“Police Probe After Woman Is Pictured Taking Grandson On ‘Dog-Like’ Walk With Arm Leash,” said the headline on Yahoo News.
The picture was not, thankfully, of me. Because yes, I used to put my kid on a leash.
When my kids were growing up in the 80s and 90s, they sat down to breakfast with milk cartons featuring photos of missing children. The news was full of kidnapping stories. Parents were scared stiff.
Active in my kids’ school’s Parent Association at the time, I created a program to inform and educate children and their parents. A psychologist spoke to a packed room of parents about how to talk to kids about strangers without scaring them. (Somehow no one I knew managed to pull that off. And, if truth be told, we kind of wanted to scare them.)
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The police addressed an assembly of children and then a standing room only group of parents. The cops brought finger-printing equipment to fingerprint the kids, urging parents to keep the documents in a safe place. Seriously? Yes, seriously.
I bought the “Berenstain Bears Learn about Strangers” (not one of their better efforts) and read it at bedtime. (What was I thinking? Before bed?!)
After discussing with the kids how one should never go anywhere with a “stranger,” I had to tackle the very real question of “who is a stranger, exactly?” Was William the gardener, who we saw weekly mowing the lawn, a stranger? How about Adam, the alarm guy who came into the house and kept us safe by fixing the burglar alarm? And what about Tony, the friendly hardware store owner who was also our handy man? Were they “strangers?” We knew them, didn’t we? Would it be all right to go off with them if they offered candy or a ride? And if not, why not? They weren’t strangers! They were part of our neighborhood. We knew them for years!
How about the men the kids saw in shul every week? Many had never been inside our home, yet the kids saw them every Shabbos. Maybe they didn’t know their names, but Abba did. How about the rabbi? Their teachers? The school principal? Was everyone related to them not a stranger? (I was particularly sensitive to that one, as a great-uncle of mine used to try to stroke my sister and me on our chests. In those days, no one talked about those kinds of things, so my dad would put his arms around us any time we had to say hello to creepy Uncle Ben.)
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Believe me, the whole thing was a challenge.
The child I was most worried about was my youngest, about 2 years old at that time. He was an incredibly friendly, endearing little kid with two big dimples who was always smiling. He had more “friends” along the main shopping strip than anyone. Flashing those dimples, he didn’t even have to ask the bakery lady for a cookie. He got three without asking.
He was quick, too, and could take off at a fast pace, waving to everyone he passed.
If he had run for mayor, he would have won.
I was terrified.
So I bought the leash.
Now, it was not a “dog” leash. Fisher Price in its wisdom had made one especially for kids to attach at their wrist with a cute little stuffed animal. But it was definitely a leash.
At the Bronx Zoo, a lady yelled at me for using the leash on my child. In the park, I got smirky stares. I guess not too many people liked the idea.
But my job was to keep my kid safe.
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Recently, my daughter-in-law, a mother of four including the youngest two who are twins, started talking about getting a leash when the babies start to walk. I encouraged her. I didn’t have a leash when I took care of my oldest twin grandchildren when they were toddlers, but I sure wished I had when each ran in a different direction.
So I sure hope the police cut that grandma a little slack in their investigation and go after the real bad guys instead.