Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When You've Had a Runner

Last weekend, my daughter and I had a girls road trip! We went up to visit a friend of mine (MommyEm) about 4 hours away (with no stops, traffic or GPS giving bad directions--in other words way longer than a 4 hour drive). Her oldest is 4, just 3 months older than the Pumpkin, and her youngest is 1. We had a really great visit, and the girls got along pretty well, after a transition and warm-up period.

Most importantly, I had a great time hanging out with one of my best friends.

We spent a lot of time talking about our kids, who have some similar "spirited" traits. But they also have some very key differences. As do our parenting styles. But we support each other and don't judge each other. We know that kids can be difficult, and parenting is hard. Most importantly, there are a million "right" ways to do things, both as a child and a parent.

There were a few things that we had different limits about that got me thinking. Specifically, there are three times I'm thinking of:

1. When the girls were running around outside playing tag with another girl and my daughter went running off, I told her to freeze and come back. I hadn't been outside the whole time, so I checked in with my friend. She said that she lets the girls run all the way up to a spot that was WAY out of my comfort zone. So we modified it so that the girls stayed closer.

2. When we were walking from the car to the pool (where we had a fantastic time!), I told my girl not to run on the sidewalk. When we were leaving, I had no problem let the Pumpkin run down the grassy hill, which ended in a flat green area.

3. When going to and from the car in any parking lot, as well as crossing all streets, the rule is that the Pumpkin has to hold an adult's hand. (Although I do let the Pumpkin hold only the Pookie's hand as long as I'm holding the Pookie's other hand and I'm sure she won't let go of his hand.) Even going from a curb to the car door when there is no chance that the car next to us is going to move.

For one of these (or maybe more, I can't exactly recall), my friend asked why I was or wasn't okay with what was happening. I tried to figure it out, but what I said didn't feel right. I don't even remember what it was. But it certainly got me thinking.

But as I insisted on holding my 4 year old's hand the few feet to her car door, I realized what the difference probably was*. I turned to my friend and asked her, "Was your daughter a runner?"

My friend said that she wasn't. Her daughter would never have run off or into anything that might be dangerous.

My daughter meanwhile? Well, just image what a toddler with advanced gross motor skills, no sense of danger and who loved to run would be like. My daughter? She was a Runner. Before you could blink, she would be running straight for a street, a steep hill or whichever way you didn't want her to go.

I told my friend the story of when I was really pregnant with the Pookie one Easter and Londo got sick and couldn't go with us on the egg hunt in my parents' yard. As we walked outside, I enlisted my brother in law's help to chase after her when (not if) she started running off. Sure enough, we were in the un-fenced part of the yard for under a minute when she started running off. She's was a Runner.

Because she loves to run so much, I have created room for her to run, within limits. After the Pookie was born, I would let her run as I was getting all my stuff (and the Pookie when he started daycare) into the car. I gave her limits on where she could run to, when she could start (no cars could be moving anywhere on our street) and when she had to stop (if I say "freeze" she has to stop right away). For the first week or so, I ran with her, and then I watched her like a hawk, and finally relaxed a bit when I was sure she would stay within the boundaries I gave her.

But there are still too many scenarios that are just too dangerous in case she randomly bolts. And I have memories of a couple times when I nearly had a heart attack because she ran in an unsafe situation. So I will likely continue holding her hand on any asphalt, and I will still put careful limits on where she can run around, and I will worry about her running too close to the street.

Having had a runner, I have been irrevocably changed. It has become ingrained to worry about my child near a road or in a store or near a steep hill with a busy road at the bottom. I'm not sure those who haven't had runners will fully understand, and they might wonder why I still hold my child's hand crossing a deserted street. They might wonder why I yell "freeze" when my child is just playing tag with friends. Some might think I'm over-protective or a helicopter parent. (Again, this does not reflect my friend, just thoughts I've had over the years.)

But if you ever had the constant fear that your child might run off into a busy street with no warning, so fast you weren't sure you could catch them in time, and with so little thought about serious consequences... well, you probably are still holding your kids' hands, too.

*To be honest, I have no idea of other 4 year olds have to hold their parents' hands whenever they are on asphalt. I didn't pay attention to whether or not my friend had the same rule with her 4 year old. But I'm pretty sure I've seen other 4 year olds at my kids' school go in and out of cars and even cross the street without holding an adult's hand.

