Monday, April 29, 2013

Extreme Home Makeover: Baby Edition

For those planning to have kids, pause for a moment to really take in your home as it looks now. Sweep a glance across your living room, taking in each of your carefully selected, carefully coordinated decorative touches. That Pier 1 potpourri pot, those Kate Spade frames you got off your bridal registry, those various candles about which your husband constantly complains because you won’t let him light them.

Take in your uncluttered kitchen, the counters serving their intended purposes of storing well-used small appliances and serving as space for food prep. (OK, uncluttered may have been a bit of a stretch in my pre-kids house, but work with me here.) Enjoy your quiet moments in your recently renovated bathroom, with those granite-topped, glass-doored vanities you were so proud to discover on clearance and that new storage unit in the center of the room with the Asian-themed knick knacks.

Walk casually and capriciously across your empty hardwood floors, marveling at how shiny they still look even a few years after having them redone. Enjoy the newly painted white trim around your doorways and flooring.

Take it all in. Cherish it. Commit it to memory. Because soon, your home as you know it will soon be just that – a warm memory. The decorations and knick knacks will be gathering dust in boxes in your closet, those vanities will be chained up with various pieces of plastic that even you struggle to open, and the endless onslaught of cars and push toys will quickly weather all wood in the house.

Once the baby (or in our case, babies) comes, your whole world will change, including your physical one. Over the last 19-plus months, our house has essentially been in a state of constant evolution, or devolution, depending on how you look at it.

It began with shifts in our kitchen and living room. Our counters were invaded by an entire colony of feeding apparatus that seemed to breed and multiply as the months wore on. A migratory breast pump took up residence in various nooks throughout the house. The freezer shunned frozen veggies in favor of frozen bags of breast milk. The stove became a forgotten, neglected entity, thrown over for the ease of the microwave and take-out food.

The couches, once lazy lounge areas, became supreme multi-taskers. Changing areas, Boppy-centrals, nap spots, you name it. For the first few months, they were even our beds, as the boys weren’t too keen on sleeping anywhere but Mommy’s and Daddy’s chests. Their appearance seemed to morph as well, as they tended to be shrouded in blankets thick and thin, sleepsacks, spare clothes, diapers, pillows, and the like, items that we would have taken time to put away more frequently if we could have only slept for more than 90 minutes at a time.

As the boys began to become more alert, the alterations spread to the basement, the rec area appropriated for playroom No. 1. The ping pong table was relegated to the garage, replaced with the Superstar Step N’ Play Piano and a couple of Jumperoos.

But all of this was, pun intended, child’s play. Once they became mobile, the house began to change at breakneck speed. Take two very active, very curious boys, and you take babyproofing to a whole new level. I am truly starting to think I should start a new business in which I take my wild men to the homes of new and/or prospective parents and let them loose to help demonstrate everything in their houses that needs babyproofing. For example, I’d never thought I’d have to worry about floor vents until Dimples kept pulling them out at a girlfriend’s house.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You may be one of the lucky ones who barely needs to mention the word babyproofing. Every time I visit my niece (22 months) and nephew (almost 4), I make a mental catalogue of everything that would never, could never exist in our house, at least not anymore: the mini-wine rack, the entertainment center with open access, the kitchen cabinets that have nary a latch, which never ceases to thrill the boys.

But for all of those like my niece, I’ve heard far more stories about those like my boys, and some much more creative and frightening. My favorite remains the twins tale from one of the nurses at our pediatrician’s office: in the few moments she took to go to the bathroom, they managed to climb up to and hang from a lighting fixture.

For us, babyproofing has become a series of Macgyver-esque challenges, requiring strange and inventive solutions. To that end, I thought I’d share some of what we’ve learned and what’s worked for us in hopes that it might help others.

1.       If you’re going to paint anything, do it now, and be prepared for that paint job to take a beating.

As I look around my kitchen, I’m sometimes appalled by how beat up my cabinets look. There’s actually one spot on a drawer that looks as if my dog went to town. Yeah, not the dog. A teething Dimples. The doorjambs and trim throughout the house have been battered by various push toys, cars, Swiffer handles, you name it. I just keep reminding myself, it’s only temporary and try to envision what it will look like in a few years when we give it a fresh paint job.

2.       Be sure to find the shortest latches possible for drawers and cabinets and don’t put anything sharp or dangerous near the front edges of those drawers and cabinets.

We realized quickly that the initial latches my husband put on our drawers were definitely not cutting it when the boys started pulling whole objects out of each. Even with the short latches, they’re quite adept at pulling small objects out with those tiny little fingers, so I’ve learned to keep pens, etc. pushed way back in those drawers and make sure my scissors are all the way back. Too, once they hit their climbing phase, they quickly learned that open drawers make for lovely steps. Thus, we have a couple drawers that we’ve attached together, making climbing virtually impossible. (Damn it! I’ve jinxed myself.)

3.       Buy door handle covers in bulk.

Even before they were tall enough to quite reach, the boys were trying to figure out how to get those doorknob things to provide them access to all of those other, forbidden realms in the house. As soon as they were tall enough to reach, they made quick work of those glorious metal gatekeepers. Especially when you have two who love to stick their fingers in small spaces where they don’t belong and to close things very hard, fast and loud, doors, and especially door jambs, are the things that bloody parental nightmares are made of. (OK, so maybe it’s just me. But hey, I get to claim the first parent paranoia flyer.)  

