About four months ago, I wrote a short essay on my Facebook page about putting my wild 2-year-old on a leash. I wrote the post on my phone, quickly, not thinking much of it. But in the weird and wild ways of the internet, it ended up gaining national attention, and suddenly I had everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Sharon Osbourne chiming in on the subject of toddler leashes. That short post was on the Today Show, The Talk, and The View. People magazine covered it, along with Redbook and MSN. Go figure.
The whole leash thing started with Aspen in 2016, when we took a family trip to Disneyland around Christmastime, and the first thing my wife and I packed was a leash for our 2-year-old. Going anywhere with her since she began walking was like taking a wild animal out of its natural habitat, and we needed to take necessary precautions. This isn’t to say that we didn’t love her or respect her independence — we did. But the thing is, we have three children, she’s the youngest, and she is also, hands down, the most headstrong little girl I’ve ever had in my care.
So we brought a leash, even though I knew that we’d get a lot of sideways glances and even the occasional judgmental comment — and we did. As Aspen tugged forward, full-speed, wearing out my shoulder, trying to chug through the December Disneyland crowd, parents looked at me like I was treating my child like a dog. When we were in line, a woman had the audacity to ask if I really needed a leash. Moments later Aspen tried to take a dive headfirst into the It’s A Small World moat. Were it not for the leash, she’d have made it in the water, I have no doubt. But for some reason, I doubt that was evidence enough for the snarky lady in line with us.
We spent three days at Disneyland. Each day Aspen was on a leash. It kept her from leaping off the Casey Jr. Train, crawling out of the Dumbo Ride, and leaping into the river at Pirates of the Caribbean. It kept her from running off into the crowd a million times. So if you saw me at Disneyland with a wild, blonde toddler on a leash and you made a snide comment to yourself because you can’t understand why someone would do that to their child, I was keeping her alive. Simple as that.
I know others have different opinions regarding the The Great Leash Debate. But you don’t have to be a dick about it.
Because here’s the thing: With a wild child, you are damned if you do, and you are dammed if you don’t. If I hadn’t put Aspen on a leash while at amusement parks, the zoo, or even a crowded mall, she’d be the lost child announced over the intercom. She’d be the child trending on Facebook for getting away from her parents and wandering into a shopping center parking lot, unattended.
She could be the child climbing into the tiger cage.
As my post went viral, I noticed that it was childless online commenters who had the most to say about me putting my child on a leash. After all, we were all the best parents before we had children, weren’t we? They didn’t understand how it could be so difficult to get a 2-year-old to sit still. (Seriously? Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.) They see leashes as degrading or embarrassing for the child, while those of us with wild children are like, “Pump the breaks, friend. We’re just trying to keep this kid alive.”
Of course, it wasn’t always the childless who had judgmental comments. Parents with a shy, easygoing kid, who did little more than hold their parent’s hand, had a lot to say as well. I mean, honestly, congratulations for hitting the parenting lottery. Pat on the back. My middle daughter was a lot like that. She didn’t run off at a young age, and it was like, easily, 75% easier, to keep her alive as a toddler. But with Aspen, her curiosity was insatiable, and even though she only had a 12-inch stride, she moved faster than any Olympian. She also suffered from nursemaid’s elbow, so if she jerked away from me too hard, she could dislocate her elbow.
The leash was the best option.
But you know what, let’s put all the snide comments aside because it’s in the past. Seriously, it is. Aspen is 3 1/2 now. She is still really curious and very funny, but she’s calmer. She listens better. She holds my hand, and she plays by herself. She asks the most adorable questions, and sometimes, she even asks for permission.
When I wrote that earlier Facebook post that seemed to get everyone riled up about the leash debate, Aspen was still on the leash. Now she’s calmed down, off the leash, and alive and well. But I can say, with 100% sincerity, that we had so many close calls with her, she never would have made it to this calmer point if we hadn’t used the leash. I honestly believe that we may have lost that child if we hadn’t tethered her.
This had nothing to do with me as a parent, or with discipline, and everything to do with development. She just wasn’t far enough along to listen to my commands, comprehend them, and finally heed them. Once she was old enough to get it, she did. And until that day came, we kept her on a leash for her own safety. Plain and simple.
I know for a fact that most parents would rather have their wild child hold their hand and listen to their commands. (Because of course.) They’d rather have her stay in their arms without kicking and tugging with curiosity, fighting to let her down so she can check out who-knows-what, but some children are simply not that way. But you know what I also know? We wouldn’t want to change a thing about our wild child. Wild children have a fire in their eyes and a curiosity that cannot be matched. They are fearless and determined, and parents pray every day that their wild children don’t lose any of that, because those characteristics are frustrating at 2 or 3 years old. But in a few years, they will be admirable. So much of parenting is about development, and in this situation, the problem wasn’t the leash. It was simply time.