Tuesday, 07 January 2014
A Dad's View 2: The need to babyproof
Our resident new dad Tom Dunmore discovers there's more to life than padlocking kitchen cupboards and safeguarding the DVD player
My friend Sam is a baby sceptic. When I return to work after paternity leave, he forces a smile and then avoids all contact for weeks. He finally asks me how things are, but wilts the moment I mention my new daughter.
I suddenly feel like a terrible baby-bore. Soon after, Sam tells me that he is having his house professionally baby-proofed. I assume he is installing a drawbridge and triple-glazing to stop other people's screaming kids from shattering his tranquility. But no: he's telling me, in a roundabout way, that his girlfriend is pregnant – and they've hired a consultant to pad their home's sharp corners and plug the power outlets.
I suppose that Sam is being obstinate – unwilling to give up the life he loves, he's wrapping his possessions in cotton wool so he can come back to them after 18 years of messiness.
Nevertheless, Sam's response to parenthood strikes me as bizarre – I get the nursery-painting, buggy-buying and tearful farewells to the local pub, but it takes an unhealthy amount of forethought to barricade the stairs before the baby's born.
My baby, Ava, who's just a few months old, is a sleepy bundle of sweet-smelling joy. Why would you need to 'proof' anything against this harmless little creature, when her main hobby is to gurgle benignly on the floor?
Then it all changes: I find Ava not lying on her back; she's on her belly, attempting to
crawl towards my teetering CD racks.
I look around the room with fearful eyes and see exposed power sockets; a coffee table with razorsharp corners; three delicate sculptures; a TV perched on a stack of technology; and a huge iMac on a desk, with wires hanging tantalisingly. Worse, I realise that my commitment to Japanese-style, low-level living means I have no storage space above ground level to hide this stuff. Ava is surely doomed.
I think about calling Sam. But then I realise I'm becoming the epitome of an over-protective parent. Humans have survived for 200,000 years without the need for babyproofing – and while we may have more stuff these days, I'm sure it's not as sharp as it used to be.
So, I make a decision: I'm not going to baby-proof my world. Rather than removing all dangerous objects, I'll teach Ava to respect them. Rather than protecting her from life, I'll encourage her to embrace it.
The results are good: after a few weeks of guidance, and a couple of minor accidents, Ava knows not to pull on cables, touch the oven, or throw my phone on the floor.
My commitment wavers only once: there's nothing more likely to shake you out of smug complacency than the sound of soft baby flesh bouncing down stairs. Installing safety gates isn't enough: you actually need to close them.
Remarkably, Ava is unscathed after falling down the stairs – but I am traumatised. Which pretty much sums up baby-proofing to me: it's more about protecting us parents than our babies. Protecting us from our own over-active imaginations.
Whatever we do, accidents, mishaps and breakages will happen. Sam can try to hide behind his professional baby-proofing – but I plan to embrace the chaos.