My child is not a dog! He will not walk on a leash any more than he will howl at passing helicopters or sniff other children’s butts. I will simply teach my child to walk alongside me, holding my hand and smiling up at me like a ray of sunshine.
Now that the twins are 19 months, I’m having a difficult time letting go of them. Some parents might say that in the abstract sense, as in, Emma’s growing up so fast I can’t imagine one day sending her off to college. I mean it in the literal sense, as in, Little Man and Bun-Bun are on the go 24/7 and that means I have to hold onto them.
Sadly, this means that a simple trip to the playground now requires me to bring along another adult–or skip the trip for their safety. I adapted by allotting some of my precious babysitter time to accompanying her to the park, hiring my awesome niece as a mother’s helper, and calling my husband at work to see if he can get away for a half hour for a jaunt on the slide.
It’s not ideal, but we’ve made it work. I thought I was doing the best I could, until one day last week when I met my sister at a nature center for an afternoon of animals, swings, and squished Fig Newtons. As we approached the chicken coop, my niece ran ahead of the twins, who were stuck in their stroller. Just then I saw another mother of boy/girl twins. The little boy and girl had on backpacks–blue and pink–and there were long tethers hanging from each of them, which the mom had strapped around her wrist.
My first association with child leashes, I mean, child safety harnesses, is Disney World, where, according to my younger, non-parent self, the scourge of humanity dragged their children along like wild animals, gnawing on turkey legs while trying to work the Fast Pass machine. But in that moment at the nature center, I saw something different–I saw a way out. A way out of the stroller for the twins, sure, but also a way out of the intense restrictions parenting twins had suddenly put on me. I approached the mom, whose twins were just two months older than mine and asked her about walking them on a lead.
“It takes some practice, but it means they can be out of the stroller,” she told me. I commented that it was another one of those things I said I’d never do, but now looked attractive. The twin mama’s soft face suddenly hardened and the blood rose in her cheeks as she spoke. “My family said, ‘How can you walk your children like dogs on a leash? I said, until you have twins, you don’t know.’”
Indeed. I made a mental note of the brand on the backpacks (Brica) and went about the rest of our day.
A week later, the twins and I took the Brica By-My-Side Safety Harness Backpacks for a test run in Prospect Park. Parking the stroller in an open field, I took Bun Bun out of the stroller first, figuring she’d be more of a sitter than a runner. I looked at the people around us–two moms with babies on a blanket, a couple spooning under a tree–and mentally dared anyone to reproach us. Just by being twins, Little Man and Bun already attract a lot of attention from strangers, and thankfully I’m confident enough that I don’t take every comment I hear to heart. But if anyone said a word, I was ready to lay the smackdown on them. As I sat Bun down, her strap attached to my wrist, and wrangled Little Man into his, I saw that no one was even watching us. I took a deep breath and thought for a second, we can do this! Just then, a regal-looking German Shepherd pranced by on a lead.
“You’re just like us!” his eyes said as he passed by my beloved babies, who were bungee corded to my wrist.
“Stop looking at me,” I said, momentarily turning into Brian Fellows.
Mustering up my courage, I stood up and led the twins a few feet away from the stroller. It was as if the twins were conspiring against me–each one of them headed off in a different direction, only to be ricocheted back before they had made it three feet.
“Come on, let’s walk this way,” I encouraged. Bun Bun sat down at my feet and started investigating a stick while Little Man bear-hugged my legs and burst into tears.
If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands! I began singing.
But they weren’t happy–and I knew it (and so did anyone else within a half mile radius). Suddenly my challenge wasn’t walking the twins on a lead, it was getting the three of us safely back to the mother ship aka our stroller.
The twins each walked a few steps, stumbled and hit the grass. My babies looked so adorable in their proton packs but soon I realized the worst was about to happen. “Don’t cross the streams!” I yelled, but it was too late. I quickly pulled the straps off my wrist and tried in vain to untangle us. In the end, I scooped Bun Bun up in my arms and led Little Man crying back to the safety of the City Mini.
Surely there was a method to doing this that I was unaware of. Was I supposed to tell them to heel, make a clicking sound with my tongue or offer them pieces of Pupperoni from my pocket? Where was Cesar Millan when I needed him? Shoving juice and cookies into my little ones’ mouths, I felt less like a pack leader and more like a bad mom.
On the walk home I reminded myself that like with all new skills, walking with the child harnesses required patience and practice. I couldn’t expect the twins to know how to do it instinctively, nor should I give up just because the trying was a bit unpleasant.
A few days later, my husband and I took the twins to another nature center. I brought along the harnesses, just in case we felt like practicing. But with all the fun we were having, chasing a ball and smelling flowers the backpacks stayed put in the bottom of the stroller. I guess some babies are just born free.
Photo via Flickr/Reddin-McAllister