Child Proof


I am just home from a tennis clinic, and I shudder to admit this, but I’ve left my children in the care of highly volatile caretakers. People who would not hesitate, if there were combustible materials, to light them on fire. People who believe in the rough justice of the backhand, pinching the offender until his skin turns purple, or hitting him in the groin. Sound a little like Gitmo? Gulag? Grand Theft Auto?

This morning, I left my two sons home alone. With each other. Which is the same thing, if I am lucky.

I am a little new at this. Hopefully, they left each other alone, although they were in the same house. Hopefully, there was not a war on the large soft pretzels in a box the size of a window air conditioning unit that I got snookered into buying at the Cost Club.

Hopefully, I will arrive home to a quiet house: not too quiet, though, because when they are quiet, they are plotting together, usually against one of my rules. It’s one of the only times, lately, that they get along.

Now that they are 13 and almost 11, they don’t need me to, say, hover over them and make sure that they make it down the stairs without breaking their necks. There are still little divots from the safety gate hardware at the top of the staircase, my own version of “childproof” which means, now, that I need proof that they were once little children. Now, safety is on a whole new level, and the stakes are higher for the hazards that my children face.

Today, “childproofing” around here means that I clamp down on the devices (which I squirrel away in my little hiding places, places where the boys won’t look – the linen closet, the top shelf of a hutch, the veggie drawer of the fridge) – and sometimes where I forget I’ve put them. They earn them back for an hour at a time after they do their summer math packets or read – an hour for an hour.

Along with these devices, I also hide lighters and sweets, especially the crap my husband buys. If a meteorite hits and life as we know it suddenly ends, future anthropologists will sift through the ashes of my homesite and conjecture that Xbox controllers and colored butane vessels were placed in a Coptic jar as an offering to the goddesses Sara Lee and Little Debbie.

I am seriously considering investing in a footlocker. I’d have the combination (because I don’t need one more key on my keychain – I’m beginning to look like the building superintendent of a small apartment complex). Along with these items, I’d put the moderate amount of liquor that my husband and I keep in the house. A contraband container, if you will.

Perhaps, gentle reader, you may question why my spoken house rules are not enough. Shouldn’t my children obey me when I tell them not to do or use something? Don’t I supervise them, aren’t I around enough?

Yes, yes, and yes. In an ideal scenario, all of these things would happen. But life is seldom ideal. I need my energy and can’t afford to waste it by sweeping the house for contraband items. And I am addressing the needs of the two most important people in my life, keeping their bodies and minds safe and functioning…no matter how long it takes their frontal lobes to catch up with their arms, legs and other parts.

And when I am getting an hour and a half of exercise (and I’ll admit it, girl time) in the morning, when my children should be sleeping or reading a book, but might have different ideas of what is good for them, I don’t want them frittering their summer vacations away on electronic impulses which evaporate, leaving them with little more than good motor coordination.

And the fact that Bigs is now 13 and my husband and I like a pre-dinner cocktail on the weekends makes me think that my vigilance and responsibility shouldn’t end with “kid stuff”. I don’t fool myself – I don’t have the luxury of that sort of blindness. I just found out that parents that I trust – good parents – keep guns in a cabinet that can be easily unlocked by their 13 year old with a coat hanger. He showed my 13 year old just how to do it, the last time Bigs went to the house. And as a high school English teacher, I’ve lost more than one student tragically to substance abuse. I know that saying, “Not my kid”, is just calling fate down on my head. We all know what happened in the ancient myths to the mere mortals who demonstrated hubris, that unique combination of arrogance, denial and pride. Usually, their children went along for that nasty ride, too.

I also know that the word “proof” doesn’t only mean “evidence”. If we look back at the word as it was used centuries ago, it was used synonymously with words like “test” and “armor” which was tested in order to be deemed worthy for actual battle. Even with my footlocker, I won’t be able to assure my sons’ security. My children go out into the world without me, and I may heartily disagree with other parents’ decisions about electronics, combustibles, junk food, and firearms, and ultimately, my children will have to negotiate those decisions themselves. But while they are in my house, I need to send them a message: No means No. There is accountability. I care enough about you to make you (temporarily) unhappy.

And I am willing to prove it.