I live on a quintessentially, picturesque street. It’s like taking a trip back to the fifties as you drive past our house, the cul-de-sac at the end of the road giving the space more of a neighborhood feel. White, Cape Cod cottages with black shutters and brick ranches line the lane, people congregate in folding lawn chairs in their front yards to catch-up on daily gossip, children play – unattended – in the street… and neighbors bring your unruly dogs home after they run away.
Now, I’m perfectly aware of our small, little city’s leash law. But I also know your allowed to have your dogs off a leash as long as they’re on your property. And I hate to sound like a real renegade, but when it’s thirty degrees outside at six ‘o clock in the morning the last thing I want to do is tromp around my yard waiting for one of my dogs to find the perfect place to take a dump. No, I’d rather open my front door, watch from the window, and then get good and pissed off when they trot off down the road.
Why do I get so annoyed? Because I’m not the kind of dog owner to let my dogs just wander off into the great wide open. No, after you’ve had one of your dogs run away for three days in the middle of a city where bystanders tell you, “Yeah, I saw that dog run across like six-lanes of traffic and head toward the Liquor Barn parking lot” – and then you get said dog back…ALIVE – and not hung-over – you tend to be a little overprotective.
So, I throw my burgundy, terrycloth bath robe over my pajamas, step into my knock-off UGG boots, and curse my dog as I grab my keys and pull out of my driveway, windows rolled down screaming my dog’s name at the top of my lungs. (I’m guessing this might be a little more annoying to my neighbors than my dog peeing on their bushes…but I don’t want to break the leash law.)
Thus far, this method of tracking has had a ninety-eight percent success rate. There are those occasional mornings I pull back into the driveway feeling defeated after circling the area for a half hour with no sign of my mutt, only to reach the front porch and find them sitting their waiting for me – with a look on their face like, ‘Where ya been? I’m ready for breakfast.’
Most of my neighbors on this Ozzy & Harriet street are pretty sympathetic of me – especially when they see me chasing after a dog… while pushing a triple stroller, my three kids hanging on for dear life – but what episode of Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best would be complete without that crotchety, grumpy, generally-overall-unhappy neighbor making snide comments under his (or her… hey, I’m all about anonymity) breath as they work in their front yard.
I know most of you have a neighbor like this (assuming you even know your neighbors.) He’s (shoot…or she’s) the kind of person who spends countless hours working on his (dang it…or her) lawn – yet you never see him (oh, forget it…it’s a grumpy old man, okay) enjoying it.
One day I was taking my two dogs for a walk down the street (securely hooked to me on their bright, red leashes) and as I passed this neighbor’s house I was shocked that he actually made eye contact and opened his mouth like he was going to speak to me, something he’d never done. I should have known he had nothing nice to say, but I was shell shocked when he asked me, “You do know this city has a leash law, don’t you?”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” I wanted to say shaking my dogs’ leashes uncontrollably in his face.
Instead, I simply, and hopefully politely, pointed out that my dogs were on leashes. And that anytime my dogs aren’t on leashes, I’m usually no more than a minute behind them frantically running, or driving, or pulling my children like a complete lunatic.
Because I know how annoying it is to look out the window to find a stray dog peeing on the hedges. (Wow, doesn’t hedges sound so much more sophisticated than bushes?) Anyway, I also don’t want my daughters to be outside playing on their jungle gym with an unknown dog traipsing through our yard…. But as long as the dogs don’t attack one of my children, I’m not going to reprimand a neighbor. Because I know everybody is susceptible to a rotten day.
Any besides, I have way bigger things to worry about – like my three-year-old being abducted…Let me explain.
Last March, my mom and I took Bianca to Disney World as a final trip before her twin sisters arrived and sucked all of the attention out of her young, little life. As I packed our car to head to the Greatest Place on Earth, I unconsciously threw in Bianca’s pink backpack with the handy, dandy strap. (Doesn’t strap sound less demeaning than leash?)
So I put a leash on my daughter, which is really ironic because as a punk kid myself I would openly mock parents – probably at Disney World – for having their children on leashes. Back in the day they were the red, stretchy bands that looked kind of like oversized phone cords. I would probably rudely shout something like, “Why are you treating your child like a dog?” (God, I could just smack myself!)
