When my son Jack was around age 3-4, he was a bolter. I mean a runner. A dasher. As in Dash from The Incredibles, dasher. And fast! The kid would just flat out beat a trail away from me at the drop of a hat, regardless of the location, time of day or weather status. It was terrifying. If he got out even at home without me being aware, which happened a time or two despite some rather rugged childproofing efforts, he’d bolt straight for the road. Straight for it! Not even a chocolate ice cream truck parked directly in his path would stop him. Something to do with the cars. He’s got a deep fascination and love of the automobile, and apparently, he wanted to try out his “wheels” at every possible opportunity, plus just the sheer fun of running away from mom. What came next was, I’d have to initiate my own mad dash, full throttled sprint, in order to grab him by the collar and yank him back from the road in just the very nick of time. These emergency sprints, clearly, became a bit wonky and wearying, as time went on, and we made some adjustments to insure his safety at home, but I still had to go out and get stuff done. Buy food, for instance.
So, I was always playing the odds with Jack, as we parents tend to do at one point or another. Don’t we? Honestly. We have to take a freaking chance just getting our newborn infant home from the hospital. Tell me they have a better system for this now. I remember riding with my hands reaching forward to keep my poor newbie’s precious head from bobbing around in the ginormous car seat, despite the extra padding I used. So hush now. Playing the odds, at the Big Y, our local grocery store, I just pretty much just full on committed to knowing Jack was going to run away at some point during the visit,usually within the first 5-6 minutes. Not that I was timing. Most of the first 5-6 minutes were spent risking severe mortal back injury getting him into the cart in the first place, and not even the car seat part of the cart. I’m talking the cart cart. He was strong as an ox and thrashing wildly. It was a game to him. Five minutes of a fierce wrestling match of me plying him with treats or physically re-positioning him in a sitting position with some sort of admonishing platitude about staying seated. Silly, in retrospect. Like any of that would work. Eventually, after the 5-6 minutes were over, I’d put him down and off he would go, gently, almost timidly, fading out of eyesight down the aisle, as I accelerated my pace as if in concerned pursuit (I’d mastered the look), but more in an effort to speed shop along the way while “looking for him”. In some time, he would be spotted by a sympathetic store employee, recognition would set in, and Jack would be returned to me, hopefully, as I was just about rounding the last aisle of the store, headed in for the final leg of this exhausting journey, the checkout line. I then bribed him with candy. We had to get home, after all.
I am eternally grateful to the staff of the Big Y during this time period of my life, when there was no other way on earth that I could do my shopping. Heck, it’s probably always been a win win with the Big Y. After all, I’ve spent a boatload, maybe a full yachtload of money there over the years and they probably knew they’d have me for the next 20 or so, as they’d seen my kind before. You know, bedraggled, careworn newish mom, bleary eyed and oh so desperate to parent these young kids, she’d do anything to survive. Anything, including and up to investing ungodly amounts of money on the whim that over the next 20 years she’d be able to insure the survival and thrival of this rambunctious and unruly bunch. And thusly, I was bought. In not many other venues, however, would I have taken such a risk, so there was my win. Small town values and all.
Anyway, one of my local friends who sympathized with my plight, had seen my plight in the form of Jack and had babysat my plight, on a few occasions, suggested I try a leash. Glad to say, we’re still friends. My initial reaction was one of mottled horror combined with perverse curiosity. I had heard of these things…..basically long, reinforced elastic bands that attached to a child’s wrist, though now I’m told they have more of a harness apparatus. Go figure. You can stop reading now and guess the rest, but I promise, if you keep reading, I’ll be funny. And back up the bus, yeah, you heard me, elastic bands, as in rubber bands. Think Elastigirl. The Incredibles. Yup, second The Incredibles reference. Alas, I digress. Back to the leash. I mulled it over and over in my head for maybe, oh, just shy of 5 seconds, and as much as I dislike the “inhumane” nature of the thing, I was dealing with the “inhumane”. I keep hearing from some media leak that a 3 year old child has the intelligence of a monkey or an ape. As it turns out then, inhumane is dead on. I’ll put my monkey on a leash. Yes please. So the day came when clearly, I needed to go to WalMart. We needed items that extended above and beyond the grocery store’s reach, things like play doh and bras. I just chose those two items for no reason. Promise. Other than I’ve never seen them for sale at the Big Y. Yet. That’s a clear yet.
I counted on the first five minutes at Walmart, lead time to get Jack into the cart and into the store before placing the leash on his wrist. Fortuitously, I caught a bit of a break as he was a titch distracted looking at the new thing that was restricting his full range of movement. He studied it with only the curiosity a three year old boy can summon. That of laser focused concentrated attention combined with a twinkling eye, ready to “investigate” aka “rip apart” or “break” at any moment. A challenge I say Mommy!!! Then, of course, it was go time and it was off to the races in Wally World. Walmart. The land of plenty. Big Fat America. Wheeee…….
