The other day I read a variety of comments on Facebook reflecting opinions on seemingly poor parenting choices…including but not limited to, the use of “leashes” on children. Apparently such a practice is frowned up by some. But it got me thinking…
Let’s rewind my life about 15 years. I was 22, single, in college, working two jobs and had the world by the tail. Because I had spent a number of years working with children, I had them all figured out…kids, that is. I mean, being a day camp and before/after-school caregiver is TOTALLY the same as raising children. Right??
At the time I held the general belief that more often than not, parents were lazy…at least those who were raising the precious offspring I was overseeing on a daily basis. They packed Lunchables for their kids because they couldn’t take the time to actually make a real sandwich. Mommy only built an endless arsenal of Disney movies to serve as a babysitter. Ritalin was being tossed at their children as effortlessly as M&Ms just to refrain from actually providing a structured environment and discipline. They never dressed them warm enough in winter nor cool enough in summer. They took their kids to daycare even when they had the day off work…those poor babies! They weren’t firm enough with their kids about taking naps…”what do you MEAN they won’t stay in their bed??” Don’t even get me STARTED on kids with leashes. I was convinced…those parents were idiots.
“When I have kids, I’LL be the one in control. I won’t take the easy way out. Kids simply need structure and consistency and the rest just falls into place.”
HAHA…ahhhh…God love her. I needed a serious punch in the throat, kick to the undercarriage, flick in the forehead. Right between the eyes.
I think about my perspective back then and I can’t do anything but laugh at myself. There may have been a tiny bit of accuracy to my thoughts at the time but three kids later I realize…I truly had no clue. I don’t know that I realized it after my first or even second child…in hindsight both of them were relatively easy babies. But I sure as hell realize after #3 that parenting is more than it often appears to others.
What some may see as a lazy-ass shortcut is really just a last ditch effort at salvaging a tiny bit of sanity when possible. My kids may get Lunchables in their lunch from time to time because, dammit, I’ve made so many freakin’ PBJ sandwiches in the last week we're out of bread…and you know, the kids LOVE those stupid cellophane-wrapped kits. I swear if I laid crackers and cut up bologna in front of them with a random Butterfinger they would look at me like I was a complete nutjob. Must be the neat and tidy compartmentalized packaging. (I see three more Type A housemates in my future.)
I own a plethora of Disney movies as well as a subscription to Netflix and a worn path from my front door to our local Red Box. There. Yep, I use movies to help distract the kids. Sue me. Why? Because when they’re watching a movie they’re NOT fighting, they’re NOT asking me to get them one more God-blessed thing they can’t live without, they’re NOT tearing my house apart…and I. Can. Breathe. OR have an uninterrupted phone conversation before everyone in the western hemisphere is already in bed asleep.
And yes, I have a child on medication. You know the story. I don’t know if this is long-term but I do know that his treatment was well thought out and not a knee jerk reaction to a whiny, undisciplined mess of a child who is probably just dealing with trouble in the home. On the contrary my “poor” son lives in a wonderfully boring, splendidly predictable, good ol’ fashioned Midwestern home with a mommy and daddy who still kinda like each other. He has consistency. He has structure. His struggle is real.
Have I ever taken my child to daycare when I don’t have to work. Hell yes I have! Are you kidding me? Chances are, if you’re a working mom paying for daycare, you’re paying for the whole week regardless of how often you take them in. May as well use every day! Now…do I always do this? No. In fact my kids are all school-aged at this point. But when I actually had to be in an office everyday and relied on a daycare center for my children, there was a time or two (or ten) when I took a day off work and still took the kiddos in so they could spend time with their friends. Saving. Grace. There are just some hidden opportunities to recharge our batteries that we simply cannot pass up. A few hours to ourselves, or hell, even grocery shopping in solitude, knowing our child is in good care? Priceless.
So...I come back to the question that got me thinking about all of this in the first place: “would I ever use a leash on my child?” The answer? “Abso-freakin-lutely.” And here’s why…
I have a child who may appear to others to be out of my control at times but truly is existing in his own little reality. One in which the world is safe and at his fingertips…it’s his for the taking. And he has in fact taken it before. When he was two years old he literally made my heart stop for the first time in my life and it’s never quite been the same since. Before there was ever a concern he may be experiencing any kind of emotional or behavioral issue, we trusted he was just like our other children. That he had fear of the unknown and would stick close to home. I learned the hard way that he would forever be our child that we must watch like a hawk. One Sunday evening I was cooking dinner while my husband was working upstairs. Ben was in the living room completely in my line of vision and earshot, watching one of his favorite shows. Our front door was open with our screen door locked, allowing in the warm spring air. Amidst the sounds of cooking and pans clanging, I must have completely missed the sound of the door unlocking and unlatching. After an unknown amount of time…may have been 5 minutes, maybe 15, I called up to the gentleman that dinner was ready and to have the kids come downstairs…including Ben who I assumed had joined his siblings to play. He wasn’t upstairs. He wasn’t downstairs. He left. My heart was in my throat as I threw open the front door instantly yelling his name as I choked back the panic. I called my neighbor to see if he had meandered next door…she was one of his favorite people. No luck but she quickly met us outside where we feverishly began to assign search areas.
The neighborhood was impossible….a ray of homes only 10 feet apart lining both sides of the street capped at both ends with retention ponds. Jesus. I went to the dark place and fast. I ran…shoeless and with my phone down the street to the pond closest to our house. My husband jumped in the car and drove around the neighborhood asking kids if they had seen any sign of him, recruiting small search parties of older children along the way. As I sprinted down the sidewalk, the homes on either side began to resemble an Alfred Hitchcock movie…the street lengthened and my legs began to feel like stone, growing heavier the closer I got to the pond. Flashes of our family on the 5 o’clock news, police canvassing the neighborhood, all flooded my head and finally brought the burning tears to my eyes. How did I lose this baby?? How could I be so careless?
As I reached the pond I saw a large rubber ball floating along the edge…and in that moment a switch was flipped. I looked down at my phone and knew it was time to call the police as I headed toward the water. As I lifted the phone I heard a commotion. I looked back down toward my house and saw a cluster of children screaming undeterminable words, almost dancing in the middle of the street. As I focused between the scurry of neighborhood kids, I saw two chubby bare thighs and I knew. It was him. (God love him, he was in nothing but a thermal shirt, diaper and sandals. At least he put on his shoes.) I don’t know that my sadly out of shape legs could have carried me to him any faster…I probably could have qualified to wear a Jamaican jersey that evening. I won’t lie…I was sore the next day. I scooped him up as the kids in their excitement followed us all into our home. After thanking and hugging our helpers, the gentleman could see that I was on the verge of losing my shit and quickly sent them on their way…lest they see me “ugly” cry. Nobody wants that. I didn’t know whether to spank or squeeze him…or both. After I regained my composure I held him tight the rest of the night...and vowed from that point on we would provide an environment that would keep him safe and contained. I generally don’t take him places where he could get lost in a crowd. Lord knows if he slipped out of my hands and ran, I would not likely be able to catch him. I know because he’s done this with me in thankfully safe environments. He still tries these stunts four years later.
So…if someone put a gun to my head and said “here is $5000, you’re taking your kids to Disney World”? Screw what people would think of my parenting...you bet your ASS that boy is going on a leash.
I love him too much not to.