It’s been a difficult weekend for my little family. We were supposed to go to a Thomas the Tank Engine event several hours away from home that promised to be amazing. We were going to ride in one of Thomas’ cars! I’ve been looking forward to taking my train-loving son to this event for months now. Unfortunately, rough weather and tornado watches shut the event down for the day.
BB has been bouncing off the walls, but the cold, wet weather outside combined with two kids recovering from illnesses has left us a bit cooped up in the house. I needed to run to the supermarket to pick up a handful of items and decided to give Peaceful Dad a little space by taking both children with me.
When we got to the store, I put LL into the shopping cart and tethered BB to me with a wrist lead. The first thing we passed was a display of fall-themed cookies and cupcakes and oh boy… BB was ready. He began naming everything and pointing to what he wanted. He has a dairy allergy, so we’re careful about how much milk he ingests, even though we’re working on incorporating well-regulated baked milk into his diet. I had to say no to the cookies and cupcakes, because of the buttercream frosting. We paused for a moment before we could move on, because BB was now crying. I got on his level and told him I knew he wanted the cookies and cupcakes and that it was ok to be sad. I offered embrace and ended up picking him up to give him a bear hug. It soothed him and we moved on. And I told him we might find something else he’d enjoy. (We ended up Skittles to share!)
He was really struggling to listen to me, because his body needed movement. I tried to encourage him to hop like a bunny as we went along but that’s not what he wanted to do. He started to race off, and I quickly shouted “your wrist!!” just as he reached the end of the tether and stopped short. He stood there with that taut wire and look at me, pleading “run?” I told him I couldn’t let him run in the store. Sometimes, I’m at a loss for how to help him when I can’t simply let him do what he wants.
He came back and took hold of the side of the cart, so we could walk on. We turned down an aisle and noticed a man using a electric cart coming toward us. BB dutifully moved a bit to give him space. As he passed, the man said:
You’ve got him chained up! You’ve got to do that with kids nowadays.
Kids nowadays, huh? A wave of anger swept over me as I mustered, “It’s my job to keep him safe” and continued on to finish my shopping. I’m sure what he meant to say was that BB is such an unruly child it’s clear basic instructions evade him. Even though I live this way every day, my emotions do get to me sometimes. What I wanted to say was…
First of all, whether you hold a child’s hand, put the child into a stroller, wear the child in a carrier, secure the child with a harness or tether, or put the child into your shopping cart, you’re doing the same thing. There is nothing inherently strange or wrong about using harnesses and tethers even in places where they’re not as utilized as, say, strollers.
Second, even the most “well behaved” kids have days when they struggle to maintain adult expectations. BB wasn’t screaming, running, knocking down displays, or invading anyone’s space. He was calmly walking next to me, holding onto the cart. But, instead of seeing a “well behaved” child, this man saw an wild child who needed to be chained down. And, while he’d had a few moments of frustration, he still engaged with me to know what was acceptable and what wasn’t. He’s learning. He’s trying.
Our culture has such little regard for kids. We say things about them in front of them without so much as a passing thought as to how we’re impacting their little psyches. It’s unnecessary. It’s mean. The kinder alternative is to notice the wonderful things children are doing… the way they strive to abide by our requests, the way they work through their frustrations as best they can, the way they show gentleness and kindness in ways we hadn’t considered, the awe and excitement they put out into the world every day as they experience new and familiar things. Y’all, just be kind to kids! And, a kind word to their parents wouldn’t hurt either. But, at the very least, just don’t be mean.