April 2, 2011

On the Leash

I had just been giving some thought to the whole debate of whether or not frisky, fast kids ought to be leashed, when two Babble blogs surfaced: one against child leashes, the other for.

The first time I saw a kid on a leash,  I was in an airport, at a baggage claim.  The reason I'll never forget this sight is because there was a preschooler who seemed to be wrestling with this long cord, which I realized was attached to his wrist, but just a few feet away, someone's seeing eye dog was doing the same thing with his own leash.  I was horrified.  Let's face it: when you put "human" and "leash" in the same phrase, two things come to mind: people who prefer punishment as pleasure and Abu Ghraib.

That airport scene came back to me a couple months ago when I tried to take my two-year-old girl and four-month-old boy to the public library.  I had put both kids in the stroller so that I could browse for a book I actually confirmed, online, wasn't checked out.  But my daughter wanted out, and I had every right to believe she'd stick right by me--because this child gives strangers looks that would freeze Santa Claus.  Dev isn't really savvy yet, but she is pretty cautious, and at the time, wouldn't even dare look at a flight of stairs without first asking to climb them.

The moment her little mary janes touched the carpet, whoosh--off she ran.  I could hear her little pitter-patter through the maze of the stacks... and then I couldn't.  And it scared the shit out of me.

A double stroller is cumbersome enough without having to weave through narrow rows of stacks, and I felt a very anxious version of what Sandra Bullock's character must have felt in Speed: go really, really fast and easy on the turns.  While my son giggled away each time I rounded a corner--with no Dev in sight-- I panicked.  I yelled her name, twice, to the chagrin of the folks enjoying their bookish quietude.

And yes: I got shusshed.  

My first reaction here was to keep yelling until I found my child.  I could hear her squeal, hear her feet, and yet that wasn't enough to quell my anger at her not coming to me when I called her, nor the nauseating worry that I wouldn't be able to find her.  Because we all know that not everyone who visits the library is wholesome.  My voice was loud, my tone was firm.  The last thing I wanted to do was cause a scene, but the very last thing I wanted to do was lose a child to the deftness of a predator (because in my mind, that's how predators work).

It was my fault, of course: I took her out of the stroller in the first place, because if I hadn't, everyone in the library would have heard Devi yelling about the trains she wanted to play with in the kids' room, which we would have gone to if I'd found my book, and which we probably should have gone to first.

When I finally got a hold of her, it occurred to me that Devi thought the whole thing was a game: and so I'd need to start modifying my disciplinary action (so that when I call her, she comes with no chase) and I'd need to remember that even though she might cling to my leg one day, there's no telling what might tempt her to let go of it the next.  That's when the idea of a leash crossed my mind.

Let's not talk here about some more-than admonishing glances I got from the library-goers when I finally had Devi in hand.  I was shaking, I was pissed, and I was frightened, all of which my tone communicated to her.  Since she wouldn't go back in the stroller without more disruptive squealing, I held her hand until we reached our car in the parking lot.  (I don't have to mention here how fun it is to push a double stroller with one hand.)

I'm not saying I'm getting a leash, but I sure understand a little more why someone might.  Some kids hate strollers.  Some like to be able to walk next to their parents, and sometimes, those parents have more than one kid to keep their eyes on.  I get it.

So I'm working on how not to chase my kid in safe spaces--whether we're at gymnastics class or in the house (save for staircases or the high balance beam).  I want to teach her how to listen to her parents so that she takes us seriously.  The self-discipline of working with a child in Time Out is also necessary--keeping her in one spot consistently helps me stick to my rules and helps her understand that I'm not joking around.

But what I'm really concluding is that maybe I cared too much what those quiet library people thought of me and my parenting.  I could have easily yelled My kid is on the loose, excuse me while I yell for a while here, and I promise not to bring her back until she's 18.  But I was trying to be respectful of others when I really shouldn't have cared about disrupting their peace: a little girl was not with her mother, and that wasn't okay.

I'm going to say here that I'm fine with other people leashing their kids if that's what they must do; it's not for me--YET--and I hope not to have to look into this.  Soon, Sol will be learning how to walk, and I hope he takes his time learning how to run.