Isn’t it amazing how wisdom comes with age? I could now respond to my former self by saying, “Oh, I don’t know…maybe because I don’t want to loose the most precious thing in my entire universe in this sea of thirty-thousand people!”
My adult-self was shocked at how many disapproving looks I not only got from teenagers and young people but from fellow adults at the site of Bianca trailing behind me on her leash, me practically dragging her at some points when she didn’t want to leave Minnie Mouse – ever.
It amazes me that we live in a society where we want to create laws saying we have to keep our pets on leashes to protect our children, yet we judge one another when we put our children on leashes to protect them from – the unimaginable.
Over the last year I thought Bianca had graduated from my self-enforced child leash law. She’ll be four this summer, is beginning to understand looking both ways before crossing the street, and has repeatedly read the book, “Never Talk to Strangers.”
However, I think I’m going to have to pull the backpack/leash hybrid out of storage. In the course of one week, I lost my daughter twice. Once after church and once at the mall. (Isn’t it kind of a rite of passage to get misplaced in the mall? I think my mother spent several mall visits searching for me as I hid in the middle of the circular clothes racks.)
Sunday after church I picked Bianca up at Children’s Church. I asked her teacher how she was as Bianca climbed up my leg overcome with joy that I actually came to pick her up. (It’s like she thinks I’m lying to her every time I drop her off somewhere and tell her, “I’ll be back in a little while.” When I show-up, it’s as if it’s the greatest moment of her life.)
A three-year-old’s joy is fleeting, because in a flash Bianca jumped from my hip and took off down the hall toward the bathroom. Not wanting to seem rude, I finished my conversation and headed into the bathroom after Bianca. I remember being a little annoyed with my child as she ignored me when I asked her, “Bianca, do you need any help?”
I glanced down at the floor and became slightly panicked when I realized the little feet under the two stalls were not Bianca’s.
Now even more annoyed, I left the bathroom and headed toward the nursery – where I was sure she was playing. When I didn’t find her in any of the classrooms, I began calling her name as my pace accelerated down he hall.
“She’s outside,” someone called back to me from the stairwell.
My stride broke into a gallop. As I ran for the door, I could hear people shouting for Bianca to “Stop!” and “Come back!”
I turned the corner to find my daughter running, not a care in the world, toward our house…which happens to be right around the corner from our church.
In her defense, she was running on the sidewalk and not out in the middle of the street. But in my defense for the way I later would discipline her, at one point when I yelled her name, she turned around, looked me right in the eye, and turned on her heels back to the sidewalk and continued running from me, rounding the corner.
We later had a conversation – “Bianca, why did you run off from mommy?”
“I was just going home,” she quite assuredly replied.
She spent the rest of the day grounded from the TV and her games. I thought we’d made progress by the end of the day when she promised me she wouldn’t run away from me again – as long as she could watch her Netflix.
That was, until three days later when she decided she was ready to leave the mall play area before I was.
As I hurried through the mall courtyard toward the elevator – as fast as you can hurry while pushing your ‘Big Caboose’ stroller, I asked myself – ‘Self, how do you explain to your three year old that there are creepy men and women in the world who would take you to their house, lock you in a make-shift compound in their back yard, and if you’re lucky – not murder you?’
When I got to the elevator, only to find Bianca waving at me over the edge of the upper level of the mall, I felt defeated. I’m sure the nice women who told me they would stand with my daughter until I got up the elevator are currently filling out my application for Mother of the Year. After thanking them for not abducting my daughter, I took Bianca by the hand. I knelt in front of her, forcing her to make eye contact with me. I asked, “Bianca, what if those women hadn’t been nice? What if they had taken you away from me?”
“It’s okay, mommy,” she answered. “They were nice to me.”
Forget the toddler psychology. I’m just pulling my leash back out of the closet. I’d rather take the disapproving stares from people as they see my daughter on a leash than the disapproving stares as I chase after my free-spirited toddler. And I think I might just head up to city hall and suggest an ordinance be passed requiring all toddlers to be on leashes when they are off their property.