A few weeks ago, BE and I had our second Big Night Out since LE was born, which was a dear friend's 30th birthday party. Most of your non-baby friends fade away post-partum, but she and I keep in touch even though we don't hang out much anymore. As her boyfriend pointed out that night, most friendships are as much a matter of circumstance as anything else, and he's absolutely right. So I do appreciate those among my baby-less friends who are still around.
A guy at her party asked if stay-at-home motherhood was all that he'd dreamed of for stay-at-home fatherhood, which involved setting the kid down to play while he sat in front of Playstation all day. I said he could probably do this in the first few months since he wouldn't be breastfeeding and the baby doesn't go anywhere, though he would probably get good at one-handed Playstation just as I've gotten good at one-handed everything else. After that, I told him, if he valued his Playstation, he would have to find a way to play it with the console and controllers in a place where the baby couldn't reach them while somehow convincing the baby that he was paying attention to him or her. I think it spoiled the fantasy for him.
The fact is, there are two levels of baby-proofing. The first level is obvious-- the baby's safety. You put away in locked cupboards or in high places everything sharp or caustic or which can be choked on. I spent hours screwing those little baby-proof latches into our lower cupboards and drawers. A sub-level of safety is protecting the baby from eating or playing with things which are disgusting, so you start closing the toilet and keeping an eye on the baby when he's near the trash can. Naturally those are the only places the baby wants to explore. I'm proud to say the worst thing LE has tasted from the trash was a coffee grounds-covered apple core, and he did manage to score some pee tissue from the toilet but I caught him before he could do much with it. In both cases he was mad as hell when I took them away. Oh, and he eats dirt. It's really funny when he eats dirt because he immediately recognises it as un-yummy and comes to me with his mouth open and bits of dirt hanging off his lips, waiting for me to wipe it away.
The second level of baby-proofing is damage control, meaning you deal with it as it happens. The damage, I mean. Anything you like or that's valuable is what the baby wants. It's easy to keep things like remote controls and cell phones out of reach, but hard to remember to do so. You can be sure these are things the baby wants most, and will snag them the first chance he gets. And when a baby gets a hold of something, he will invariably, after tasting it, throw it or whack it or put it somewhere you may never find it again. On some of LE's toys, the package reminds me that babies don't know what can hurt them, and so they require constant supervision. But most packages fail to remind the consumer that the baby doesn't know how much the cell phone costs, or that getting the remote control repaired took about 4 months last time because the repairman, rather than telling us he didn't know how to fix it, kept telling us it worked.
LE, in his favor, has at least started pointing the remote control at the TV for awhile before bouncing it off the credenza so it falls behind it, meaning at least I have a chance to get to it first. After his morning diaper change he makes a beeline for the nightstand where my cell phone is (regular wee-hours power cuts make it advisable to use a cell phone as an alarm clock, or in my case, to see if LE has decided it's time to play at 5am or at 2am), but it's a lovable quality of his that he bounces it on the bed a few times than politely hands it to me without a big Mommy's-taking-something-great-from-me tantrum.
A sub-level of damage control is mess control. For example, there is nothing dangerous in our cupboard where the open bags of rice and beans and lentils are, but you can be sure that cupboard is locked because I don't want to always be cleaning up rice and beans and lentils (I guess they're a choking hazard as well, but the thought of the mess is what made me put the lock on). For awhile, I tried to keep LE away from the DVD shelf because I didn't want to put the DVDs away 10 times a day, but eventually I just moved the DVDs in cellophane cases to an out-of-reach place, let him bash the ones in plastic cases to his heart's delight, and just put them away in the evening after he was in bed. Naturally, he lost interest in he DVDs about two days later and decided coasters were the best thing in the world. Specifically, throwing the coasters onto the shelf again and again and again. The shelf is all dinged up, but I figure that over the next few years he's going to make short work of our furniture anyway, so why bother?
