At my baby shower, my mother-in-law gifted me a puppy that would clip around the chest of a child and a tail that acted as a leash. I was horrified. I believe my exact words were, “She knows I am giving birth to a person and not a dog, right?”
Ah, how smart we are before we have children. I believe I also made absurd statements like Caleb would only get books for the December holidays and that we would never let anything Disney into our house. HA! Oh, and I scoffed at the idea of a family bed. Yeah, I was super smart.
Fast forward 7+ years, and my son has a monkey backpack with a tether. And by tether, I mean leash. Yup, I actually bought him a dog leash that blends perfectly with his backpack so he could have more room to roam. And my son loves wearing his monkey.
Caleb is a flight-risk. When in busy parking lots, I hold on to his hand for dear life. We do have handicapped parking, and we do use it; I can’t tell you how many times I have had to carry a 40lb+ sobbing Caleb out to the car. Also, having a shorter trip from the car to the safe area of the store is reassuring for me.
Caleb started wearing his monkey backpack before he could talk; Caleb didn’t really talk until he was 3, and even then it was slow going. He also couldn’t truly understand the words I was saying; even if I told him a million times to not leave my side, it doesn’t mean that he knows exactly what that means and what mistakes look like. As Caleb’s language expanded, so did his understanding of the spoken word. With the monkey backpack, we both could focus on trying to take in the stimuli around us. We forgot about the restraints.
I cannot tell you how many people have yelled at me about my son and his leash. I have had people bark out windows as they drive by. I have had grown men come up into my face and challenge my parenting choices. I have had so many people roll their eyes at me.
People question what we feed Caleb, because yes, he has a bit of a belly. People question our token economy. People question how much or how little we push Caleb. People question if he should have unfettered access to electronics. People question why Caleb still cannot dress himself. People question why I let my son have a meltdown in the middle of the store and not be mad at him or punish him. People question if we are spoiling Caleb. And I don’t care. I care about what my husband and son think and that is it.
I do care about facts and information. I care about research that drives our parenting choices. I am willing to learn and change, because in the end, what we all want is for Caleb to be successful and happy.
I do ask the opinions of friends and family, but in the end, my husband, Caleb, and I make the final decisions together. Caleb still likes the freedom of wearing “Monkey.” We take walks, searching for Pokemon; having two hands free to play is incredibly helpful.
That said, Caleb is growing and we aren’t needing to use Monkey as much. When we walk in a downtown area, I insist on Monkey; one time eating dinner outside in downtown Chicago, Caleb ran into the middle of the street and all of us had a heart attack. I ran after him so fast, my heart beating out of my chest. My child still doesn’t have the sense to look for traffic before crossing a street. His life is worth more than my pride.
I mention pride because there are many mothers who don’t want to admit that their child is different or needs special accommodations. I grew up in a crazy, abusive, messed-up home and we always had to act and dress like everything was perfect. The idea of it makes my whole body react.
I am proud of my son, exactly the way he is. He works so freaking hard every single moment of his life. When he makes mistakes, you can see the panic in his eyes. There is not a mean bone in his body. Yes, he LOVES to push buttons, but so did I when I was younger. I mean, I was 16 and he is 6, but that just means he is advanced, right?
I guess what I am getting at is:
*Caleb was born at 33 weeks and looked like Walter Matthau
*Because of his time at the NICU, Caleb had a flat head. He had to wear a special helmet
*Caleb has had more meltdowns at Target than I can count
*I have had to chase down Caleb in the middle of Costco, leaving my cart completely abandoned.
*Caleb is very particular about his looks, which aren’t conventional
*Caleb is the king of awkward social interactions. During our garage sale, he was such a pushy salesperson that he actually scared people away!
And I am not embarrassed one bit.
It is true that when you love someone, you have to love all of them. The good, the bad, the ugly – they all come in a wonderful package. So, yes, my child will flap his hands and require a leash and say really inappropriate stuff. But, he is also the kindest, smartest, most creative person I have ever met and I have no doubt that Caleb will have a real positive impact upon the world.
And when in doubt, I just remember that I have to be the role model for Caleb. I want him to see me take the high road and focus on what is important. And that is why I can say that when it comes to how my husband and I raise Caleb, I don’t care what anyone thinks.
BTW, you can buy Caleb’s backpack here.