Our friends just posted a video on Facebook of their one-year old son opening their pantry and pulling out a box of Ritz crackers. They think it’s cute and yet more evidence of their son’s genius. I know this because I thought the same thing when Samantha learned such miraculous feats. When they watch the video they see a child prodigy sure to cure cancer by the age of twelve. When I watch the video, I see trouble.
When Samantha became mobile we diligently child-proofed our house. Child proof locks were placed where there were chemicals or sharp things, plastic caps were placed over outlets, and locks were placed on the toilet. However, we kept most of our house accessible for her exploration. Things I didn’t want destroyed were placed up high, otherwise she had free reign to take out whatever she wanted. Pots and pans, brushes and combs, were strewn about the house and I knew (because I read it in a parenting magazine)she was learning about her world and developing motor skills.
Even before Samantha came along, I knew I didn’t want to have one of those houses you have to climb over an obstacle course of baby gates, or have an engineering degree to get a spoon. After all, this was their home too, and I wanted them to feel comfortable in it, to be able to really live in the house.
Things were going just fine. We marveled when she learned to open certain cupboards and difficult drawers. We were duly impressed when she figured out how to push the chairs around the kitchen to reach the counters. Then along came Ella. Two children changed the dynamics in the house.
At first it was another cute development to see Ella learning from her sister to do things at a much younger age (we had another prodigy on our hands, what were the odds?). Ella was opening cupboards and pulling out pots and bowls before she could stand on her own. She learned to walk at ten months. Before she turned one she had learned to push the chairs around the kitchen to reach things on the counter.
This is when the real problems began. She could physically do things, but wasn’t able to understand she shouldn’t do them. She was too young to follow directions well. She didn’t understand a knife was not safe to play with, while a spoon was just fine. She didn’t understand not to pull her chair up to the stove, but other parts of the kitchen were not off limits. She didn’t understand not to push buttons on the microwave. Samantha never did those dangerous things because she couldn’t do them before she had learned the house rules. It was still manageable, however. No need for additional child-proofing. Samantha was fairly well-behaved and I could follow Ella around easily enough to make sure she wasn’t in too much trouble.
Then along came Penelope. I now was occupied changing diapers or feeding the baby and Ella would wander out of my line of sight. I would find her on a chair in the kitchen trying to figure out how to turn on the burners on the stove, or reaching for my good knives (you know, the really sharp ones in the block). She learned to take the plastic covers off the outlets, and I would find her pulling them out and pushing them back in. She learned one of the toilet locks was broken and I would find her throwing things down the toilet (she still can’t flush,luckily). She learned to open the refrigerator and I would find five yogurt tubes squished all over the kitchen. (She can’t open the tubes yet, but has learned if you squeeze hard enough, they pop, leaving at least a little in the tube to eat.)
We started to gradually improve our child-proofing. First, we replaced the outlet covers with the kind that automatically slide locked when not in use. We brought out the baby gate to put up in the doorway of our room to keep the older two out when the baby was sleeping. The refrigerator now has a lock on it. The chairs in the kitchen are stacked after every meal to keep the kids off the counters. Now, the baby gate is moved at nap and bedtime to keep them in their room. Today, I listened to Ella scream for me for fifteen minutes from behind the gate.
My house is no longer an inviting place for them to learn and explore. They kept testing the limits and finally went too far. We are in full lock down. Yogurts everywhere can sleep easier tonight.