My husband and I bought our house (a fixer-upper) for its charm. We had two incomes, no kids and an interest in DIY, or at least an interest in the deep discount you can get for a house when it’s basically falling apart.
Then we had a baby, and the charm of the vaulted ceilings, tile floors and stone work quickly turned to terror. The high ceilings made way for the loft with its low railing and 15 foot drop. The floors, covered in hard tile, perfect for bruising clumsy toddler faces, turns slick as black ice when a drop of water falls on it. The fire place, is a place for FIRES. The pool. The pool haunted my nightmares.
As long as he was a baby loaf, it wasn’t too bad, We could set him in one of his multiple baby-holding devices and be relatively certain he would be safe. Once he gained mobility, though, the dangers loomed everywhere. It seemed easier to wrap him in breathable bubble wrap than baby-proof the house. In the end, we decided on corralling him in a large square baby prison for most of his waking hours and carrying him to any area of the house he needed to go.
This method worked pretty well and had the added benefit of making the rest of the house seem like an exciting vacation land to a kid. “Do you want to go to the kitchen?” “YEAH!!!” He’d cry, clapping his chubby hands. I wish I had that kind of enthusiasm for going to the kitchen.
Eventually we relaxed the physical boundaries and replaced them with psychological ones. “Don’t EVER touch that handle!” we’d warn, pointing to the knob on door leading to the patio and the locked pool gate. “There are monsters and demons out there, who want to eat your hands!”
OK, well we didn’t do that, but we wanted to. We do warn and remind and quiz. “You can ONLY go out there with a grown-up, it’s not safe out there, do you understand?” And he does. The door is also locked and he can’t reach the lock, but he’s clever. Lest you think that we are overstating things. We live in Florida, at the edge of a swamp erroneously named a lake. The paralyzing terror of the pool aside, it is dangerous out there. Florida wildlife pretty much exists to annoy, poison or kill.
As soon as he could toddle, we started daydreaming of selling our charming little deathtrap to a healthy, equally stupid, childless couple. It remains a daydream, because even if the house didn’t have thousands of incomplete DIY projects, we don’t even have the energy to keep it clean enough for potential home buyers to view it.
It doesn’t matter though, the new, safe home I imagine doesn’t exist. Each aspect of the fantasy home has some corresponding fear. It is somewhere out of the city (crime), but not in the woods (animals) which leaves the suburbs (serial killers). It is one story (stair-falls), but the windows aren’t on the first floor (intruders). It is someplace warm (hypothermia, snow driving) but not too warm (snakes and biting insects). My brain’s capacity for imagining danger suddenly knows no bounds. To talk myself down, I have to look at the facts: Billions of people survive childhood every year. My congested drive to the office verifies that, as they are all CLEARLY on the road, trying to cut me off. The problem is, how easy it is to become in my mind the parent of the one child who had the one freak accident. WHAT-IF haunts me. WHAT-IF never leaves and gains power all the time. WHAT-IF Is relentless, and it’s an asshole