The Wandering Child

Our oldest is 2 and is on the cusp of the toddler version of sprinting. She is getting pretty quick, and her version of fun just happens to be eluding her mother and I. Just over the weekend we went to the beach and she was flat outty. I saw her make her ever so graceful saggy diaper exit and just followed. I was doing my own little dad-experiment just to see how this went, in hopes of gaining some insight into what she was thinking. I am a huge believer in letting children venture out and do what they want as long as its safe. When I started to follow her she was about 100 feet from our basecamp at the beach. Basecamp meaning where mom and the towels were.

She was just above a casual toddler stroll for the first 50 yards or so, then she picked up her pace to quite the scamper to catch up with these 2 older ladies out for a stroll. She never looked back or for that matter to the side 1 time. She has very impressive closing speed I might add. She basically from what I could see said hello to these ladies, and they were very happy to have such a bright child joining them. I am very proud of my daughter for having the sense of wonder and individuality to just go. I know plenty of adults that could use a lesson or two in this. Contrary to the excitement for her explorer attitude, this is also a tremendous lesson in fatherhood for me. Being aware when with my children is of the utmost importance. In no time she could be around a corner, or down some stairs, or something worse could happen. If you have experienced that brief moment when your kid is gone, your heart drops, your whole world crashes, and its full on panic mode. Then you fully know what I am talking about.

When it comes down to it. People in general these days are too distracted. Presence is a damn joke. Bodies are together, but no one is engaged with each other, just groups of people disconnected. They all seem to be connected to their cell phones without a problem, as emphasized in my rant that can be foundhere. As a parent, we cannot afford this luxury. We need to stay with our kids. The reality of the world we live in is that not all people want the best for kids. People take children and do terrible things. Too high a price for some social media updates/other non essential tasks at the moment. Your children are your task, get after it.

When my daughter was about 1 we were at a park. My wife and I were sitting cross legged in the grass helping her take her first steps. I am guessing at the age, but a 3 year old boy ran right over and sat in my lap. I had never seen this little boy before and he literally sat down in my lap. I was surprised and laughed because honestly it was funny. He then started to pat my beard, and take my hat, which was pretty forward of him. At this point, I was able to see what was going on from the 10,000 foot view and I removed him from my lap. If I was his parent, I would come over and at the very least have some very serious words with the person whose lap my child was sitting in. This looked absolutely terrible, and this poor boy clearly just wanted some attention. God forbid if someone with dangerous wishes was sitting where I was, because this kid just dropped in my lap in the most literal sense. My wife and I walked him around and tried to find who his parents were. There was no one. This little dude was just infatuated by me, so much that a nearby woman saw what was going on and took over leading him around. Thank You Woman, I owe one in the largest sense. Eventually she found his grandfather, or what appeared to be so, asleep on a bench with his earphones in. I wanted to lecture this dude, but held my tongue. Then his little dude ran over to me again and did the leg hug, face in crotch move, which is all kinds of terrible. The grandfather gave me a shitty look, as I would have done to whomever. I coulda punched this fool. My wife and I then left with our daughter because this scene was going nowhere.

The scary part here is he never knew. That poor kid probably is still at the park doing the same shit. In retrospect I should have stopped and taken a moment to tell the man what had happened. But we all have things to learn I guess. We as parents need to accept our role in our kids lives. We need to be ahead of the game in this regard. NO you don’t need to go read a book. NO you don’t need to take a class. But by all means, do so if you are open to it. Just be present with your children. Just be with them. If they wander, follow close behind. Presence is better than Presents.

2 years later commentary

We now have another daughter who is quickly approaching 2. It is hilarious to read this entry because she is so very much the same while being totally different. Since the first entry we have moved to a farm in the midwest which is much more conducive to children roaming free, and that they do. I fully support them exploring but also still am aware of the dangers out there. They both have done the grocery store disappearing act, or the standing inside a clothes rack at target move, that gives me a silent freak out. And damn, now they are fast. Our oldest is almost four and likes to play games, and her crazy sister just wants to be a part of everything.

Since that experience at the park, we elect to go on hikes or activities where everyone is mobile and active. I still remember it like it was yesterday, and to be honest it scares me even more thinking of one of my girls doing that to someone. I struggle to even go there in my mind.

Have you seen the leash thing? These parents that have their kids on leashes. Its attached to a backpack, or a sort of chest harness. I am not quite sure how I feel about this. I understand the need, because I have experienced the momentary terror of losing track of your child first hand. And using this leash would definitely keep them close. But to what end? Is this a bandaid for an ever increasing distraction of parenting? Are we that disengaged with our children in public that we need to lash ourselves to them? Are our children that distracted that communication is just not possible? I just feel like there might be a more conscious way to go about this.  Is our world in such a place that external stimulus and need for attention, greater than our drive for connection with those closest to us? The answer is yes, and this is where the leash comes in.

I think we as parents need to have an honest conversation with ourselves and delve into the details of what makes us present, and what steals our attention. Our child's safety should not be on the chopping block with texting, or reading updates on Twitter or Instagram. The simple connection between parent and child literally gives the child a foundation on which self worth is built. It gives them confidence, and teaches them how to love, and how to connect. The lack of connection, well this leaves a gaping hole in a child. The leash is not the problem, but its not the solution either.

Is it possible to structure your day so that when you are in the room with someone you are engaged with them? Could you pull this off? Would your day be better? Granted, work is an exception here, as are libraries, etc.  But take a look if you haven't noticed already. The disconnect of people despite literally being next to them is terrifying. No wonder empathy seems to be at a all time low, and there is so much hate. The hyper-connected distant generation. Its not official unless its on Instagram. Damn it's sad.

I heard this the other day and it hit home for me. "Be in your own shoes." If your gonna be somewhere, actually be present. Don't be the guy not paying attention. Have you seen the video of the girl walking into a water fountain because she is walking and texting? It hilarious, and pretty sad. Distraction is so prevalant. Its literally driving a wedge in between us and our lives.

My wife and I talk about this a lot in an effort to be more present with each other and our girls. The presence of devices is inevitable in our lives. But how and where we use them is completely up to us. If you need to post, or send a message or make a call, or do some work. Go somewhere and do that. Don't do that while trying to have a conversation, or helping your kids. I know this is a challenge and I literally fail daily. But at some point, we have to value those in front of us, more that our little social media monsters.

I can't imagine the remorse of losing someone because of such a distraction. Stay present. Stay engaged. I would imagine that everyone will be much happier if the time we spend together is time with connection. And don't forget to keep and eye on your kids at the park.