190: Toddler Years: The Wandering Child

by | Apr 29, 2021 | Mama Thursday | 0 comments

Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!

The toddler years! The toddler years surprised me when my kids took turns becoming “The wandering child.” 

Now, what is The Wandering Child? 

That child that takes off unexpectedly to the wild blue yonder to explore territories unknown.

Is this problematic? Yes. Yes, because I think we didn’t realize how fast our kids can move, especially in the beginning. And they move so fast! So, my first real experience with the wandering child, that minor heart attack, was a product of Emmi. 

So, we were in the Home Depot, and we’re in the garden section.  We were purchasing something.  I’m maybe four feet away from the automatic sliding door. I’m picking something up, and I see Emmi walk through the door. So, I leave what I have there, and I start to walk toward her, thinking, “okay, so, she’s going to walk back when she realizes mommy and daddy are not there.” 

No! No! So, I speed up, and I make it to the other side. My child is in this strange man’s arms, and she’s just sobbing hysterically.  Another woman has come by and tells this man, “You need to put the child down.” 

And of course, he was an elderly gentleman, and he said, “Well, you know I just thought she was lost, and I was going to take her to the cashier.”

And the lady was, “Nope. You need to put her down.” 

And I was like, “Ahhh… Moot argument here! Let me have my baby.” 

I realized at that point the reason she hadn’t gone right back because the older man had picked her up just at the door. 

He leaves, and the woman says to me, “You know, that made me really uncomfortable that he picked her up. You don’t typically need to pick up a child just because they’re crying or you don’t know who it belongs to, and we both saw that she just had been through the door.” 

So, from that point on, I became utterly paranoid. Paranoid. Emmi didn’t get lost. It wasn’t about that. It was just that she was out of my eyesight. So I went, and I bought these child leashes like a little backpack, but you can hold onto them. So, she had about a four-foot radius. Still, I could feel where she was moving, which worked out really wonderfully, especially with Andy.

Andy has ADHD, and she becomes easily distracted, and at that age, she just really liked to take off. So, we no longer had to worry because we knew where they were at all times.  They were never far away from us. We loved it. 

We were criticized by the people who said, “You have your child tether like a dog.” 

But you know what I say to those people? Well, I can’t say that in polite company, to be honest with you. Although the California girl in me just wants to use that F-bomb!  

The bottom line is you have to do what makes you comfortable and keeps your child safe. Don’t listen to other people’s criticisms. They don’t have to deal with your child, your life. Live your own life. I keep saying this in all these mama’s episodes. I keep bringing this point up. You have to do what is right, what is best, for you and your child. So, this one was definitely a non-negotiable. 

My Girls Are Such Fast Runners That Even Their Dad Couldn’t Catch Them!

When the girls were still toddlers, we started making trips to Florida, Disney World. Now, I remember our first trip. My husband said to me, “I think the girls are too young, and they are not going to appreciate the experience.” 

I think they were going to turn three at that time.   The girls spent most of the time with their eyes looking like absolute saucers. They were not very expressive otherwise. They laughed, but you know, they didn’t really say very much.  

And guess what? There were three ways that my kids were going to be mobile: number one was on the walking tether, and number two, holding one of our hands, or three, on their strollers. That was it. They were never going to be let out just to do their thing.  If you’ve ever been to Disney World, this place is ginormous, and a lot of the parks are just overwhelmed with pedestrian traffic.

So, if you let your child free and loose, well, you’re going to give yourself a minor heart attack. I’ve seen it many times in the park.  A parent screaming for their child and staff helping them search for the kid. So, avoid the heart attack. You know, what can I say? 

And by the way, a shout-out to my husband because he was wrong! He was wrong about it. I think it was five months after we went to Disneyworld.  Our daughter Andy, who was struggling with speech delays, all of a sudden started talking about Disney, “Do you remember when we did this at Disney? Do you remember that at Disney?” Disney, Disney, Disney, Disney!

Needless to say, we took her back to Disney many times. But it was Disney that kind of pushed Andy to talk. Her interest and excitement with Disney pushed her to verbalize what she was feeling, and it was wonderful! So wonderful! So, he was wrong! 

