We took a family trip to Disneyland around Christmas time, and the first thing my wife and I packed was a leash for our 2-year-old, because the fact is, going anywhere with her is like taking a wild animal out of its natural habitat. This isn’t to say that we don’t love her or respect her independence — we do. But the thing is, we have three children, she’s the youngest, and she is, 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 the fact was, we did get all those things. 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.
And I think that’s the real difficulty with having a wild child. You are damned if you do, and you are dammed if you don’t. Because the fact is, if I didn’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.
She’s adorable, with little legs and hands and blonde pigtails. But she also has no understanding of fear or death or embarrassment, while I do.
I keep my child on a leash to keep her safe, because she is 100% unpredictable. My oldest, Tristan, was the same way. He was a nut, so we put him on a leash too. Only we did so with more discretion. We bought one of those leashes that looks like a stuffed monkey backpack. With our youngest, Aspen, we just don’t care. Her leash is obvious, and we use it without apology.
My middle daughter, however, was sweet and content, and for the most part stayed at our side. We didn’t need a leash. The reason I point this out is because all children are different, and just because your toddler can be trusted to stay at your side while in a crowd doesn’t mean that you are a better parent. It means that your child isn’t wild, or spirited, or whatever.
I’ve been a parent long enough to know that down the road, things will change. My child might potty train faster or read before your child. None of this means that you are a good or bad parent. It just means that children develop differently, and some of them come into this world passive or fearful, while others come in not giving a shit.
And if you are a non-parent judging parents because they placed their child on a leash, shut your stupid face. You honestly, and truly, don’t know shit about the situation.
Because ultimately, we are simply trying to keep our wild child safe while maintaining our sanity.
It’s all good.
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, this is why.
You don’t have to be a dick about it.
I’d much rather have Aspen hold my hand. I’d rather have her stay in my arms without kicking and tugging with curiosity, fighting me to let her down so she can check out who knows what, but that’s not who she is. At the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing about my wild child. She has a fire in her eyes and curiosity that cannot be matched. She is fearless and determined, and I pray every day that she doesn’t lose any of that, because right now those characteristics are frustrating. But in a few years, they will be admirable.