This was a harrowing adventure like none yet in my parenting experience and I thought I’d seen some shit. After all, I was in my 30’s now, and had a son that lived with his dad in Colorado, and two more daughters with my (then) current husband, that had some unique challenges. Never say that to the universe. That part about thinking I’d seen some shit. A mere harbinger of things to come, that is for sure. Off Jack went, on his leash, pulling me in tow. Within seconds, he had realized the new restraint was not completely limiting and was encircling precariously placed piles of various Walmart goodies, weaving and dipping in and out of displays with some natural athletic ability, grace, and finesse, mostly grace. Picture me now, frantically trying to keep pace and bend and weave with him like a human shield, Elastigirl combo. It worked. But this trip was not working. Not a single item was in my cart, which I’d long since abandoned, like a scene right out that beaut of a movie, with Kirk Cameron, “Left Behind”. I’d abandoned ship completely. Forget the cart. Forget the whole trip. All I wanted to do was keep up. All else was a luxury. I think I remember vaguely, as these memories are vague at best, but I think, next came the entanglement and almost disabling of several store customers. That was fun.
Either Jack could sense my mounting distress (doubtful), or he considered that since he couldn’t completely get away from me, he had to make his next move, or neither. He was three.….talking (barely) monkey. While I was recovering from the customer entrapment debacle, I stood up in an attempt to pull some shred of dignity out of my ass. I noticed that Jack was now sitting down. Befuddled, I paused for a moment, only to see him raise his little (albeit strong) three year old arm straight up in the air, like a flagpost, with leash attached and yell, “STUCK!”, and then, “STUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!” and again and louder, “STUCK STUCK STUCK STUCK”, rapid fire style, staccato. Boy did this get some attention. And how! I’d learned many years before, when out in public with one’s young children, particularly those that might be a bit on the autism spectrum, or a bit on the shy quiet spectrum or on the healthy boy spectrum, or whatever spectrum, (they’re kids, after all).never, never never ever (got that?) make eye contact. With anyone. Unless that anyone is a significant other, another one of your own children, or your mother, or maybe the president. Of the country. Not the store. Duh. That’s it, head down, nose to the grindstone. This is the task of all good parents, straight on from the get go until well, in some cases, and maybe even beyond, six feet under.
Back to Jack. I tried to drag him for a few paces while he was sitting, just to save face. I still needed to save face. Makes sense. Face must be saved at all costs. Especially in Walmart. Then I just gave up. Quit. Done-a-rooski. I was done in Walmart. I could take no more. Shall I continue? Jack was sitting, I was militantly not making eye contact, with anyone, even those that might have been on the list I mentioned before that was ok. None of them were there anyway, with good reason. I hadn’t told them I was doing it. Trying out this leash thing. I didn’t want to hear any nay-saying or hating on my idea. No sir. I wanted to give it a shot, it all being a crap-shoot anyway. Where was I? Oh yeah, quitting. We had nothing in the cart. Oh right, we had no cart. I saw the writing on the wall, I really did. The next step would have been being asked to leave. And this had never happened to us, not even at Big Y. So we left, he and I, somehow calmly. It was going to be a long tearful ride home in the car. For him, of course. Not. He had forgotten about it and was gleefully looking out the window at his friends, the other cars. Me? I surely lost a few lives on this trip. I might have cried a bit, but oh who am I kidding, I probably just had some tears in my eyes. Or not any at all. I was pretty well medicated back then. Out of necessity. That is another blog.
Yesterday morning, I had to take Jack for some blood work. I sprung it on him first thing in the morning, otherwise he wouldn’t have slept much. I knew I was asking for it, but what was I supposed to do? In my experience, the less time he has to perseverate on some upcoming event, the better. We argued a bit and he didn’t want to go. I couldn’t blame him. No one ever says, “I want to go get a blood test today”. I had to press on. Back and forth we went over the many miles of mother son terrain. All fairly calm by any measure, especially after the rather raucous essay with which you were just presented. We’d both traversed so far in our relationship over the past year or so. Now I definitely spring a leak from the ole’ tear duct reminiscing on this one.
Yes, it was rough getting thru that, but we did and here we are now, and no one is completely stuck anymore. Even though no one ever really is completely stuck, except within the limits of one’s own mind. That’s a deep thought I just laid on you, that last one. Try this one… If it takes sitting down wherever you are because you are too frustrated to go one more step forward and if it takes screaming at the top of your lungs, “STUUUUUUUCK”, then so be it. We all need a little help from time to time getting unstuck. All of us. And if we don’t think so, we’re either in denial or we’re maybe the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama never met Jack.
Ahh 3 such a fun age. My son was an escape artist at that age and so was my youngest daughter, she some how manages to get out of the car with me and her big brother and sister all there in line and run off in some unknown direction, it was like a 45 second total disappearing act, out of the car down and aisle and straight into the warehouse part of the store. luckily a young teenage girl was working and when she saw her running in that direction she scooped her up and brought her right back to us as she saw us shopping just a minute earlier. I was paying and have no clue how she got out of that cart and past the big kids. They are something else 🙂 totally enjoyed reading your story!