But, of course, our experiences continue. I remember the first time we went to a community called Plantation Oaks in Titusville. We were considering buying a home there. The girls were older. They were four, they were still toddlers, and by then, they knew better than to leave mom’s or dad’s side. We were looking at the outside of the house and, I kid you not, I was looking directly at the house. I had just been holding Emmi’s hand, but she decided to let go.  Next thing you know, I hear crying. 

“Mommy, mommy! Where are you? Mommy!” 

I turned around, and she must have walked on the sidewalk like four feet. I could see her. She could see me, or maybe she couldn’t see me because she was pretty hysterical! I was like, “I’m right here. I’m right here.” 

We followed her voice, brought her to me, and comforted her. In that case, it was scary for her, not for me, because I could see where she was. But she was a toddler, you know. What can I say? When we get these heart attacks because our kids are wandering around, it’s not just on us. I mean, the kids get pretty scared too.  

I think our most fun experience with our wandering children was when we went to Playalinda.  It’s near Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Andy decided to take off after a seagull. Her dad runs after her and cannot catch her because he’s never been the fastest guy. I’m farther away.  Thankfully, I didn’t have bad knees at this point, but I’m so far away that I can’t catch Andy. He was the one that had been watching her. He can’t catch her, so he yells at our other toddler, “Emmi, go get your sister!”

Emmi runs after Andy, catches her, makes her stop, and they start walking back together. Just imagine that sense of powerlessness. You can’t catch your child because you’re an older parent, and you have to rely on your other kid to get her. Needless to say, we set some heavy-duty ground rules after that—both for us as parents and for them as kids.  We had to make sure that they were not just going to take off. Andy never did it again because she understood that she would lose some of her favorite toys to time. Just have to stay safe, whatever it takes. 

One thing that was just absolutely wonderful was as the girls got older, we enrolled them in Master Yourself Martial Arts. It’s run by Maggie Penton and Mr. Daniel Penton. I’m used to calling him Mr. Penton because that’s what all the kids call him. Daniel and Maggie really balance each other out. It creates a wonderful atmosphere for the kids. We had a wonderful experience with these two instructors. They were just compassionate and fun and very disciplined, and somehow they managed to make it work. 

The other thing that I really liked about them was that they talked a lot about martial arts in reference to self-discipline and safety—keeping safe and relying on your ability to defend yourself as a last resort. So, if you are doing the right things to remain safe, you don’t have to worry about physically having to defend yourself. Of course, they also taught the kids when that time came. If they are no longer safe and people are not backing off and have no place to go, they need to physically defend themselves. I really like that because it set some really clear parameters for the kids. 

The other thing that I really like was that the Pentons did a lot of safety seminars. It wasn’t just my husband and myself talking about stranger danger.  It was also the instructors at Master Yourself Martial Arts discussing the potential for danger with strangers. It just really drove the point home. So, they reinforced what we were teaching, but they reinforced it in a fun, practical way, and that made all the difference. 

The Pentons also talked about a lot of self-respect. They helped the kids understand that their safety was their responsibility. It’s not entirely true because we are, as parents, as adults, responsible for them but giving that self-empowerment. However, that sense of responsibility made the kids more aware of their surroundings and their actions. That was a wonderful addition to our tool as parents, to know that our kids were learning some really important safety measures. So, Daniel and Maggie Penton, thank you so much for your support in our parenting journey! We really appreciate it, and we miss you guys a lot. 

So, the kids outgrew the toddler years, and they definitely outgrew the wandering toddler syndrome. And I thought we were done. Hey, we’re done! But then Bugaboo comes into our lives, and he comes into our lives at the age of four. And guess what? Here we go again! Expect for now we’re older. We’ve slowed down significantly more. Now, I really have bad knees because of my accident. 

But fortunately, we have three thirteen-year-old girls, and they’re all really responsible girls. They all love him, although they express it differently. People tend to think that I’m going to rely on Dora, his biological sister, more than the twins. But you know what? It’s not true. Actually, Dora tends to take on the responsibility of, “He’s my biological sibling. I need to be careful. I need to be mom. I need to be on top of him.” 

