Babyproofing? Like most 1970s kids I was left to roam the death trap of my home
Conor Pope: Now that our little one is crawling it’s all about hardcore babyproofing
''And you have the house babyproofed,' the nurse said. Have I what?' Photograph: iStock
The only babyproofing that existed when I was born was abstinence or contraception and even the latter didn’t really exist in Ireland unless you were a heathen or a protestant and willing to break the law by smuggling it into the country from England.
While my memories of my infanthood are patchy, I’m pretty sure that like most 1970s children I was left to roam the death trap that was the family home unsupervised. It was only when things got fraught or I proved unable to learn that sticking forks in plug sockets was not always a brilliant idea, that I’d find myself dumped in the roofless wooden jail euphemistically called a playpen.
Babyproofing has become my obsession. In my little girl’s pre-crawl days, all we had to do was make sure dangerous things were kept at tiny arm’s length
It’s a different world now though. Last week we took Baby Pope to her nine-month developmental check-up with the public health nurse and after she had been gently poked and prodded and given the thumbs up, the conversation turned general. I boasted about how my little wunderkind had recently started crawling and suggested that this developmental leap most likely marked her out as some class of prodigy.
“And you have the house babyproofed,” was all the nurse said in response.
Have I what? Babyproofing has become my singular obsession. In her pre-crawl days, keeping my little girl safe from harm was simple and all we had to do was make sure dangerous things were kept at tiny arm’s length.
I got it mostly right although on two separate occasions I positioned her high chair too close to a shelf and was punished, first by the sound of a bottle of olive oil smashing on the kitchen floor – much to the Angel’s delight – and then by the silent but as delightfully messy scattering of an entire bag of porridge oats all over the floor.
I learned from these schoolboy errors and was more careful about where I put her. But now that she’s crawling the rules have changed dramatically and it’s all about the hardcore babyproofing.
The first thing I had to do – the books told me – was wander my house on my hands and knees to see the world through the eyes of an infant. It was then I realised danger was everywhere. And that my knees are shot to bits.
Open shelves sag under the weight of glass bottles filled with mysteriously flavoured oils bought in moments of market-stall madness and mountains of mismatched casserole dishes are stacked like fragile heavy metal Jenga just waiting to crash down. The knife drawer can be reached by small hands while open jars of lethal-looking shells collected from Dollymount are standing on shelves like eejits.
There are locks for presses, gates for stairs, guards for plug sockets, rubber things for table corners and foam padding for the hearth. I buy everything
Then there are the Lego pieces and the coins and the phone chargers and her sisters’ maddeningly small Irish Fairy Door accessories and slightly larger but no less dangerous Our Generation doll accessories. I can, literally, see a thousand things that could do my baby harm. And she sees none of those things. She sees things she can shake, rattle and roll. And – most importantly – eat.
Despite the fact that she’s only recently mastered crawling, she can cover a fair amount of ground and while I’m on my hand and knees in the kitchen looking at the world from her perspective, she’s crawling towards a tasty looking plant in the livingroom.
By the time I get back to her, a long stem is in her mouth and, worryingly, a decent-sized chunk of leaf is missing. Having bought the stupid plant years ago in a moment of mindless weakness at the end of a long trek through Ikea, I haven’t a breeze what it is or how toxic it might be. So I go on to the Ikea website, look up the plants it sells and try to match the thumbnail picture to the plant in my livingroom.
As I do that she crawls menacingly towards the kitchen and by the time I have satisfied myself that the plant is – probably – fine she is hauling herself up using the handle of a heavy metal pot. It wobbles unsteadily as I move, ninja-like, to break her fall.
The pots get moved to adult head height and the plant is replaced on a shelf, making it both safe and stupid looking. Then I go shopping. I stand slack-jawed in front of a large stand of babyproofing materials in a giant Mothercare. There are locks for presses, gates for stairs, guards for plug sockets, rubber things for table corners and foam padding for the fireplace’s hearth. I buy everything.
Once home I attach the soft foam padding to the hard-edged fireplace hearth and place her on the rug and go into the kitchen for 22 seconds. When I come out she has pulled the foam off the hearth and is eating it. I start counting the days until she finds sense. If she takes after her dad it is going to be a long count.