My 3-year-old is trying to kill me.
Taking him to the playground is like unshackling a death-row inmate in the middle of Grand Central Station.
As soon as I unclip his stroller harness, he takes off toward the nearest bear pit, off-the-books construction site, rickety scaffold, or hole in the fence over a rushing river.
Screw “having fun” or “enjoying an outing.” My entire job description has just become “keep him alive, against his will.”
He burrowed under a fence at the Family Farm and four helpful strangers helped me track him down where he was attempting, unsuccessfully, to milk a bronze cow statue.
He beelined for some kid’s birthday party at the park. I turned around and his tiny, brunette-headed body had simply vanished, swallowed up by the hive-like hum of people swarming in every direction. I have never been so happy to discover my son eating a hot dog off of a stranger’s plate.
Running is in his blood. I used to intentionally wander away from my mother in crowded grocery stores just so I could find a cashier and tell her, with a sad little voice, that I’d “lost my mommy.” Kids will do anything for a free sugar cookie.
I know there’s only so much I can do to keep my son alive, but we’ve come up with a few strategies to help us bring our boy home in one piece:
1. The Monkey Backpack. My kid likes it because of the sporty chest clip, friendly monkey face, and fruit leather stash inside. I love it for its red nylon leash and my phone number Sharpied inside.
2. Don’t be too proud to declare a draw. Stick to fenced-in parks, playgrounds, and toddler gyms. This running thing is a developmental phase, and it will not last forever. I hope.
3. Dress your kid in bright colors. You know how when you check your black roller bag at the airport, you tie a hideous purple and lime green ribbon on the handle so you know which one is yours at a glance? Do that.
4. Keep the conversation with your kid preemptive, simple, and positive.
Preemptive: If he’s already running, it’s too late for the no-running talk. Make time for a quick rundown of the rules while you’re in the car on the way to the Zoo.
Simple: Unless you have a video of yourself giving your safety talk that you can play back on an iPad using Elmo’s voice, your kid doesn’t want to listen to you for more than 7 seconds: “Running away scares Mommy. I want you to have fun, but I need you to be safe and stay close. If you run away, we will take a break from walking and I will clip you in the stroller, OK?”
Positive: Try to channel your kid’s running energy and keep a team mentality: “If you’re done with the penguins and want to move onto something else, all you have to do is say, ‘Hey mom let’s go see something else!’ And we will go together!”
5. Keep your promises. “If you run away one more time, we have to leave and go home.” He runs away, like 5 steps, and then checks over his shoulder to see what you’re going to do. You want so badly to pretend you didn’t see him. But you know what you have to do.
We’ve got a runner. And I know we’re not alone. I see you at the park, shrieking your children’s names as your neon-orange-jacketed toddlers run like the wind toward busy roads and scrap metal heaps. I see you, momming your asses off.
I’m not going to tie this up with a pretty bow about how spirited children are such a gift and blah blah blah. We live our lives at a low level of panic, and that shit isn’t neat or pretty. We’ve chased our children down muddy hills, into rose bushes, and even, terrifyingly, under the booths at the Olive Garden Express.
I am not going to attempt to scratch out a silver lining. Runner toddlers are terrifying and hard. I’m simply going to say I understand, and wish you Godspeed, comrade.
And between you and me, I know this vet who works out of a warehouse down by the airport microchipping spunky tots. Tell him I sent you and he’ll throw in a pretty spiffy grooming job too.