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The best safety net? When your toddler knows the rules and boundaries. Photo by Flickr user jenny downing (Creative Commons license).

The best safety net? When your toddler knows the rules and boundaries. Photo by Flickr user jenny downing (Creative Commons license).

I want to revisit my post on safety harnessing/tethering, because both my son and I have grown.

A week ago, I had to leave work a little early to rush Jax to his pediatrician because blood was draining from his right ear. He had surgery in August to put tubes in his ears because of fluid buildup after a series of early summer daycare nastiness, and just when I thought we were past all that, we both caught some flu-cold-plague thing a week after his surgery that knocked us down, hard. His infection returned. Oral antibiotics kept it at bay for a bit, then last week, it returned, with blood.

I freaked a little. I’m not a freaker about kid sickness because 1) I learned kids average about eight colds a year, 2) daycare is a blessing for working moms who want their kids to socialize and learn in a safe place, but that doesn’t make it any less of a germ cesspool, and 3) I freaked enough in the first three to six months of Jax’s life to last me the rest of mine.

But blood coming out of my child’s head? The damn doctor better be in.

Guess what? It’s apparently “normal,” which I will edit to “not uncommon after tubes surgery,” because no, blood drainage is not normal, ever.

We had to kill some time before his antibiotic ear drops were ready for pickup at the pharmacy, and here’s where safety harnessing comes back into play. I hadn’t brought Hootie.

Hootie is what I named Jax’s tether, because it’s a stuffed owl backpack, and he can pronounce “Hootie.” Jax LOVES Hootie. To him, that owl means, we’re going exploring. I take Hootie everywhere with us, just in case. I use him at the playground, though I unclip the tether part so Jax can run. I use him in stores and on walks. I even use him in the front yard, which is large but unfenced, and on a downhill slope, and Jax doesn’t quite understand—another edit: doesn’t always listen regarding—boundaries, or the phrase, “stay in the grass.” And little dude is fast. If he gets a head start on me, I have to full-on run to catch up.

So we’re at the playground, because I promised him the playground after having his sore little ears poked yet again. No Hootie. You wouldn’t know Jax was in any discomfort at all, the way he played and ran. Typical him. But then we had to go get the drops. The pharmacy we use doubles as a gift shop, which means it’s full of highly breakable kitsch. If ever a place required a Hootie, it’s this one.

I realized, as I was considering all manner of ridiculous workarounds for this outing (drop Jax off with Mimi before I get the script? Have my friend who works down the block meet me and hang with Jax while I run inside?) that it’s quite time to really work with Jax on holding my hand and staying with me in public, instead of always Hootie-ing it up.

I tend to carry him everywhere on the rare occasions we don’t have Hootie. He’s only 30 lbs, about two pounds below the low end of the weight range for his age, but you try carrying 30 lbs into stores. Thirty squirming pounds that don’t want to be carried.

Hootie is for safety. Learning boundaries, how to hold mom’s hand and walk like a big boy, not to run away in a crowd, not to pick things up that don’t belong to you, and most importantly, not to fall to the ground and fuss and yank your hand away when mom says zig and you want to zag? Also for safety. Long-term safety. Basic life stuff. It’s time he learns. It’s time I drop the leash (I get my Pearl Jam references in when and where I can).

I don’t want to make it sound like we’ve never worked on those things; I just usually do it on leisurely outings, like walks and playground trips, when I’m not pressed for time and I have Hootie as a backup. But I know I’m not doing Jax or myself any favors by perpetually forgoing safety lessons for safety nets, and a harness is a safety net.

In the pharmacy, I carried Jax to the counter because I’m in there enough, giving his name and date of birth to pick up some antibiotic or vitamin for him, that I figured the lovely ladies there might like to actually meet my curly-headed munchkin with the penchant for an extra shot of grape flavoring. They did, and he charmed them. Then I set him down and said, “you need to hold mama’s hand and stay with me like a good boy.” And he did. We weren’t in there long, and he had a moment or two of tugging on my hand and grabbing low-shelved snacks I had no intention of buying (smart, pharmacy ladies, but I’m onto you), but overall, he was good. I lifted him up again to pick a lollipop from the basket when the cashier offered, then we walked to the car.

Hold my hand. Stay with me. Watch for cars. Be safe. These are necessary daily lessons. Hootie is great for mountain trails, walks by the lake and river, street fairs and festivals. But those lessons, in the long run, result in real safety, not a stuffed owl illusion or safety net.

We’re both learning.