13 comments:

hush said...

I've had a Runner, so I Get It Completely!

"Having had a runner, I have been irrevocably changed. It has become ingrained to worry about my child near a road or in a store or near a steep hill with a busy road..." AMEN, sister!

Katie said...

L isn't precisely a runner in the sense that Pumpkin is, but she will take off, testing our limits without regard for her surroundings, if not checked. So she must hold our hand (or be carried) on asphalt.

E seems like she's gonna be a runner/climber/cause of many, many gray hairs. ;)

Dr. Confused said...

This is fascinating, because our family is so different from yours on this issue. But I think you have it pegged exactly right: we adapt to our particular children.

We let our 3 1/2 year old wander quite far from us in certain situations. The other day in the park (no roads, no water, just grass and paths as far as one could see) she was far enough that strangers looked around for her parents and didn't leave her until I waved at them. In other situations, I mentally measure the distance from her to the nearest road, and from me to her, and as long as I feel I can overtake her before she gets there, I am happy for her to wander. We don't hold hands on sidewalks (she hates holding hands) unless it is absolutely clogged with people. Her father has recently started letting her cross the road without holding hands, as long as she stops on the curb and checks for traffic first, and then stays close to him. We don't drive, so don't spend much time in parking lots, but there I do insist on holding hands, as parking lots can have quite unpredictable traffic patterns.

But here's the thing: in this particular domain, she is absolutely trustworthy. I let her run ahead of me on the sidewalk with the understanding that she will stop on the curb, and she has never failed to live up to that agreement. Even at 18 months she never tried to run from the sidewalk to the road. At that age she would occasionally run out the exits of parks and whatnot, at which point I would catch her, but she didn't seem interested in going towards the road.

The one thing about this is that I occasionally feel judged by strangers on this. They see a kid a couple hundred feet away from a parent and they feel like they have to stop and deal with her, when I know she's fine and I have an eye on her. Or they see a three-year-old careening wildly along the sidewalk towards a road, and feel obliged to stop her, even though I know she will stop exactly where we have agreed. I can understand the instinct: THEY don't know my kid; they don't know how easy she is on this one, and they're watching out for the general safety of kids, which is great. But then when they figure out which one is the parent, they look at me like I'm crazy. Which maybe I am.

Anyway, sorry about the long comment which is really just there to agree with you.

mom2boy said...

I don't think Tate was a Runner but he thinks he's invincible - maybe from not enough running but I hardly think being smooshed by a car is a good life lesson so, yeah, I hold his hand when we cross a street or in a parking lot. He can walk by himself on sidewalks (unless there is heavy pedestrian traffic) but we continually talk about sidewalk safety. We are urban not suburban so sidewalks have real traffic, stop light intersections, etc. Although in reality he's more likely to be begging to be carried than running off.
Anyway, he's not even four yet and I think it's perfectly reasonable that I make him hold hands with me in certain circumstances. And god, no, I don't let him out of my sight when we are out in public. Him disappearing is top on my list of Horrible Things.

Bisbink said...

I am right there with you on this topic. We always hold the Main Man's hand when crossing any roads or in any parking lot. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

Cloud said...

My 4 year old has to hold an adult's hand to cross the street or walk across a parking lot. I figure that keeps her close to someone who is tall enough to register in the rear view mirror of anyone backing out, etc.

She wasn't as much of a runner as your Pumpkin. We were lucky in that regard, I guess!

Ruta said...

My daughter is 5 and, while not having the early gross motor skills, has some runner-like tendencies. One of the biggest points of friction between me and my husband lately is the hand-holding issue...I think that every time she hits asphalt, DD should be holding an adult hand. He is slower to grab her hand in a parking lot or across the street...drives me bonkers! After stewing about it and me snapping at him, we finally had a discussion about why it was such a big deal to me and not to him.

Turns out, for us it's a city thing. I was raised in NYC, he was reared in rural TX and suburban NC. I had the fear of god put in me about running off, crossing the street by myself (esp at that age), etc. He had alot of freedom early, and it just doesn't occur to him to snag her hand with any sense of urgency. He's resolved to be more vigilant, while I've resolved to assess the risk a little more realistically (while screaming inside, of course :)

Gosh, I apparently have something to say about this topic! :)

Becoming Mommy said...

