The Blue Elephant in the Room

I vividly remember one of the first times I saw a child on a leash. It was at West Park Mall and I judged those parents hard. I was all “Kids are Humans, Not Pets!”. Most likely I said more than once that I would “never” put my kid on a leash. Clearly I was not yet a parent of a two-year-old boy that had finally mastered the arts of both walking and completely ignoring the words “no” and “stop”.

It only took one evening consisting of a trip to Target where he refused to sit in the cart and my poor Dad had to chase him all over the store followed by dinner at Culver’s where he refused to stay in the high chair and walked around begging food from strangers for me to start trying to figure out how to not take him anywhere ever again. But when I ran into a fellow mom from my hometown who had her young son safely strapped into a backpack harness with a leash, I knew I had found the answer to my delimma.

So lo and behold a few weeks later Santa brought Moses a super cute blue elephant backpack with a nice leash attached that had gotten good reviews on Amazon. Last week I finally got to try it out.

Because of the flat feet and low muscle tone that came with having Down syndrome, Moses gets to wear orthotics to help stabilize his feet and make sure that he learns to walk properly. No big deal, right. Actually, it’s not UNTIL trying to find shoes that will fit. I’ll put trying to find shoes in a toddler size 6 or 6.5 right up there with going to the dentist or gynecologist. Necessary but not a whole lot of fun. (I will say that there are some really cool shoes for kids with braces in a size 10 or above. Hopefully he’ll have graduated to inserts by then, but if not, then at least I have hope that it won’t be so hard to find shoes for him.)

One of the tricks I learned from the last set of braces was to get shoes in extra-wide and take the insoles out. Another thing I learned is that shoes with a velcro strap make putting the shoes on a lot easier and quicker as opposed to shoes that tie. And since Moses has proved to be quite apt at sliding his foot right out of both the shoes and braces, easy and quick are must-have features. I have also learned that the velcro strap on most toddler extra-wide shoes are not long enough to accommodate chubby toddler feet encased in braces even after taking the insole out. Fun facts, huh?!

After searching online and coming up short, I decided to just take him to our local Shoe Carnival because I was told it carried extra-wide shoes that should work. Josie was at a basketball game with Tyson, so I also saw it as the perfect opportunity to use the leash. I was so optimistic that it was going to go well that I even thought we might go to Target, too! So when we got to the shoe store, I was practically whistling as I strapped him into his super cute blue elephant backpack and carried him from the van to the store. Once inside, a friendly store associate asked if I needed help finding anything, and I told her I was looking for extra-wide toddler shoes. She said would show me what they had, so I put Moses down, held on tightly to the leash, and off we went.

It started off well as we followed the associate, Moses on his leash, me holding on to it. When we got to the section with his size and she started showing me what they had, Moses seemed content to sit down and pull shoes and boxes off the shelf. Now, I know that this doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing, but he was staying in one place and I 100% planned to clean up his mess so it was absolutely a good thing. I totally felt like I was winning.

That good thing lasted about one whole minute, which was how long it took for Moses to lose interest in the shoes and want to walk around. As the associate was showing me the shoes that came in wide (not extra-wide), Moses walked as far as his leash would let him. And then he stopped. And he was not happy.

That’s when it got fun.

There I was, trying to pay attention to what the sales associate was telling me and showing me while also holding on to the leash that Moses was pulling against with all his might. At this point, I got the feeling that the associate wasn’t quite sure what to think about the situation going on in front of her. Kinda like she was maybe thinking, “Is this okay? Does that little boy have Down syndrome? Can she put him on a leash like that?” And my mental answer to all of that was, “Yes. Yes. And yes.”

As I was trying to explain that I didn’t quite know what size he needed because of the braces (which I had of course forgotten to bring with me), the associate was looking at me like I was an idiot and Moses was really starting to get mad. He started yelling and tried so hard to keep going forward that he ended up falling on his little butt. I couldn’t help but to laugh at him and then proceeded to ask the associate to give me two of the shoes in both a 6 and a 6.5. She gave me a really confused look like she was wondering if I had ever actually bought shoes before, so I said, “I’ll just take them home, try them on him with his braces, and then bring back the ones that don’t fit.” She then helpfully informed me that I could in fact do just that.

She started walking towards the registers and I gave Moses’ leash a little tug and gave a cheery “Let’s go!” His response was to yell at me and try once more to go the opposite way. So I picked him up, carried him to the register where he immediately wanted to be put down. Leash firmly in hand, I put him down and turned my attention to the associate who was helpfully telling me again that I could return any of the shoes that did not fit as long as they had not been worn and I had my receipt because, you know, I’ve never bought shoes before.

After Moses had examined the shoestring display behind us, he was ready to explore the rest of the store. When he felt that dreaded tug of resistance after taking about 6 steps, he surrendered to the leash. As in he flat out laid face down in the middle of the floor and just gave up. You might imagine the look of confusion/concern on the poor sales associate’s face when I just laughed at him and said, “Life is hard, isn’t it, bud?” When I swiped my credit card to pay for the shoes that were undoubtedly all going to be returned (because they were wides, not extra-wides), part of me wondered if the information from it was going to used to report me to Child Protective Services.

I got my bag and receipt, put Moses on his feet, and let him lead the way to the door. Before picking him up to go back out to the van, I stopped to take a picture of him on his leash to send to my friends.

Here’s the thing, I could’ve walked out of there feeling frustrated and discouraged at the lack of understanding that wide and extra-wide are not the same or at the feeling that I was being judged for having a child on a leash – a child with Down syndrome at that. But what good would that do me? Or Moses? None at all.

So instead I just laughed as we drove right past Target to go home. I laughed at that poor sales associate’s reaction to the whole thing. I laughed at Moses’ reaction to his leash. I laughed at my own reaction to it all.

Life hands us all kinds of ups and downs, and there are some that we can and should be frustrated or discouraged or sad or mad about. But there are so many that we can just shake our heads and laugh at.

I’m thankful for the laugh I got out of that highly unsuccessful trip to the shoe store and the laughs I’ve gotten out of telling others about it. And I hope that maybe that most helpful sales associate saw that a two-year-old child with Down syndrome reacts pretty much just like any two-year-old child does when he doesn’t get his way. I hope that one day she has a two-year-old boy and thinks of us when she thinks of buying a leash for him. And I hope she learns that wide shoes are not the same as extra-wide.

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