But that's another problem of damage control. Once you allow the kid to have something formerly forbidden, he's sure to lose interest. LE could care less about the dead cell phone a friend gave him. I gave him some empty CD cases to smash together, but eventually had to take them away because all they did was get cracked when LE crawled over them in his haste to get to, say, the toilet brush. When LE first crawled it was because he wanted a tub of lotion he'd knocked onto the floor. As a reward for learning how to crawl, I gave him the tub of lotion since it was nearly empty anyway, but now all he wants is the full tub of lotion.
Damage control is an evolving process, one that continues as the kid starts pulling up on things, and grows taller and more dexterous. I've always whined about how low our countertops are (presumably designed for the average five foot two Turkish woman) because they come to the tops of my legs and I get a backache from them. Now BE doesn't like them either because LE can reach stuff from them, so we're just now getting in the habit of pushing knives to the back. I still have to complain regularly about why anyone would design kitchen counters so that a one-year-old baby can reach them. He 's a taller than average one-year-old baby, but still. And it's always funny at our weekly playgroup to watch the moms, as if on autopilot, baby-proof the area according to their own kids. LE is tricky though. I swear the boy has a big boxing career ahead of him because he has an amazing reach. He's super fast, and somehow reaches places that are a few inches more than his arm length appears to be. His arms are like a chameleon's tongue snapping up flies. Last week at playgroup, LE came over to the table where we were having coffee. The trays of ceramic cups containing hot coffee were already pushed several inches away from the edge of the table and bam, he gets his fingers into a cup. He didn't pull the cup down, thank goodness, just got his fingers in there and was surprised. So we pushed all the trays and plates even more towards the center, and a few minutes later he came to me with his mouth open so I would remove some bits of apple core dangling from his lips. He'd managed not only to snake the apple core from a plate as far away from him as twice the length of his arm, but he'd done it with no one seeing him. And with 4 kids under the age of two in this group, plus two visiting grandparents, this is an attentive group of people. These are people who can say, "Elif, put the fork down and take LE's had out of the plant," without even turning their heads to see what the kids are up to.
The grandfather at this playgroup was watching me move cups and glasses and remote controls as LE was crawling down the hall towards the living room (his granddaughter, L, is 22 months, so her baby-proofing is less intense), and he said, "I used to watch L and think to myself what a destructive child she was, but after these get-togethers I see they're all like that." I pointed out that LE is in fact even more destructive than L ever was, as her mother has always kept books on the bottom shelves and the worst L has ever done is pull them all out. LE likes to destroy books. He holds them by the covers and shakes them, or just starts ripping out the pages one by one and eating small pieces. For awhile I shuddered to think that this boded a future disdain for literature coupled with pronounced athleticism. But he's getting better. In the last couple of months he's been more interested in looking at books and having them read to him (though he only gets to have his board books). After hearing Pat The Bunny only 3 times, he started patting the bunny, and being So Big, and playing peek-a-boo with Paul. I was very impressed and enjoy bragging about this. The best part is that now, when he wakes at some ungodly hour of the morning, I can give him his board books in his crib and a lot of the time, sneak in as much as a half hour of sleep while he sits and turns the pages quietly. He doesn't shake them by their covers anymore (though he's still intent on killing a copy of Crime And Punishment. In his defense I've started and put it down several times, once when I was halfway through. I'm lazy about Russian authors, and the book is appealingly brittle to LE). The worst thing that can happen is that a board book thrown from the crib will nail me in the head.
Pat the Bunny is made of cardboard, but it's not quite as hardy as a board book. This morning, LE was up before 6, and neither The Very Busy Spider nor The Very Hungry Caterpillar captured his interest for any longer than it took to chuck them out of the crib. So I gave him Pat the Bunny, hoped for the best, and dozed off. I woke up a little later to see him sitting nicely in his crib, playing peek-a-boo with Paul and waving bye-bye.
So maybe there's hope after all.