Monday, September 3, 2012

How to Baby-Proof, or You Can't Baby-Proof a Three-Year-Old

You would think baby-proofing would get easier the more kids you have, because you already know what needs doing. You would be wrong. It's harder. Much harder.

When you have your first baby, and that first baby shows signs of crawling and exploring and putting everything in his mouth and pushing the buttons on the Xbox and stealing things out of your pantry and flushing things down the toilet, you go around and remove or prevent access to anything he shouldn't have. You might start off with a few baby gates, some closed doors, and a Play Yard fence. A few cabinet locks in the kitchen, some silicone doohickies to protect his (extremely hard) head from the (pointy) coffee table corners, and make sure you don't leave any pennies on the floor.

When NJ became a mobile baby, this was pretty much what we had. Our floorplan was such that there were two doorways to the kitchen, which meant we could simply put a pressure gate on each side to keep him out and safe from hot splattering oil. We put a gate at the top and bottom of the stairs. We put a fence around the TV and the cat litter boxes. And we kept the bathroom doors closed until he figured out (and could reach) the doorknobs. Then we got covers for the doorknobs. Then he actually needed to be able to get into the bathrooms but was old enough to know not to play in the toilet or unroll the toilet paper, so we took the thingies off the doorknobs and opened the bathroom doors.

And then SB was born. Since NJ was only two when SB was born, a lot of the house was still baby-proofed - gates were still up, cupboards were still locked, and NJ didn't have any toys that weren't for the under-three crowd (like, say, Legos). And he wasn't interested in money, so there weren't random coins lying around.

We moved into a new house when SB was almost two, and by then we didn't need anything baby-proofed, because four-year-old NJ and two-year-old SB were smart enough not to kill themselves. We may have had a few outlet covers, but nothing else. Nothing. And then NJ and SB got things like Legos and money.

And then we had GI.

For six months, GI was a stationary, lump-like being who was easy to keep safe. And then one day he figured out how to crawl and get all up in his brothers' business.

And then he fell down the stairs. Well, four steps, and they're carpeted, but it still scared me. A lot.

So we put a gate at the top of the stairs. And we had been practicing with NJ and SB for months not to play with Legos in the living room. When we moved in, we made the garage into a playroom for them, not that they play in there very often, and I made a rule when GI was about four months old that they could only play with Legos in the garage. We would make the garage their place, and GI wouldn't be allowed to go in there, and thus he would be safe from their big boy toys.

Only, they don't play in the garage. And lots of interesting choking hazards make their way into the living room. Like, for example, when GI found a bit of a popped balloon. Sigh.

And they have to remember to close the gate at the top of the stairs, but only if GI is upstairs and free, because the cats can't jump the gate (well, one of them can't), and their food and water and litter boxes are in the spare bedroom. Oh yeah, and don't forget to close the spare bedroom door when GI is upstairs and free, because litter boxes ≠ sand boxes, and cat food should really stay in the bowls, not be scattered all over the floor. But don't forget to open it again when he's no longer free to get in there or the cats won't be able to eat or poo. And keep the bathroom doors closed! I hate finding half the toilet paper unrolled, or, worse, GI happily splashing in the toilet.

And the kitchen. He LOVES the kitchen. And if we gate the kitchen, we can't open one of the cupboards, and the older boys can't get to the garage (which is accessible only through the kitchen). I must have had a burst of inspiration when I put the kids' plastic bowls and plates and cups in a bottom drawer near the sink, because GI has a blast opening up that drawer and taking everything out. At least it's safe stuff! We did have to put a child lock on the pantry, because he kept finding glass bottles to bang against the tile floor. But then SB couldn't open the pantry to get to his snacks at snack time. This is the catch-22 of baby-proofing, when you want to keep the baby out but not the preschooler!

And don't forget to close the bathroom door!

And pick up that penny.

And throw away your string cheese wrapper.

Don't you want to play with your Legos? In the garage.

I do have an excellent piece of baby-proofing advice, though, so this post doesn't become a total waste. Follow the baby's lead. See what he finds interesting, decide if it can be made safe, must be made off limits, or is perfectly fine, and adjust accordingly. I personally don't mind if he pulls the DVDs off the shelf, but if you do, move them up to a shelf he can't reach, or put a fence or gate in front of them. We decided we really didn't want him banging on the TV screen (really? Why not?), so I put a Play Yard fence in front of the TV. I hate this fence with a passion, but it protects both GI and the TV. And it's definitely better for things to be out of sight than just out of reach, because a frustrated baby will (a) scream a lot because he wants it, and (b) will probably try to find a way to get to it.

And then, suddenly, they're not babies anymore, and you can take the gates down.

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