This column was originally written for Bedford magazine in the summer of 2011.
I was sitting on the airplane, a few years back, puzzling over the woman walking slowly up and down the aisle. She had a toddler in front of her, and the little girl was taking teeny-tiny steps from one end of the plane to the other end. The mother was following closely behind, sort of stooped over, and looked embarrassed.
I just sipped my Diet Coke and went back to reading my book — ahhh, my pre-baby life was luxurious — wondering why the hell she didn’t just pick up the baby and sit down? Couldn’t she entertain her at their seat somehow? Why was she walking her around?
That woman on the airplane wasn’t embarrassed. The look on her face was a combination of exhaustion and acceptance over what she had to do. I know this now because I was blessed — or is that cursed? — with an early walker. A NINE-MONTH-OLD WALKER.
He runs up and down the halls. He climbs into the bathtub. He tries to climb the walls of the tub. He climbs out. He takes off down the hall and runs in a circle around a chair. I’m sweating and exhausted every day before 7 a.m.
The especially tricky thing with a walking baby is that suddenly they do not want to sit in their stroller. They do not want you to carry them. They want to WALK — on their own, all the time, until their chubby little legs simply can’t go another step. Forget mules — just start saying someone is “as stubborn as a toddler.”
Growing up, we had a harness for my baby sister so she didn’t go careening off the cliffs in PEI. When my son started walking, I immediately went out to purchase one so he would be safe in public. He’d trot along next to me, easy peasy, right?
Um, no. We chose a quiet weekday evening to start our leash-training at Bedford Place Mall. Once the baby was carefully strapped into the harness, we set him down in front of Zellers and let him explore. He took off with a satisfied little grin on his face. There was so much to see! Fake plants and silky ties and displays of shiny new bicycles!
It turns out, leash-training a baby is way harder than leash-training a dog, because dogs usually understand basics like “No” and “Stop.” Dogs have some common sense, and learn to stop when you stop. They learn that plastic plants are for eating. Dogs certainly don’t drop dramatically to the tiled floor of a mall and wail because you didn’t let them walk over the edge of a balcony.
We still get stares, as he toddles along in his harness and I trail behind. I have taken some flak from parents who do not believe in “restraining” toddlers. I ignore it, as I suspect they are the same parents who don’t believe in Happy Meals. (Hey, if they make special toys for kids under three, who am I to deny my child chicken nuggets?)
Yes, my “restrained toddler” is technically tied up like a prized mare, but at least he has (somewhat) learned how to walk safely next to me in a shopping mall. Your “free-range toddler” is probably running wild and overturning the display of bicycles. Better go catch them!