I love my kids, I really do. Despite the whining and kvetching (mine, not theirs), in general we make a pretty good go of things. For instance, I can count on one hand the number of times I seriously considered chucking it all and doing something easier with my life -- like raising piranhas, competing in the Iditarod or serving as Barbra Streisand's personal assistant.
And part of love, I know, is keeping them safe. That means saying "no" to requests to jump off the roof into the wading pool. Denying permission to play with Daddy's electric razor in the bathtub. And, of course, putting my foot down the second they look like they might start moving quickly while holding a pair of scissors in their chubby fists.
I keep the knives out of reach. I wrap the cords of the lamps around the table legs so exploring hands can't pull them down. I haven't worn earrings for months, for fear my baby girl would accidentally pull one out of my lobe and swallow it. I cut hot dogs into pieces so small my son practically needs a straw to eat with.
But despite the fact that both my kids have survived without a broken bone, a stitch or a near-death experience, I'm still failing miserably in the safety department. It took an expert to clue me in. As we'd just moved to a new house and Kinsey is becoming ambulatory, we called a childproofing expert from the Yellow Pages to install a couple of gates at the tops of our staircases. Little did we know we'd be opening our home to the kind of scrutiny I hadn't seen since my mother-in-law met me for the first time.
Room by room, the Safety Guy went through our humble (and hazard-prone) home. He raised his eyebrows at the unlatched kitchen cabinets. He shook his head when he noticed our entertainment unit (so large it took two moving men to get it into the house) wasn't tethered to the wall. He nearly screamed when he saw that our electrical outlets were filled with plastic plugs. "Those are a choking hazard!" he gulped, eyes bulging. He made some notes on his clipboard and moved on to the bedrooms, my husband and me trailing in his wake, heads down.
I tried not to feel bad, but I couldn't help questioning my competency as a mother. How could I have missed the danger posed by the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room? How could I have closed my eyes at night, knowing the toaster was plugged in? How could I have overlooked the Venetian blind cords, dangling temptingly a few feet above floor level?
Six hours and $1,000 later, we had our gates. We also had Venetian blind cord brackets, new outlet plates, a latch on the laundry room door, a kitchen and bathroom full of drawer- and cabinet-locks, a fire escape ladder, two carbon monoxide detectors, a tethered bookcase, and a deck draped in black plastic mesh so it resembled something created by Christo.
"These gates will be terrific," said the Safety Guy as he packed up his tools. "They'll help with your son, too. It'll keep him out of places he shouldn't be. Think of it as buying peace of mind. No cost is too great for your children's well-being."
As the Safety Van disappeared down the road, I headed upstairs, struggling a bit with the newness of unlocking and locking the gate at the top of the staircase. As I moved down the hall, something glinting on the rug caught my eye. It was? a screw. Puzzled, I turned to toss it in the bathroom trash. There on the bathmat I found several other screws. In fact, throughout the house, I found a handful of screws, brackets and other paraphernalia left over from the Safety Guy's visit.
"I'll take them, Mama," said my 3 year old. Before I could reply, he grabbed them from my hand and trotted downstairs, deftly unlocking the safety gate and passing through unhindered.
After bathing and bedding down the kids, I lay back in my own bed. But instead of drifting off, my mind buzzed and hopped like a Teletubby on caffeine. What if I missed one of the screws on the floor? What if I missed a piece of wire or a nail in the baby's bed? I sighed, turned on the light and headed downstairs to grab the Dustbuster.
So much for buying peace of mind.