We especially made sure to put plastic covers on all doors to the outside, as these are particularly heavy and of particular interest to the boys, who know what exciting adventures lie on the other sides of those doors. They see fun and wonderment. I see a set of perilously steep stairs and a concrete patio. Another crucial cover area for us was the inside of the bathroom. My husband had to travel for a week for a work, and I was on solo tubbies duty. This was fine when they were in the tub, a bit more challenging when they were out. The doorknob covers were essential for trapping the boys in the bathroom.

4.       Assess all objects for “climbability.”

Once the boys became really adept at walking and increasingly interested in climbing, they started realizing that virtually anything could be used as a climber and that that climber could potentially give them access to forbidden items and areas out of reach. With two to watch, sometimes in separate rooms, I simply couldn’t take any chances. As soon as I saw them climb on a toy or other object, it either made its way into our “consignment sale” pile or, if it wasn’t overly tall, was reassigned to an area where it could no longer provide access to anything. We actually had to rearrange our living room twice to account for their newfound couch climbing skills and a banister that overlooked a set of stairs and a stone foyer.

5.       Invest in SuperYard sections.

Easily the best babyproofing investment we’ve made was in our North States SuperYards. These are not cheap, with new sections of six panels retailing for $75, though they’ve been more than worth our money. You can actually sometimes find some good deals on these at consignment sales or on Craigslist. We found one set of eight panels on Craigslist for one third what the cost would have been new.  

The great thing about them is that they are freestanding and so are pretty versatile. Last summer, when my dual roamers needed trapping in the backyard, one of our SuperYards was the perfect solution. I threw their pool, water table and toys in the middle and had a way to safely contain them. Downstairs last summer, a few panels of SuperYard kept the boys from reaching the buttons on our freestanding air conditioner. (Well, at least until they were tall enough to reach over.)

In the sunroom, while they were smaller and not quite so devious, a few freestanding panels kept the boys from our filing cabinet, desk and modem paraphernalia. Once they figured out how to topple it, my husband was able to devise a bracket for one end, while we attached the other end to one of the desk drawers with a babyproofing clamp. He reinforced the gate with a triangular section of panels in the middle, weighted down with a few small freeweights.

In the living room, we have a similar setup to block the TV and fireplace. One end of a section of panels is bracketed to the wall, while the other end is attached to a PacknPlay, which is then attached to an armchair. In the middle, he created an inner square of paneling to reinforce the gate and allow us to keep the panel straight. (Typically, the strength comes from not having the panels all connect straight across but having some sort of angle at each connection point.)

6.       For banisters, buy a “kid shield.”

Ours is a split level home with a sizeable section of banister overlooking wooden stairs and a stone foyer and banister posts that seemed just wide enough for us to worry the boys may fit through, even Big Boy. As soon as they were mobile, we knew this was going to be absolutely essential. Until we found a solution, the upstairs would be off-limits to us during the day, leaving us with only the downstairs playroom. Don’t get me wrong, I had totally pimped the playroom, but Mommy can only inhabit one small room with two active kiddies for so long.

The solution for us was the Cardinal Gates kid shield. It’s basically just a big roll of plastic that you attach to your banister using a hole punch and zip ties. We added a few screws to make sure the ends especially were totally secure. One of the selling points is that you barely notice the plastic is there, and I have to admit, for as much as most products tend to overpromise, this was pretty accurate. Plus, the boys loved that it made a noise like thunder when they banged on it. (OK, so maybe after they put a million fingerprints on it you notice it, but other than that …) We found ours on Amazon for a very reasonable price.

7.       Beware buying anything that requires you to use adhesive.

We learned this the hard way a few times over. As new parents, and especially as new first-time parents, sharp corners could send us into paroxysms of semi-rational fear. So, we bought cushioned corners to stick on our tables, cushioned strips for our hearth and for a wooden ledge in the basement playroom. Turned out, most of the corner cushions ended up being more of a draw than anything else. The boys thought pulling them off was great fun, especially since they turned out to be such wonderful teethers. So, in the end, within a very short time, all of the corners were once again exposed, as was much of the wood underneath, since the adhesive stripped off the paint and/or finish, and the boys had mouthfuls of rubber and adhesive. Awesome.

Especially beware the strips that have a back that is entirely made of out adhesive. My basement ledge still has most of its underlayer of cushioning simply because it’s so well stuck, it would take off the entire top layer of wood, leaving me a project I’m not ready to tackle yet. Truth be told, that ledge was far from the head wound trap I thought it could be, and the boys proved much more stable and adept than I’d thought.

The same holds true for the adhesive on certain babyproofing items for drawers. We had a couple drawers for which hooks weren’t an option, so we used a few of these rubber gadgets that have circular adhesives on each end with small rubber posts, and a rubber piece in the middle that attaches to each end of the post. The assumption is that little fingers won’t be able to manipulate the piece enough to detach it.

That wasn’t entirely the case. While we do still have one that’s holding together the doors of our cleaners cabinet, the boys were able to pull of the adhesive pieces of many of the others. It’s amazing what a little gnawing and a lot of drool will do. Instead of safety, we ended up with big circular hunks of gummy gook that has proven virtually impossible to clean off, likely requiring sanding and repainting. Yay, more projects.

As with anything related to raising kids, it’s an ongoing educational process, and for us, babyproofing has become a somewhat frustrating but somewhat invigorating high-stakes test. We are constantly challenged to come up with new ways to solve the same equation: home + x = two safe toddlers.


  1. Hi Chris,

    You have a very nice blog site. Great idea :) How long have you been blogging?



  2. Juanita,

    Thanks! I just started in February.