Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Babyproofing, part 1

Where is too much when it comes to babyproofing? Or, in a seriously related note, where is not enough when it comes to babyproofing?

My father and I spent about four hours today, shopping for baby gates before realizing that I had the best one for my particular staircase situation, then getting it set up so that it's ready to be installed. I had bought this gate from a website, child-safety-gates.com, a couple of weeks ago and realized that I didn't really know how to put it together. Plus, my father didn't think that it was the right size, etc., etc. It turns out that it was the right size; I just didn't have the proper attachment materials to hook the gate up to the wrought iron railings that are on both sides of the staircase.

We live in a bilevel house, so the whole staircase thing is a big issue. I know that we need a gate on the stairs for a while, particularly until our last child - be it #2 or #3 - is old enough to know how not to fall down the steps. That's not a big deal. But, when is enough enough when it comes to babyproofing?

We've got a big thing of outlet covers. That's fine. We moved the plastic bags out of the kitchen and put them in a downstairs closet, where The Boy doesn't go; we plan to decorate that drawer in the kitchen (that formerly held plastic bags) with stickers and things for The Boy. We'll keep pots and pans and toys and things in there for him to play with. With some luck, that will keep him occupied while he's in the kitchen, particularly if we're smart enough to keep rotating the toys so that there is something new and fun in there most of the time. If he knows that there is a fun place in the kitchen, then he is less likely to play "drink what's under the sink."

I'm debating about starting to use the skull danger symbol around the house. I read a great magazine article last summer about a method that one family uses: they put big skull stickers on things that the young child is not supposed to touch - drain cleaner, bleach/detergent-soaps and other stuff in the cabinets. Apparently - and this is true - kids can recognize pictures and symbols fairly quickly, and if you teach them that a particular symbol means BAD, then they will avoid that sticker. It works for that family, and it might work for mine.

The question, I guess, is: "Am I willing to risk my son's life on that?" I can't answer it, right now. He's still little enough that he never leaves our sight for a second, unless he's in a crib or playpen, or asleep in bed (and wedged it with pillows). We don't put him down in the kitchen and walk away for any length of time, although I am guilty of putting him down in the center of the family room and running the bathroom / laundry room / bedroom / etc. to pick up an item / mail / newspaper / whatever. I've probably been a little more cavalier about some things than many first-time parents.

I wonder if that's bad. So far, it isn't - I have a beautiful, healthy, intelligent baby boy. He's fallen twice with me, and been fine both times - scared the crap out of both of us, but no damage. I throw him around a little more often than my wife's comfortable with (not seriously, folks - maybe a few inches in the air from my hands, and I "drop" him onto my bed from about three inches off of the matress), but that seems to be a dad thing. I just don't want to do any lasting harm.

I also don't want to get carried away. I refuse to put foam bumpers on every corner, rebuild / reconfigure kitchen stovetops to avoid hots, and similar nutso things. It just doesn't make sense to me. The Boy once grabbed at a mug of hot coffee that I was carrying. He touched the side of the mug, which was boiling-hot, and burned his fingers. It wasn't even a first degree burn, but it scared him into screaming. As cruel as it seems to say, it wasn't a bad thing that he "hurt" himself like that - he has not grabbed at a coffee mug since then. Learning "hot" is a quick and lifelong lesson that all of us must learn.

(Okay - I'm not going to leave pot handles, with boiling water, hanging out from the edge of the stove. I'm not stupid or cruel, and I don't want my son to look like Two-Face. But, by the same token, the single best way to learn to avoid touching a hot stove is to touch a hot stove.)

I feel that some lessons need to be learned the hard way. The Boy needs to learn not to touch hot things; not to grab sharp things; not to run into corners of tables. I'm not going to teach him about electricity by letting him play with power cords; nor am I going to teach him about bad chemicals by letting him under the kitchen sink (even though all of the really fatal stuff is locked in the Comic Book Room behind the garage - which is so thick with storage that it's difficult for me to get to, much less a not-able-to-walk little guy) or about avoiding other people's meds by letting him play with my various forms of prescription medication (even though my medication is relatively mild in that regard; if he swallowed every pill I currently have, he'd be relatively fine. It's all allergy stuff and mild steroids - all of the real liver-busting crap takes years to do damage).

Does this make sense?

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