You are not alone. We make Sasha hold our hand in the street at all times. He ran off into the street as recently as 6 months ago.
He was also a runner and was the reason we ran out and bought several 'kid leashes' when he became a good walker (one for each car and one for the childcare).
I have rules about where and when he can run some parents think are stupid (to include no running in socks) but have each been created for a reason.

Meghan said...

Worry not, I hold my (almost) 4-year-old daughter's hand in the same situations. Or she has to hold on to the stroller or shopping cart. She's not a Runner, but she pays zero attention to cars. Better safe than sorry!
My 2-year-old son, however, is a menace! The very definition of a Runner. And he won't stop when I call anything! "Freeze", "Stop", "Red light!"... and he's crazy fast. So I basically keep him superglued to my side.

caramama said...

@hush - Yeah, you get it.

@Katie - Ah, the testing limits. It's always so fun. And good point about carrying the kiddo. If the Pumpkin (and now the Pookie) doesn't want to hold an adult's hand, we will carry them. Kicking and screaming if necessary.

@Dr. Confused - I love your comment! Thanks for providing the flip side of this issue. It really does boil down to adapting to your particular children, doesn't it? That and not judging other parents since their children might have very different traits!

@mom2boy - Invincible would be tough. And urban streets are definitely different from the low-traffic, suburban neighborhood street I live on.

@Bisbink - Glad to know I'm not alone! Plus it's a great excuse to get to hold his hand, right?

@Cloud - Great point about being tall enough to register in a rear view mirror! Sometimes people back out of parking spots so fast!

@Ruta - Fascinating look into why you guys have different reactions to this. No doubt how we were raised, where and what the rules were, play an important part into all sorts of aspects of raising our own kids.

@Becoming Mommy - Having had a Runner, I will never ever make fun of "kid leashes." And we are the same way with having some random seeming rules, which have all been created for a reason.

@Meghan - I got the idea of saying "freeze" from an episode of Supernanny. A woman had three kids, and one would run off and she couldn't chase him because she had the baby in the stroller. The Supernanny told them to use a word (stop) that meant he had to stop exactly when said no matter what. If he doesn't, he lost the priveledge of walking on his own. So we implemented the same, and if she doesn't stop when we say "freeze," she doesn't get to run, has to hold our hand, has to be carried or has to keep a hand on the stroller or shopping cart. After consistently applying it (and spending a while with her super glued to my side, she finally started listening and freezing. But sometimes she still forgets!

MommyEm said...

I did wonder about the distance at first, but completely understood once you explained.

Dorothy, for all her challenges, is really good in parking lots and streets. It took one incident of her almost getting hit to scare her of cars, and now she reminds me that she needs to hold my hand. She loves to run, but for some reason, listens to me when we are out and about. Now if she would only do that at IN the house!

I think the big difference between Dorothy and Pumpkin in this circumstance is how they experience the world. Dorothy is hyper aware and (over)reacts quickly. Pumpkin is also hyper aware, but takes her time in responding to the stimulus around her. Would you say that is accurate?

Samantha said...

Oh, yes. Very difficult is having one who is 4 and trustworthy and one who is 2 and a runner. Then there is the combination of big brother having more freedom because of both age and personality. When I started with the boys (I'm the nanny) big brother ran from me once or twice and that was the end of the outing for the day. If he ran we went straight home. Period. He is a child who needs to know the limits and will push to see if you will hold them, but once he knows you have boundaries he can be depended upon safely. He also has a healthy dose of caution in his personality. Little brother will walk straight into traffic with no fear. For him gates are there to be opened, doors exist to unlock, and boundaries are optional. We are starting the freeze game, but I anticipate a long road.

sheSaidC2 said...

You are not alone! Though again we adapt to our own children. Matthew always has to hold hands crossing the street or in parking lots. But in most other situations he has a large degree of freedom. This is because he has always proven to be trustworthy. He runs to end of the street and waits. Despite being strong willed and defiant in many areas he has been caution and listened about safety, his sister on the other hand thinks if he can do it she can, head first :)
For me when I let him run and when I don't comes down to trusting the other cars. If I feel like he is safe from other cars run, but in places where I know I can't trust the cars... hand holding!