So I try to minimize Dora’s feeling of mothering responsibility. That’s not her responsibility. That’s my responsibility as a parent. While she does have her responsibility for him as a sibling, so do the other two. A lot of time, when we’re out, I will have one of the twins hold his hand, I will hold his hand, or I will send the twins to go and get him if I feel he’s gotten away a little too far. I have the twins constantly work with him. You know, we were just playing pickleball the other day, and I really de-emphasize the time that he was spending with Dora because she does tend to take on that role herself. Instead of partnering him up with Dora. I partnered him up with Emmi. After she played with him or chased his balls for a while, I set him up with Andy, who took her teaching position very seriously. She showed him how to hold the racket.  They’re both lefties, so it worked out really well. And they all had a great time. 

But he has still given us a scare or two. Once was at Chuck E Cheese. We knew where he was at, right? It’s not like they’re going to let him take off and just leave, but for three arrhythmic minutes, I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest because I couldn’t lay my eyes on him. I don’t like that. I like to be able to see where my little one is. 

Now, my thirteen-year-old, I’ve started to give them more freedom. For example, we go to Epcot. I give them the run of the place. Epcot is not overly populated, as let’s say, The Magic Kingdom at Disneyworld. I would never let them run around alone at this age in The Magic Kingdom. It’s just too overwhelmed with people. Completely comfortable letting them do it at Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Studios is another place that pretty much feels safe for me, and it doesn’t feel over-saturated with people. I won’t let them do it at the Animal Kingdom. Even though it’s small, there’s a lot of small spaces and walkways. It feels a little claustrophobic, and again, too many people. 

I really try to balance things out. They are getting older. They do need more freedom, but I still need to make sure that they’re safe. Bugaboo doesn’t get that kind of freedom yet. He’s not even that close. Not that I am even confident that he’s going to get it at thirteen. Because it also depends on the child’s level of maturity. So, we’ll see how that goes.

Making Sure That They Are Safe While Exploring Different Things!

The thing is that even when you’re keeping your eyes on them, you think you’re keeping your eyes on them, something can happen. We went to a trampoline park. I can’t tell you the number of times I took the twins to this trampoline park. So many times. So many, many times. Never had a single problem. Never! I took Bugaboo to the trampoline park once—broken foot. Just a matter of seconds. He was with an adult and came up with a broken foot. I just took my eyes away from him for thirty seconds.

Now, could I have changed anything? Had I been the adult with him, or had my eyes be on him? Probably not, but as a mom, I would like to think so because how many times do you spend saying to your kid, “You can’t do that, or you shouldn’t do that.” 

And you save them from breaking a foot. The thing about that is you have to go easy on yourself because, as I said before, there’s going to be accidents. It’s part of growing up. And it was a tiny, tiny, little fracture, actually. It didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt like hell or that we didn’t spend all day in the emergency room. And it doesn’t mean that he didn’t cry, and of course, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t cry with him because anytime my kids are injured, you know the empathy always just gets to me. I end up bawling right along with them. 

Oddly enough, my kids always tell me that they find that comforting, that I cry with them. I’m always holding them, I’m always with them, and I’m always comforting them when it happens, but I’ll have tears rolling down my eyes. After I make sure that they are nice and safe and they’re happy again, then I’ll have myself that good, old-fashion hysterical cry with screams and guilts and everything. But I make sure they can’t hear it. 

So, just a recap. How do you handle the toddler years once your child is highly mobile? 

Try to keep your eyes on them at all times. If you cannot keep your eyes on them at all times, try to minimize the space where they can run around. Those safety gates become your best friends and make sure that your furniture is bolted, and you don’t have loose things that they can bring on top of themselves.

Be ready to run! It doesn’t matter if you’re forty-five or fifty-five as I’m about to be this September. The bottom line is you have to be ready to run. And it’s amazing how fast you can move even though you have a few extra pounds and you have bad knees. When it comes to your kids, you can move really quickly if you feel they’re in danger. And if you can’t run after them or you feel you cannot be fast enough, make sure you have an adult with you or a teen that can help you out and make that speedy recovery for you. And hey, if none of those things are around, remember the safety tether or the stroller—it comes in handy. I loved that stroller.

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Dr B.

I began my journey into motherhood at the age of 40 when I became a mother of twins! Today I am a mother of 4! Being an older mom might be a growing trend, but we are still a minority with our own unique blessings and challenges. Join me in this journey! To contact me directly, email me at oldermoms@entrepreneurialdreamers.com