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We have some new across-the-street neighbors. Yesterday as I was walking the dogs, their toddler ignored her father's shouts and began stumbling her way across the lawn to reach my poodles. When daddy finally caught up to his little girl -- right by the street, I might add -- I jokingly asked if he needed to borrow one of my leashes. He didn't seem to think that was too funny. Some people can't take a joke.

While we're on the subject, I should mention that I used to think those child leashes were a modern invention. Maybe this is because they are surprisingly controversial. If you want to pick an argument in a room full of mothers, simply start a discussion about bottle feeding, vaccinations, or toddler leashes. Be sure to have an exit strategy planned first, because it's going to get ugly.

But watching Picnic earlier this month belied that belief. One brief shot lampoons the weary mother with two toddlers straining to run in opposite directions. The children are restrained only by, you guessed it, toddler leashes. That film was made in 1955, and the sight gag must have been already an established trope for it to be included as a bit of comic relief. After all, the film's setting is small-town Kansas, hardly the bleeding edge of society.

So just how long have people been tying rope to their children to keep them in tow? A quick Google search tells me that at least as early as the 18th century, children's fashion occasionally included "leading strings," or long cloth straps attached to the shoulders which served a similar purpose as today's toddler leash. Does that mean that a young George Washington was once led around by his father like a standard poodle? I cannot tell a lie: I like to think so.

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To be continued...


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