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Leading from Behind

"Bear right, go to the door, and stop."  My seventeen month old and I were boarding an airplane to go to Las Cruces for a friend's daughter's high school graduation.  Number Three, wandered up to the door of the boarding ramp, and stopped.  The passengers behind me looked from me to the kid, and back.  Then looked again.  The attendant giggled, waved at Three, checked my boarding pass, and waved us down the ramp.  Off we went.

I figured I would try our our walking directions routine on this trip since we were flying sans the rest of the family.  Three did phenomenally well.  As we walked down the ramp, I beamed on the inside, but played it cool.  I'd like to take credit for the whole thing, but honestly, I had very little to do with Three's instruction following ability. She learned it from her sibs our five and three year-olds, Number One and Number Two respectively.

I'd started the whole thing with Number One.  With her, it'd taken a bit more work, a bit of smiley-faced ambivalence to the complete and utter confusion of others, as well as a complete and utter lack of inhibition on my part.

All our kids have been attachment parented.  For the uninitiated, there are different flavors of attachment parenting, but the basic idea is that the kid is literally attached to you most of the time. There are almost as many goals for attachment parenting as there are styles of doing it, but the one I hoped for was more independent kids.

And... It actually worked.    I was as surprised as anyone that keeping a kid nearby at all times would ever inspire them to wander off independently, but it worked.  My wife, and I were both graduate students when One was a toddler, so we ate a lot of lunches on campus quadrangles.  Sure enough, starting at about 14 months old, our first kid would wander off to explore the area, stopping to look at the grass, bugs, and other students as she went.  She'd get about 50 yards off before she'd think of coming back to us.

At some point during all of this, it occurred to me that her independence could be a huge boon to convenience in general.  If I could teach her left, right, stop, and U-turn I could keep the kid in front of me, always know where she was, and free both hands up for things like grocery shopping.

Consequently, grocery shopping is where it all started.  I'd set the kid on the ground, and let her wander off ahead of me.  When I needed her to stop, I'd say "Stop."  If she didn't, I'd catch her from behind, lift her up, grin at her, say "Stop" again, and set her back down.  I went through similar gyrations for left, right, and U-turn.  Before long we were off, and running... literally.

Our grocery store at the time was so large that I could let little Number One get 20 yards out in front of me checking out everything she wanted.  When I needed her back, I'd just shout "U-Turn!!!"  She'd come back, I'd direct her down the aisle I wanted, (being careful to reverse left, and right if she was headed towards me), and off we'd go again.

Which brings us to the shouting.  I found I had to be a bit of an extrovert, and/or ambivalent to the occasionally disturbed shoppers near me.  One year olds, at least my one year old, have much better hearing than I do.  Thank goodness, because I didn't have to scream to pull all of this off, but twenty yards is twenty yards, so I did have to be loud.

The more timid among the store's shoppers who hadn't noticed the small kid cruising by them in the first place, occasionally assumed my barked commands were meant for them.  "Me?  You want me to U-Turn??" their perplexed, and slightly frightened looks seemed to say as their heads jerked up from their shopping baskets.

A simple "No, no, that's not it at all!  Not you, the kid down there who's walking back to me now.  Not you.  Sorry about that!" fixed the issue easily enough though.

Our grocery store was a bit of a warren, so over time, I was able to throw in bear-left, and bear-right for the diagonal paths, and the rest is history.  Number two picked things up just a bit quicker than Number One, and as I said, Number Three picked things up organically.

I'd only throw in one more warning to those that want to lead from behind, not everyone thinks that kids should be given so much reign.  To this day, I get looks from parents, (and once a close relative), who know that giving kids so much free reign must be wrong.  They're more than balanced out by the amused gazes from others though, and like I said, maybe don't try this if public attention isn't your thing.


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