As those of you with older kids can attest, they survived babyhood without too many battle scars. Maybe a few tenuous moments or close calls, but all-in-all they made it. This was most likely a combination of vigilant parenting, luck, God’s grace and (ugh) babyproofing. Now, I wasn’t there so I don’t know what percentage of your success is attributable to aggressive babyproofing, but the term itself kind of makes me wonder. Think of it’s sister phrases – waterproofing, fireproofing, bulletproofing – all designed to keep bad things out, so when we put all that white plastic crap all over our house and call it babyproofing, something has probably already gone astray.
When my daughters were small we had a pool with no pool fence. The kids fell in a couple of times. It was scary. The first time my youngest daughter fell in, my older daughter who was two years old at the time started screaming at the top of her lungs. I had ‘turned my back for a minute’. Her screaming was the exact response we had worked with her to exhibit. You see, it takes the entire family to manage, well, the entire family. We didn’t install a pool fence after that. The second time my younger daughter fell in was almost funny. It was the middle of winter (so here in southern California we’re talking 60’s) and the pool was COLD. I would say that it was an intentional kind of falling in, because she had a little smirk on her face as she teetered at the edge of the pool, but man oh man, when she hit the water that smile vanished pretty quick. She had been accustomed to a nice 80 degree pool, not the ice bath that awaited her. Needless to say she lasted about one second before performing this strange doggy-paddle-synchronized-swim routine to get to the edge. Naturally the crying began right as we helped her out. I recall shrugging my shoulders, telling her what a bad decision she had made, handing her a towel and getting on with it. I didn’t rush to her crying and carrying on. I didn’t make a big deal about it (because really, that’s what she wanted). We still didn’t install a pool fence.
Childproofing is a billion dollar industry. We start early with this notion of insulating our kids from risk. We think locking the toilet seat will protect them from, well …what, exactly? Have there been a lot of deaths relating to falling in toilets? My dog sometimes drinks out of the toilet, which is gross but if my kid did it couldn’t we kind of count on the fact that it would only happen once? I doubt it tastes good, and the shame of being caught sipping from the porcelain well would probably deter future infractions. If your kid does it, be sure to get a picture – you can use it against them later.
We turn our houses into fortresses – cabinet locks, table edge pads, doorknob thingees that prevent the actual knob from turning, which can reduce a grown man to frustrated tears (he just wants to open the d*amn door and get the paper!). You should see the selection of gadgets. Maybe you have seen them. Maybe you’ve used them. Maybe they’re all over your house right now. Maybe they’re in a box in your attic, ready to hand down when your kids have kids (that makes you an enabler). It actually gets more intense. As if installing the blight of white plastic everywhere isn’t enough, Fisher Price goes even further, recommending a complete remodel of your house – up to and including removing vases, lamps and other decorative items – in the name of safety (read full article/list here and then promise me you’ll comment).
Now I ask you, fellow parents, is all of this really necessary? Remember your childhood? Wasn’t the do-it-once-and-you’ll-never-do-it-again adage kind of sufficient? I for sure never touched the hot stove burner more than once (although I’m still oddly tempted when someone says ‘don’t touch! it’s hot!’); I learned quickly that our busy street was no place for playing after being an annual observer of what my brother calls “Squirrel Suicide Season” (a.k.a. fall in New England – it ain’t pretty on the road for a few months); I never once fell down the stairs, or if I did I don’t remember and if I did I was probably pushed by a sibling. As far as the cabinet locks, that one is easy. If we went in the cabinets and touched my mom’s stuff, she’d bring out the soup ladle. No, she wasn’t making soup, she was making a point. You want babyproofing? It’s simple. Touch the cabinet, there will be a consequence. In the 1970’s it was OK to bludgeon your kid with utensils. I’m still OK with spanking (more on that in the future), but to some of you mamby pamby types – who either through choice or fear of social purgatory once your mommy friends find out – choose not to use physical force, you might try simple eye contact and….wait for it…the word “NO” delivered in a strong voice. It make take several dozen times, but they’ll figure it out eventually.
All-in-all the childproofing thing is a panacea. We all become MORE complacent because of it, relying on a gadget to keep kids safe. How smart is that? First, kids need to experience risk in order to figure out basic concepts like Newton’s Law (you know, action/reaction). They need to learn as early as possible how to deal with hazards. They need to experience a little pain now to avoid a lot of pain later. Look, I won’t lie – I was pretty scared when my kid fell in the pool. The thing is, after it happened she put a little mental check mark next to ‘pool’ in her head and I swear she started playing farther away from the pool after that. It’s common sense which is a God-given gift we all are born with. It also helped that I didn’t go all soap-opera-drama on her after it happened. Slow and steady wins the race.
You guys with your plastic gadgets and fences and gates are quashing your kids’ natural instincts. So go get a big trash bag (don’t worry! the baby won’t put it over her head and suffocate herself!), walk around your house and get rid of all of it. Next, resign yourself to the fact that you will need a supply of band-aids and those cute little furry ice cube covers for their boo-boos, and some patience because now it is entirely up to you – their parent – to properly apply the lessons in life that go along with exploration. The plastic thingees can’t teach them anything, you see, except maybe a false sense of security.