Between the ages of 1 and 3, my son was a runner. Given the opportunity, he’d take off and not look back. Store detectives at three different department stores knew him by name, security staff at Sydney, Narita and JFK airports had met him, and once, at a fete, 300 adults and children searched for him for twenty terrifying minutes.
We put locks high on our front door because he used to let himself out. One time he wandered the neighbourhood for nearly an hour before we found him. We tied boards across our gates because he’d climb them to escape. He didn’t care about the mayhem he created. He never got upset that I was missing. He simply valued his independence… so made a break for it regularly. It was impossible to take him anywhere, let alone travel with him.
I tried everything to stop this—kind words, bribes, threats (say goodbye to Buzz!!!)—but to no avail, so finally, at my wits end… I resorted to a leash. I was mortified, but had no choice. I’d travelled the world with son #1, never a problem. But I couldn’t even take this kid to the local supermarket.
Thanks to the leash, I was able to travel and keep him safe. A crowded Tokyo subway? Not a problem. Time Square at lunch? Piece of cake. I’d take my kid for a walk and if I actually looked up at the sights around me, I could still look back down and find him safe and sound at the end of the leash. It wasn’t always a pleasant stroll. I was often abused. For instance, a dedicated member of the Parenting Police once spotted me and yelled, “Jesus, let your kid off the leash! He’s not a dog.”
To start with… my name’s not Jesus. Secondly… let me assure you that the leash wasn’t attached around my son’s neck. I’m fully aware that he’s not a dog.
I snapped back, “Thanks for pointing that out… I’ll stop feeding him Pal.” But the rest of the day was a struggle—shall I keep my child safe and on the leash, or will I remove it and risk losing him… again? Admittedly I’d noticed the stares in the past, and been embarrassed but I did my best to ignore them, telling myself that these people had no idea what it was like to lose a child—even briefly.
I too used to judge people who put their kids on a leash, until I experienced losing my own child… numerous times. My son was a runner and I was scared. The leash, a funky little monkey backpack, removed that fear. I was able to travel from point A to point B and keep my sanity AND my son.
The leash was a part of our lives for about six months. Did it cure my son of doing runners? No… it was an experience with a rather burley policeman that eventually did that … but that’s another story.
For the record… I still balk when I see a child on a leash. But unlike many people, I’ve been there, so stop short of judging. Leashes aren’t for normal kids, who are curious and run about. They’re for young kids who put themselves in danger by disappearing. My son is a gorgeous, responsible, leash-free 10-year-old now. Will he need therapy later in life for the time he spent on a leash? He doesn’t even remember his monkey backpack.