surprise this morning then when, after a loud rap on the front door at 6:30am, we found the boys standing on the front porch with two FBI agents.

I am not kidding.

Both kids were barefoot. Oliver still had his pull-up on. Jack was wearing glow-in-the-dark, long-sleeve and long-pant solar system jammies, socks on his hands, and "night-vision goggles" made out of pipe cleaners and pot holder loops. They had decided to head out on a secret mission for pine-cones, had unlocked and ventured out the back door, through the gate at the rear of our house, down the alley and along Massachusetts Ave. The agents, whose cars are always parked in and around our neighborhood because of government administration residents nearby, correctly assumed two little boys shouldn't be wandering down a main thoroughfare, shoeless and alone. I am so thankful for them and almost cannot entertain what could have happened at another time, in another place, in this very spot at a different moment. That I won't, can't get into right now.

I presume that at some future point, this will make a funny story. It's quite possible that in years to come, other stupid behavior will make this look like nothing more than a harmless blip on the radar. But then is not now, and now, I am really upset.

No parenting handbook tells you what to do in such a situation, one in which you're simultaneously furious, terrified, baffled and struck dumb. I am astonished that the boys would hatch such a dumb plan and make the ridiculously poor decision to act on it. Jack was definitely the ring-leader, and coming from him, this behavior is all the more surprising. This is the sort of crap I expect from Oliver in about 6 years. But Jack? No way. And, by the way, can you imagine what those agents must have thought when they looked at Jack's get-up? Also, do they report crazy stuff like this? Is protective services going to call?

The complete error in judgment that resulted in an abject failure of a decision is what upsets me most. I spent the morning (after grounding them from everything except camp; then heading to the gym where I burst into tears and sobbed on the shoulder of my trainer and then worked out until I thought my arms would fall off) at a bookstore in search of some read-together types that would impart lessons about responsibility and safety. I thought about how to discuss with the kids, in a serious but not overly scary way, just how much danger they put themselves in, and Jack his brother. I felt like a shitty parent for a bit, like how could my kids do this when I talk to them all the time about taking care, living in a city safely, not going anywhere except our backyard without asking. Mistakes are one thing, but this? This is NUTS.

We've talked very seriously twice, we've read some of the books I bought (surprisingly few on the any topic directly related to this; maybe I'll write one), the boys are grounded from TV/computers/iPads/dessert/activities beyond camp for the foreseeable future. I bought new locks for the gate and for our back-door, and now I'm stress-eating plum tart like it's my job. I'm still full of questions and concern. Jack seemed very chastened after talk 1 this morning; I sure as hell hope so. He couldn't well articulate why he did this or why he encouraged Oliver to come. Oliver seemed vaguely concerned. His big point was that they "needed" pine-cones and that Jack "had" to wear socks on his hands so as not to get pricked by them. A very four-year-old mindset, I know, but hello- nails in the alley, prickly stuff underfoot.

And so, friends, I'll say it again: it is always something though some things are decidedly less good than others. Anyone have any experiences like this?