Parenting to the Max: An old man's guide
WASHINGTON -- Like all conscientious parents, my wife and I childproofed our home when the kids were little. Of course, the standards for conscientiousness were different back then. Childproofing mainly consisted of keeping an eye on the little ones and yelling at them when necessary: "DROP THAT CAT POOP RIGHT NOW, YOUNG LADY!" "STOP SUCKING ON THE WALL SOCKET!" And so forth.
I remember what happened once when my two children and their pal Robby were playing in the backyard: They'd evidently visited the tool shed, because when we looked up they were marching in a cute three-kid parade, proudly waving foraged valuables. Robby, 6, had a trowel. Molly, 6, had a nozzle from a garden hose. Danny, 3, had a pickax.
Part of childproofing back then was figuring out which doors to keep closed, and you gained that knowledge from experience. Our friends Mark and Vicky learned to keep the door to their basement closed after being interrupted during dinner by a certain discomfiting sound: "Bump. Bump. Bump. Bump-bump-bump-bumpbumpbumpbumpTHUD," which turned out to be little James, 1 1/2, traveling downstairs in his walker and slamming face-first into a wall.
After the requisite weeping subsided, James proposed doing it again.
I've been thinking about all this recently, after spending a few days helping Molly take care of her son -- my grandson -- Max. Max is 14 months old and, more to the point, a boy. Molly avails herself of all modern babyproofing technology in an uphill effort to keep Max alive and un-maimed.
"Molly, what is this?"
"A toilet lock."
"What does it do?"
"It locks the toilet."
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Yes, it turns out that to a modern 1-year-old boy, a toilet is basically a sink, but one that you can access all by yourself. Until the acquisition of the toilet lock, Molly says, Max would particularly cherish his big-boy "splashy times." When the toilet is in use, a toilet lock just sits there, dangly, attached to the seat. It feels like a tarantula is crawling up your thigh. (Toilet locks also prevent finger crushings, which occur when someone who is less than three feet tall attempts to lift the toilet seat, which can't get vertical enough to sustain its verticality unsupported, meaning it comes crashing down on little fingers engaged in splashy times.)
Max sleeps in a dungeon, like the one in "The Silence of the Lambs." It is actually just a crib, but Molly has adjusted the floor to its lowest possible level because Max has the climbing skills of a Sherpa. (Even unadjusted, this is better than the design from Molly's babyhood, when you could still find a crib with ladderlike horizontal bars, which encouraged Olympic-style headfirst platform dives onto the floor.)
Molly has locks over the wall outlets and the stove knobs, and rubber baby buggy bumpers on the corners of all pieces of furniture, and all the chests of drawers are secured to the walls so Max can't pull them down on himself while mounting a one-baby expeditionary force to scale them like K2, and Molly has little self-winding spools that take up the slack on venetian blind cords so that Max can't turn a window sash into a medieval gibbet. Molly has hidden the diaper pail, because it had been Max's favorite secret depository for scavenged items such as watches, glasses, keys, wallets and such, which was particularly problematic since it is a place unlikely to be searched very thoroughly prior to disposal. Shoes are not left on the floor because Max likes to eat shoes.
After three days of this, I was getting the hang of it. I was remembering to lock the toilet after every use, for example, and hiding my shoes, and such.
I was feeling like a modern, competent, with-it baby caretaker, which is when Molly looked up from her computer and said, "Your T-shirt is tucked into your underpants, Grandpa."
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.
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