Surviving Curiosity – Keeping My Daughter Safe Despite Her Own Best Efforts

When Maddie was born, I remember thinking about how her entire tiny body was completely new—exposed to the air and the elements for the very first time when she emerged into our world.

The skin on her back was impossibly smooth, and her hands and feet were impossibly wrinkled. The bottom of her feet in particular contained unending rivulets and creases unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I often joked that she had just been taken out of her package and things were still wrinkled from being all folded up and unused, like when you first unpack a button-down dress shirt and have to iron it or throw it in the dryer to remove the deep folds of confinement.

Keeping Maddie safe is hard.Now that Maddie is becoming increasingly mobile and increasingly curious, we helpless parents have found ourselves readying ourselves for the inevitable scratches, bruises and scares1 that will come with toddler life.

Even though Maddie is still refusing to crawl—settling to work and play with whatever is within arm’s reach rather than pushing herself to get that ball that rolled a few inches away from her—she’s already getting herself in trouble and putting some wear and tear on her once unmarked and pristine being.

A couple weeks ago, Theresa and Maddie were in Cincinnati visiting one of Theresa’s cousins, when I received a text from Theresa instructing me not to freak out, but…something had happened to Maddie. She was sitting on a chair and Theresa had turned away for a crucial moment. It was enough time for Maddie to dive bomb off the chair and face plant on the carpet below. Her head was fine and she was just a little shaken up by the experience, but a tell-tale rug burn on and below her nose made her look like she had suffered some major abuse for the next few days—just in time for us to visit Theresa’s family in southern Indiana and get questions from everyone who encountered her.

While scary, we were fortunate that Maddie landed on carpet and suffered no longterm effects. This being our first child, I am definitely living up to the cliche that I think I can protect Maddie from anything and that any failure on that front is worthy of instant and long-lasting guilt. I know this isn’t the case, but it’s hard to shake the feeling when Maddie is so little and cute and helpless. Unfortunately, little and cute and helpless can be dangerous when combined with increased mobility and the need to have everything and also put everything in your mouth.

A couple days ago, Maddie was sitting on the living room rug and playing with her toys like she does for hours throughout the week. Theresa and I both left the room for a minute—literally 60 seconds—and returned to find Maddie gagging on something. Both of our hearts raced as we tried to figure out what she possibly could have swallowed, when there was seemingly nothing dangerous around her. Theresa forced her fingers past Maddie’s teeth, anxiously searching the back of her mouth for the choking hazard. We were incredibly lucky that Theresa was able to locate the tiny strip of a water bottle wrapper that was still in her mouth and causing a gag reflex. I have no idea where it came from or how Maddie got it.2 But the lesson is that we can’t afford to look away or leave her alone for a second these days.

A few days ago, Theresa called me at work, so I knew something was up. Sure enough, there had been another Maddie incident. This time, she moved her hands when Theresa was attempting to trim her finger nails, and earned a small, bleeding gash on the tip of her finger. She got over it really quickly and was laughing at the band-aid on her finger, but soon the band-aid proved it would just eventually become another choking hazard, since Maddie simply HAD to try to put it in her mouth. 3

We are fortunate that Maddie’s late-bloomer status in terms of movement means that we haven’t had as many incidents as we could have had by now—and no doubt will in the future. That said, we also haven’t done any child-proofing around the house yet4, so now that process is moving to the top of our agenda. We need to lower her crib so she can’t fall over the railing. We need to vacuum more frequently so she doesn’t become our own little Roomba. We need to remove any objects that will fall apart into smaller pieces at the mercy of her drenching drool and razor-sharp bite.

Before she can even move around that much, Maddie has already become a little daredevil, and keeping her safe has become a full-time job. Right now, preventing her from getting hurt consists of making sure she doesn’t eat that tiny piece of leaf that she found on the kitchen floor. I’m well aware of the fact that our current efforts at protecting her from physical harm will seem like a piece of cake when the threats to her well-being take on emotional, social and psychological forms.

But I’ll have to think about those deep issues some other time. For now, Maddie just got really quiet and is staring at her hand, which probably means she found something that she’s not supposed to eat…

  1. but hopefully few scars
  2. I guess it was somehow hidden in the not-all-that-deep pile of the carpet?
  3. Even though both of these examples involve Theresa, this is in no way an indictment of her parenting. If I were staying home with Maddie, I’m sure this kind of thing would happen dozens of times each day.
  4. Even though they spent 20 minutes of our birthing class talking about child-proofing your home…Just teach us how to get through labor!

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