The rumblings slowly came up on Facebook. Memes of a random gorilla, outrage about a nonsense killing. Something involving a kid. What the heck happened, I wondered?
If you know me, I generally try to skip past upsetting news because I feel too much empathy to try to shock my system with empathy-inducing stories. Especially involving kids. I tried to ignore these rumblings because I was afraid I'd cry and become wholly depressed--but once the dust settled a bit, I took a peek at a even-handed article that explained what happened.
Here's the nutshell if you're like me about the news:
A four year old slipped away in the few seconds his parents weren't actively watching him, because they had other kids, and climbed into the gorilla exhibit. Gorilla saw him after he landed in the moat, and started dragging him around, playing with him. There's no consensus about whether he was protecting the child or not, but it was clear that the child couldn't survive such gorilla "play." A tranquilizer would have taken too long and endangered the child further, so the zoo had to shoot him. The boy survived with minor injuries. The parents are probably traumatized, but hopefully all can heal.
Zoos can be dangerous places, and some of those barriers are barriers so long as people treat them as barriers. But to kids, they can be playthings. Especially the younger you are--a barrier isn't going to stop you if an idea gets into your head.
Once I knew the story, I moved on with my life.
Or so I thought. A nagging thought kept popping up. What if it was my daughter?
Nah, it couldn't happen. But what if?
She is independent for not even being a year and a half yet. She rarely holds my hand. She likes walking around, going her own way. She has tried to go into the street a few times, and tantrums when I stop her, because she doesn't understand it's dangerous.
Just like that four-year-old boy didn't understand.
My daughter could be that boy.
But to confine her to the stroller or my arms at all times for her safety seems...confining. (Tautology alert.) I want to foster a sense of independence and can-do in her. I want her to learn about the world, what is safe, what isn't. I want her to get into the habit of walking. I want her to feel secure enough to explore.
How can I do that without going insane from worry that she might slip away during a moment of inattentiveness? I mean, I live in Chicago. As in, in Chicago. It is insanely busy around here.
As God is my witness, I went online to research leashes. Toddler leashes.
I am one of those moms now. I used to think I could never leash my own kids...until I bought one for my kid.
Actually, I bought two different kinds, to see how she reacts to each one. One is a chest harness, and one is a wrist harness. Like dogs and cats, kids probably have their preferences about how they like to be harnessed. Would she be like my cat and fall limp and refuse to walk? Or would she be like some dogs and try to wriggle out of it?
I tried the chest harness last night. She hated it in the house. Her reaction was "WTF is this thing? TAKE IT OFF." I took it off.
After dinner, I took her and the dog out to walk for a bit. Without a stroller. With the harness. Two critters, one is dutifully following me around and the other one isn't.
The looks of judgement. The looks of confused amusement. The looks of "oh fuck I am never having kids."
The first walk, I let her lead the way so she doesn't hate it right away. Within reason, that is. When she wanted to walk in the driveway of this one parking garage, I gently redirected her back to the sidewalk and she reacted as if I told her the world was ending. She walked along again, but blocked the way for someone. A taxi driver slowed down and stared at us. I nudged her along, and that was TERRIBLE.
We crossed the street to this one plaza with more space to wander safely. But she still wanted to go where the people and the cars were, and I had to pull her back from the brink of the sidewalk several times, each time to strident protestation from her.
But guess what? It was easy to catch her when she suddenly toddled the wrong direction, because she hit the end of the leash. I was also able to keep her from hitting her head on the ground because I used the leash to slow her tantrum down. Every single time.
My nerves running thin, we crossed the street again to go back home. She refused to be held, refused to hold my hand--but she and I cross the street carefully, me holding the leash to ensure she doesn't dash off. She liked her freedom. I liked the peace of mind.
I'm taking the leashes everywhere now. The CTA train stations. The airport. Downtown sidewalks.
And, yes, the zoo.
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