My daughter has recently gotten the hang of walking. She has also discovered a new hobby: climbing onto stuff. If that sounds like a volatile combination, then you’re right. It is. So, a rant about toddler safety.
My daughter’s playing with her rocking chair. It’s a curved affair on a heavy foot. My little Wonder Woman is standing behind it and has managed to lift the back off the ground.
I’m next to her, ready to grab her if she starts doing really stupid stuff. ‘Young lady, be careful that you-‘
My daughter slips. She falls; the back of her head bounces off the glass wall behind her. The chair bangs to the ground and a tiny toddler head slams forward into the back of the chair.
A moment of shocked silence. I cringe then grab her. She starts to scream. Blood streams from her mouth. I quickly check for broken teeth. All six are still there. I sigh in relief, hug her, and carry the mewling toddler to the kitchen to put a wet cloth against her split lip.
In my opinion, taking care of a toddler is a lot more fun than taking care of a newborn baby. There’s some actual interaction going on. When my daughter was a few weeks old, it was all ‘change baby’, ‘feed baby’, rinse and repeat, with no feedback. Now, she brings me toys, crawls on my lap to read, and wants a hug now and then.
Unfortunately, a toddler also likes to explore. And they’re bloody mobile. My daughter’s like a cross between an octopus, a tank, and an Assassin’s Creed assassin. She’s got a gazillion arms, rams through everything, and uses our living room for parcours.
She has no concept of danger yet. I would hesitate before using a rickety chair half my own height to climb onto a table that’s more than my own height. My daughter doesn’t hesitate for a second.
No two people are the same, of course, and neither are two toddlers, but from what I hear, each is challenging in their own way. And they’re all too curious for their own good.
The battle without end
‘I think this should do it,’ I tell my wife. I’ve secured the bookcases against the wall, replaced the open TV cabinet by one with glass doors, and put safeties in all the power outlets.
Before my wife can respond, we see our tiny girl moving on the floor next to her playpen. She puts her head against the floor sideways, and pushes herself forward. It allows her to slide under the floorboard of her playpen.
‘Okay…?’ I say. ‘That’s new.’
My wife and I watch as our toddler starts playing. Then she reaches out and grabs the internet cable, which I’d neatly hidden out of sight below her playpen.
In the world of software, there’s a constant battle between security people on one side, and hackers on the other. Neither side can completely overpower the other, you can only hope for a temporary stand-still. Keeping your toddler safe feels like that.
At first, a baby can only wave its arms and legs. That’s easy to manage. After a few months, they can turn themselves over. No big deal yet. Then they start to crawl and you enter the danger zone.
Now she’s walking and we are so screwed.
When you think you’ve baby-proofed your house, let a toddler in and count your failures. It’s incredible how much self-discipline we adults have subconsciously developed over our lifetime. We don’t pull books out of bookcases at random. We don’t put our fingers into power outlets. We don’t open other people’s cupboards or cabinets. Toddlers have no such boundaries.
I remember visiting friends who were expecting their first, a few months back. There was toddler-danger everywhere, which they quickly realized when we set our daughter loose. A few months later, we came to visit the newborn baby. The house had undergone a number of baby-proofing changes. Still, in short order our daughter had taken several hurdles and managed to unearth a foot-long Lord of the Rings Elven dagger. A sharp one.
So, endless war. And every time you think you’re done, they develop a new skill for messing up your plan – and their own safety.
I’m playing with my daughter in the living room. She’s running around with her stuffed duck toy, squealing with joy. I’m chasing her. She rushes to the wall and sits down against it. I stop for a moment, catching my breath.
But no, no, there is no rest for the wicked. Her-majesty must have all the attention all the time. Luckily, there’s a power outlet next to her. She looks at me, mischief in her her eyes, then stretches her hand toward the outlet.
‘No!’ I say firmly. ‘You know the power outlet is off limits.’
A single finger stretches out and touches the outlet, accompanied by laughter.
There’s a safety of course, but we think it’s good form to teach a child not to put her fingers in a power outlet, ever.
Unfortunately, our teachings have turned the outlets into the most alluring things on the planet.
Teaching a toddler anything is like drilling a nail into a wall with your bare hands. You can do it, but it requires a lot of repetitive, frustrating effort.
It must be done, of course. And I don’t kid myself into thinking our case is unique. Raising a child is work, and frustrating at first, but you have to do it. And we’re getting there. Slowly. She doesn’t immediately stuff everything you give her into her mouth any more, and she is starting to understand the concept of not touching the speakers next to the TV.
It does make you think, though: how did the human race make it this far? How did cavemen stop their children from eating poison berries, or petting sabre-tooth tigers, or falling off cliffs? Apparently we did, because we’re still here.
Toddlers are nice, but they do test your stuff-securing skills to the limit. And beyond. But eventually, she will learn, and join us responsible adults in a world where we don’t electrocute ourselves.
Well, most of us don’t, most of the time.