Ever since he started walking at 10 months, my toddler has used his tiny little legs to get away from me as fast and possible. It doesn’t matter where we are, or what we’re doing, he’s trying to put as much distance between the two of us as he can before I catch him. I still bring a stroller for him everywhere we go because I use it as a mobile restraint unit so he doesn’t immediately make a break for it the second I get him out of the carseat. I used to try and wear him on my back using a carrier until he figured out I would let him down if he ripped out enough of my hair.
As a result, I’ve lost him two separate times at the zoo. Once when he was about 18 months, he went around the corner at the splash pad and by the time I rounded the bend a few seconds later he was gone. After about five minutes of pure panic a confused man brought him out of the mens bathroom where he had darted. The look on his face was one of pure joy.
The second time he had just turned two and I went to the zoo on one of those unexpectedly crowded days during the week (I’m not going to lie, as a weekday zoo-goer it enrages me). A bunch of kids were doing presentations at each of the animal enclosures and it was hard to even walk. It was winter, so we didn’t have the option of going outside where there is more room. My toddler could easily dart through the crowd and before I could grab him he was gone, and I didn’t catch up to him until the other end of the building (I apologize to all the school children who had their feet run over by my stroller as a I panic-pushed through the crowd). When I found him he was waiting for me with a big smile on his face. Best day of his life.
After experiencing a day out in public with my child, a lot of people tell me I need to get a leash for him (which I’m not complaining about because it is a legitimate suggestion). I considered it, until a stubborn little girl showed me my future. She had on one of those cute little backpack leashes, but she somehow managed to grab a hold of the leash part and I watched as she tried to violently rip it out of her mom’s hands. After trying that for a while and realizing brute strength wouldn’t work, she resorted to laying on the ground like she was dead. Eyes closed and everything. Her mom stood over her tugging sharply on the leash and saying, I shit you not, “come on girl, come on.” THEN THE MOM STARTED TO DRAG HER. I don’t judge that mom because I don’t know what kind of shit she has to put up with, but I cannot play leash tug-of-war with a human child that I grew in my body. I refuse.
Unfortunately, that leaves me with few options. I’ve even had my friends give him a talking to when he runs from the group. During one such lecture he announced that he would still run away from mommy because he likes running away from mommy (hard to argue with that logic). I usually give him one or two chances and then make him ride in the stroller, but doing that all the time kind of defeats the purpose of taking him places to wear him out. And outings aren’t super fun when you have a screaming child trying to bust out of the stroller harness to hurl himself on the ground.
My breaking point was shortly after the baby was born. I was out front doing a bit of yard work while my toddler “mowed” the lawn. I had the windows open and the baby sleeping just inside the house so I could hear when he woke up. Per the usual, the toddler starts trotting down the sidewalk and looking back at me with a shitty little grin on his face. Because I had the baby in the house, I resorted to screaming “get back here right now!!!!” at the top of my lungs which obviously only made him run faster. When he was about three houses away I decided to call his bluff, assuming he would only go a bit farther before coming back. So, so wrong.
Not only did he not stop, he started sprinting full speed AROUND THE CORNER. And let me tell you, constantly running away from me for most of his little life has made him really fucking fast. When I realized he wasn’t coming back I took off after him as fast as I could in flip flops. Because I had just had a baby, I pissed my pants to the point that urine was running down my legs and dripping onto my shoes.
By the time I caught up to him he had crossed an alley and was heading into the street. I had to throw him over my shoulder kicking and screaming to get him back to the house. I will admit I have NEVER been so angry. There is a special kind of rage reserved only for when your own child severely misbehaves. It is unreasonable and probably evolved to make sure parents were too pissed off to let their children die doing something stupid.
When we got back to the house I decided to switch tactics and try to scare him into submission:
“When you run away from mommy, I might lose you and a stranger might take you away from your family. Wouldn’t that be so scary?”
“Who would take me? Who is a stranger?”
“A stranger is someone we don’t know. A stranger could be a bad person who wants to take you away.”
“Could a stranger be a bad woman?”
“Um, yes. A woman could also be a bad person.”
“A bad WOMAN could take me? No! I would fight the bad woman. And pew her! And get her away!!!”
“NO. You wont’ be able to fight the bad woman because she will be too strong and will take you. Only mommy and daddy can keep you safe so you need to stay with us.”
“No don't worry mommy, I’ll fight her.”
[I realize things are getting off track and switch gears]
“What if while mommy was chasing after you, someone came into the house and took baby brother? Or hurt him?”
“A bad woman is going to come into our house and hurt brother?!?!!?!?!?!”
“Well if we aren’t here to protect him, something bad could happen to brother. That’s why you need to stay with your family.”
“But I fought the bad woman so she can’t get brother. I pew her.”
The result of this conversation is that he still runs away whenever he manages to get loose, but is now obsessed with bad women (not scared of them, obsessed) and he also becomes enraged if anyone (especially a potential bad woman) tries to interact with the baby. Whenever a nice grandma tries to make cooing sounds into the carseat (which the baby very much enjoys) he aggressively points at them screaming “NOOOOO!” while making feral growling noises. It makes everyone very uncomfortable. As we walk away I hear him say quietly under his breath “I fought that bad woman and win her!” A few weeks ago he physically assaulted a saleswoman at Nordstrom trying to fit a pair of shoes on the baby’s feet (thank God my toddler hits using a slow-motion windmilling motion that doesn’t hurt but is still very rude).
Really, I should have known trying to scare him wouldn’t work. His favorite pastimes are the Ghost Blaster ride at Mall of America and visiting all the animatronic zombies at Spirit Halloween. A stern lecture about stranger danger was bound to backfire horribly.
I wish I could wrap things up by saying that I figured out a solution to the running problem, but I haven’t. I try to look on the bright side and think about the extra exercise I’m getting sprinting after him all the time. I’m assuming that at some point he’ll grow out of this little phase. If not, he’ll be 18 one day and I can stop chasing him and let him fend for himself out in the world. Of course I’ll probably leave the back door open just in the case he gets hungry.