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.