When you have a toddler, child-proofing becomes a reflex. Upon entering a room -- without even consciously thinking about it -- you immediately notice anything fragile or sharp or poisonous or marble-sized (choking hazard!) anywhere within three or four feet of the floor. It becomes difficult to visit childless people because you can't just say, "Look, these crystal goblets and ceramic knick-knacks on your coffee table have got to go somewhere else" -- instead you get to spend your entire visit following your toddler around, vigilantly focused on protecting him and the deadly decorative items from one another. And then your friends wonder why you're no fun anymore.
When my little Léo was a year-and-a-half old, our family decided to spend New Year's visiting friends in a distant city. The family we planned to stay with also had a toddler around the same age, so I was looking forward to a relaxing visit, chatting with adults who understand, in a child-proofed house where my toddler (and my three-year-old, who wasn't much better) could safely roam free. But as I stepped into their house, my heart sank and my jaw dropped. Right in the middle of their main room -- with no protective barrier of any kind -- stood a large Christmas tree, covered with sparkling glass ornaments all the way to the lowest branches.
After the first hour or so of guarding that tree from little Léo's curiously naughty hands, I asked our hosts the obvious question: "How do you keep your daughter from playing with the ornaments?"
"We just tell her 'no' and she doesn't touch them," was the reply.
Thus, I got a crash course in parenting, or rather, in parenting inadequacy. These folks didn't have toys perpetually strewn all over their living room floor the way we did. (Still do, actually...) They put their toys away after playing with them.
To give you an idea of what my living room looked like at the time, here's a shot of my two adventurers having just conquered Mt. Daddy
And then there was the more damning measure: my little year-and-a-half old Léo barely knew how to say any words at all, while their daughter (just a couple months older) was speaking in whole sentences, even witty ones! And, sure, I can make excuses (boys develop language later! As do kids from bilingual families!), but the devil on my shoulder wouldn't stop whispering, "Clearly you're not raising a li'l genius, are you?"
By the second vacation day of following Léo around to protect him from the deadly combination (of the Christmas tree and his own foolishness), my nerves were starting to get a little frayed. I was dancing with my two boys -- anything to keep them occupied and out of trouble -- when the lady of the house decided to give a discourse on "the right way to discipline a child" for the two childless single ladies with whom she was having tea.
"You just have to be firm and forceful from the first 'no'," she said. "It's okay to even get a little angry at that point. It's better than having a discipline problem later." The single ladies nodded and told her how right she was. How could she not be? What with Exhibit A (as well as Exhibits D and F...) right there in the room as evidence to prove her right.
And what could I do? I grabbed Léo and a few of his toys and took him upstairs and put him in the bathtub to play. At least that way he was corralled so I could sit down and rest while watching him.
Now, I know there are multiple possible interpretations to this story, and here you've only got my side of it. Maybe I'm totally wrong. After all Mathmom reports that some parents advise that you should "house-proof the baby, don't baby-proof the house" (as impossible or insane as that advice would seem for people of mere-mortal-level parenting skills, like me).
Parenting advice is so deadly. All the world's problems can be attributed to "other people's kids," and it's impossible to do it entirely "right," whatever that would mean. So one the one hand, it's hard not to want to show off the things you did well, and on the other hand, it's hard to avoid feeling defensive about stuff that you might have done better. Or differently. Or more like the Jonses did it.
More recently I took Léo (now 5) grocery shopping with me. He decided that he wanted a flashlight, and I decided that we didn't need any more electric junk around the house that will ultimately end up in a landfill, so I told him no. Now, I've been trying to train him not to ask for things whenever we go out (I won't go into the specifics of my technique because it's not important), and I've had some moderate success. So, as I was putting the food on the conveyor belt, Léo tried to put the flashlight on, I turned to him and sternly said, "We are not buying that, so will you be a good boy and put it back?"
And he did. All by himself. He fussed a little, but he put it back where he found it. And the Swiss-German cashier gave me a smile, which I interpreted as approval. And I thought to myself, "This is the day of my greatest parenting triumph."
lol. Pathetic, but true...