I Tried Putting My Toddler On A Leash (Hint: It Didn’t Go Well)

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As a toddler, Mateo was a larger than average. The child had just begun walking with confidence, and being a very outgoing (read: feisty) little chap with zero impulse control, taking him out for a walk was never going to be easy. Also, he was so strong he could literally tip his stroller over when it was moving, just be reaching over to grab something he saw next to him.

Did I mention that he could undo the 5 point click lock before he was 3 years old? Just push down on that large red button and oh my god, Mateo was off and running down the road. He ran like a cartoon character – head down, elbows up – the large head provided just enough momentum that he would be out of arm’s reach within milliseconds. Of course, he’d never flee into a store, it was always towards traffic. He would have a tantrum if I made him hold my hand. To him, any bodily contact with another human meant some kind of restraint. He loathed any and all hand holding. Carrying him was out of the question. His weight, my back…

The lack of impulse control proved a problem one too many times, so one day I bought him a leash. I could call it a harness but I know that the word “leash” really upsets people. To be clear, it wasn’t a dog leash. Rather, a puppy dog backpack number, with the tail being the leash bit. A big step up from the leather harness-cum-lederhosen-cum-S&M contraptions that were around in the 1970’s when I was a toddler.


vintage child leash

In case you’re wondering, mine was white leather. Freaky, yet innocent.


Anyway, I’d read a story on DC Urban Moms (do not ever go there, it’s full of witches and bad grammar) where a lady had been publicly berated and shamed for having her toddler on a leash in the airport. She was alone with her boy and had to manage 2 large suitcases plus her hand luggage. The comments were heartbreaking and infuriating.

So, knowing that I might encounter some judgmental looks or comments, I was pretty apprehensive about taking Mateo out wearing his leash puppy backpack. However, weighing up his safety against what other people thought…no brainer.

Here’s how well putting my child on a leash worked out for me.

Day One.

Whole Foods. Mateo learned very quickly that this leash thing meant he couldn’t really go anywhere independently. I learned that if I tugged the leash too hard, the boy would dig his heels in and only pull even harder. Hard enough to detach the clip in fact, and I’d be left holding his puppy dog tail and have to abandon the shopping trolley to go after him. I did try chasing him avec shopping trolley, but weaving in and out of strangers feeling like I was in Supermarket Sweep was just mortifying,  (god, I’d rather DIE).


John and Yoko put *their* child on a leash and HE turned out normal... right??

John and Yoko put *their* child on a leash and HE turned out normal… right??

Day Two.

A short stroll from the car to the garden area outside a casual-ish restaurant, early on a summer evening. Problem 1: summer dining means there are outdoor tables. Outdoor tables means an audience. Problem 2: give any child an audience and you’re basically fucked.

Mateo on his leash is happily toddling ahead of us. He sees steps and wants to run up them with abandon; I maintain a firm tension on the leash. Mateo, feeling the leash tighten, plonks himself down on the ground and goes dead weight. Both my husband and I try to get him to stand. Tears and shrieky shouting ensue (all mine). Mateo still refuses to budge. Husband cannot lift him off the ground without a bit of dragging (he’s 40lbs), so rules this out. There is, after all, an audience who were at first very taken with his “divine outfit”, and are now probably judging us for treating our child like an animal. Internally I’m shrieking “Just bloody drag him!” but only come out with “I’ll buy you ANYTHING you want if you stand up right now.” Oh, the shame. He finally stands up when he gets bored of the face down position and we enter the restaurant in foul moods whilst he’s as happy as Larry.


why i put my child on a leash

I feel your pain, ma’am.

Day Three.

Back to Whole Foods. We have had a little chat and Mateo has promised to behave or else be buckled into the trolley. (He hated sitting in the front of the shopping trolley because his thighs were so chubby that the leg room wasn’t enough and he was utterly immobilized from the legs down). No, it wasn’t an alternative to walking, because the entire trip would be wailing “OUT NOW MUMMY OUT NOW MUMMY OUT NOW MUMMY.”

To my surprise, he was a STAR. No bolting or darting under things. I couldn’t believe it. My life was now perfect in every single way. Cue stars, rainbows and unicorns!!

I had 2 shopping bags, my large handbag, and Mateo to get back to the car. For some reason, I’d parked across the street rather than in the carpark. The crossing light changed to a green man and off we went. Halfway across the road, Mateo fell to the ground and started yelling. I had apparently pulled on the leash and he was affronted. That 25-second green man countdown has never again gone so fast in my life.

It’s flashing 15 seconds and Mateo is still on his tummy, wailing and kicking. I put the bags down, try to coax him up – disaster.

Now we’re on 8 seconds. Mild panic turns to full on FMFL. I pick up the bags, bend down to pick his thrashing body up and everything tumbles out of my bag, over my shoulder and onto the ground. Lipsticks, pen, nappies, keys. Mateo then has the nerve to get more infuriated because a bunch of keys bounces off his head. I grab my stuff, throw it in my bag, grab the leash and drag. I don’t care that a young man is laughing hysterically and taking phone pictures of us. I am so mad and flustered that it’s only after a few seconds I realize the fucking leash has detached and I am dragging thin air.

Down to 2 seconds. Throwing the bags on the pavement, I fly back and grab Mateo’s jacket collar. And drag him.

Yes, I dragged his thrashing little body 20 feet in full view of the good people of Glover Park. Think ‘the early 30s, hipster and sling wearing/breastfeeding til their child is 4’ kind of audience. Me: sweary, sweating, swinging puppy dog tail in one hand and flailing, a furious toddler at the end of the other.

Yes, I know there are children out there who are angels, who walk nicely, stop at the sight of the curb, smile politely at strangers and can read Dostoyevsky by the time they reach 5. I realize there are some parents who, upon seeing me, cast their judgments on what a shit parent I must be. The ones who say things like “My child always holds my hand. She needs to get that under control. I’d never treat my child like an animal”.

Well frankly, I call bullshit.

Weirdly enough, the disastrous leash experiment proved effective in one way. A few months later, when I flew from the States to England (via Germany), alone with Mateo, plus lots of luggage, another massive handbag, and no Xanax, I only had to say “Remember the puppy backpack?” and he’d walk right next to me. To heel.

Like a dog, in fact.

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An ex spy from the UK, Elaine currently lives in Washington DC with her husband and toddler. Having to verbally hold in her British snark, she finds an outlet through writing. You can find her on Twitter @damesparkula and Instagram @delcerroyau and @twosisterstwocountries.

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