When I was 18 years old I went to work for a large, well-known amusement park in Southern California. The park was run with the utmost attention paid to the satisfaction of guest attendees, especially children.
As part of my training for work, I was taught the importance of making the experience magical for children, even being told to not bend over to speak to children, but to get down to speak to them on their level.
One of the worst things I would have to do was to take a child who had been separated from his or her parents to the lost child facility.
Even though I would do my best to reassure the child, the panic and fear the child invariably experienced was so in contrast to what we were trying to achieve it always broke my heart.
At that young age because I so regularly saw the impact of getting lost on children, I decided that child leashes were a terrific tool for keeping a child close and safe. I was completely ready to use one if the time came that one was needed for my child.
The time came.
As a toddler and younger child the Navigator routinely took off in his own direction – wanting to see something we were unwilling to guide him to; or wanting to stay someplace we were ready to leave; or simply deciding he wanted to be somewhere else.
We bought a child leash and secured him in it, ready to go on our outing without worry about him darting off.
Wrong. He got himself out of the leash within 5 minutes.
Of all the tools we have ever purchased for our child, it holds the record for being the item which became useless the fastest.
After that, we just held him by the wrist – not his hand, because if we relaxed our grip he would drop our hand in a heartbeat and take off.
We developed a tight grip that would allow his wrist to turn and move, but not slip out or loosen our fingers.
As he has grown and developed, his darting away is no longer an issue. I hold his hand now and he holds mine.
Apparently, though, the constant holding onto his wrist when he was a toddler and younger child became deeply ingrained in me.
The other night the Navigator and I watched the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” together. There is a story line about a mom chasing after her three-year-old son who ran off to see what the aliens were doing.
I found myself tensing up watching it. Why wasn’t she holding that child by the wrist? I realized I had subconsciously reached for the Navigator’s wrist while we were watching which, fortunately, he didn’t mind.
Over and over she trusted that kid to follow along behind her – because that was what was usually normal for her.
It was an interesting reminder of how we adapted to the Navigator’s behavior, tailoring our responses to what was normal in our family, and how “normal” in other’s families can be quite different.