Atmosphere

Protect and Serve

Childproofing seemed like overkill—until we found our son with a mouthful of cat food.

September 2010

My wife, Stefania, and I knew we had a problem when we caught our not-quite-one-year-old son, Leo, sitting on the floor in the mudroom and eating our cat’s food one morning. It was one of those parenting moments that is simultaneously frightening, unbelievable, and hilarious. Our baby was eating cat food! Eating! Cat food!

There was a lesson, though, in that moment of craziness: Any pretense of an adult household—without the paranoid, Type-A childproofed doors, windows, and drawers—had just fallen away. Beyond a couple of gates to block the stairs, we’d barely childproofed when our first son, Sebastian, was a baby. We prided ourselves on being vigilant without becoming helicopter parents. We secretly poked fun at the moms and dads who placed protective covers over everything and created a childproof kitchen that was also virtually parentproof. But where our firstborn had generally been observant and cautious, Leo was a pint-size wrecking ball, a bold and seemingly indestructible bundle of male energy. Our Leo was a little lion—who ate cat food.

We now, it appeared, had to buy into yet another of the small industries that are making a fortune by catering to modern parenting worries: sleep consultants, lactation consultants, school-choice advisers, and, yes, professional babyproofers. Stefania and I called Baby Safe Homes in Denver for a consultation on the premise that if we were finally going to childproof our home, we might as well do it right.

Nerves set in right away: Not only was our house a mess, with toys and children’s books strewn everywhere, but now it also seemed like more of a danger zone than we’d previously thought. In addition to the conspicuously placed cat food, heavy pieces of furniture weren’t attached to walls, and a laundry chute—about the size of a toddler—was unsecured.

Zeb Langley, who owns the Denver outpost of Baby Safe Homes, meticulously checked our house for potential hazards, and explained in his mellow, surfer-dude drawl that our home was quite safe compared to other homes he’d inspected. He still found roughly $500 worth of upgrades we could make, everything from putting foam over the brick around a fireplace to installing taller, more secure baby gates.

We opted for $230 worth of gear and labor. We had latches installed on the kitchen drawers and cupboards. The wobbly bookshelf in Leo’s room was attached to the wall, as was the flat-screen TV in the sitting room. And Langley put a lock on the laundry chute, ensuring that neither of our boys will slide down into the hamper in some sort of Home Alone-esque accident.

Stefania and I are still not used to the locks on the kitchen cabinets—we frequently mutter curses when we knock our knuckles—but we now have a peace of mind that we didn’t have before our home was babyproofed. We’re OK with the fact that we’ve become those parents; we’re OK with the fact that our home may look a little silly with the clear plastic caps on the stove controls and the rubber suction cups on the window panes that ensure the window doesn’t open too wide. The cat-food eating story may be a good yarn, but (hopefully) we won’t have any of those stories to tell in the future.