We all do things as parents that we swore we’d never do. We venture into parenthood with high hopes and concrete ideals, but, little by little, we learn to choose our battles, to do what works, to do what keeps the peace. I have learned, and will keep learning, I assume, to never say never. Because sometimes, a mama’s gotta do what a mama’s gotta do. And sometimes, this mama’s gotta use a leash on her child.
My son and I were at the mall. I had a couple of errands to run, and so I armed myself beforehand with the stroller and a diaper bag filled with sippy cups and snacks. After a while, my child was begging to walk and to express his new-found toddler independence. I didn’t mind. As long as he stayed next to me, I was fine to walk slowly. On our way to exit the mall, I walked into one last store on the second level, knowing that his patience for shopping was running out. I quickly found what I needed, and we walked to the checkout together. While I waited for the cashier to finish with the customer before me, my child made a beeline for the door. I called his name. He kept running. So I did what any reasonable mother would do. I dropped everything — my shopping bags, my purse, my stroller, the diaper bag — right there in the floor of the store, and I chased him. Out the door and past two other shops, I finally caught up with him. He was standing next to the second floor railing, hands clasping the bars, looking down to the first level. I was shocked at how wide the spaces between the rails looked with my child dangerously close to them. It was then that I decided I needed a leash.
I went straight home and searched “child safety harness” on Amazon. I was able to come to a decision quickly, and I ordered it then and there. It was a cute and functional little bumblebee backpack. The tether was removable, so we could continue to use it once my son no longer needed the guidance. It was perfect. Two days to ship, and it arrived. I was set.
I have used it only a handful of times. Once at the zoo, which felt a little too twisted for my taste — my tiny captive spending the day staring at all of the other captives. I used it once on a walk after a coffee shop visit. It was lovely to take a walk next to a busy street and not have to worry about him darting into traffic. I have used it in stores a couple of other times when he insisted that he needed to walk instead of ride.
But when I have used it, I can tangibly feel the glares I get from others. I can see the question in their faces as their eyes go from my son, to the backpack (and subsequently, the leash), to me, and back to the leash. I can tell what they are thinking because I used to think the same thing. But that was before I had a child that could outrun me. I want to sit them down and explain his toddler impulses, how he can break away from holding my hand in an instant. I want to tell them the mall story and how scary it is that he could be gone so quickly. I wish I had a t-shirt that said, “I really am a good mother.” I would wear it every time I have to employ the leash backpack.
But the truth is, I am too old to spend too much time explaining myself. I am mostly confident in my parenting decisions, and I am definitely confident about this one. I know there will be those who will say that I am stifling his independence. Others may say that I should teach him to obey the first time I call his name and give an instruction, and let me assure you that I am trying. But he is still learning, and so am I. So while we wait and figure this out together, he might be stuck wearing the backpack.
Today I was at the zoo with my son, and we found a cool spot for him to run and play while I rested my pregnant body. I saw another mom that was wearing an infant in a carrier while watching her other children play. I couldn’t get an exact count of how many children she had with her because they were running around, but this mama had her hands full. She had at least three bags hanging from one shoulder, and at her feet were several small backpacks, no doubt the responsibility of her children that were playing. But in her hand, I saw several hats to protect her kids from the sun and something else. I saw a leash. It was disguised as a stuffed monkey — cute and furry and unassuming — but it was still a leash. And I wanted to walk up to her and give her an awkward hug. I wanted to say, “I totally get it. Way to keep your kid safe.” I didn’t, and I kind of regret it. We mamas need that kind of encouragement and solidarity.
So if you see me out with my toddler, and he is wearing a bumblebee backpack with a tether attached, please don’t give me the stink eye. Just know that I am a mom doing the best I can to make sure my child is safe and sound. Feel free to give me a high five or a thumbs up. Heck, I’ll even take an awkward hug.