By Gwen Rockwood, columnist and mama of 3
Our third child is a wonderful baby girl who has just turned 1 ½ years old this month. She has golden, wavy hair, deep blue eyes and the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen. And, if I didn’t know otherwise, I would swear she was fathered by Spiderman himself.
To say that she likes to climb is like saying Michael Jordan likes to play a little basketball or Lance Armstrong likes an occasional bike ride. She doesn’t just like it. She loves it. She needs it. She’s compelled by a force bigger than both of us to do it – all the time. If there’s a chair, she will stand on it. If there’s a sofa, she will scramble to the very top of it and stand on one foot smiling at the danger below. If there’s an unguarded staircase, she’ll be at the top of it before you can say “Does anyone know where Kate went?” (See the picture? This is Kate about to climb on top of my computer keyboard and do a back flip off of it.)
Sure, her two older brothers did a little climbing at this age, too. I remember it well. But Kate’s lightning quick agility combined with her fierce determination to scale everything in the house makes her brothers’ efforts seem tame in comparison.
At least a couple times each day, I round the corner and find her scrambling her way to the top of something I would have sworn was impossible to climb. Then I audibly suck all the air out of the room, sprint toward her with outstretched hands and yell “No! No climbing!” Then I sit down in the floor with her, catch my breath and try to figure out how I’ll avoid having an anxiety-induced stroke before I’m 40.
Let me answer the question I know you’re asking. “Haven’t you heard of childproofing?” The answer is yes, of course. My middle name could be “childproofing” because I’m a firm believer that it’s the only way to safely co-exist with toddlers. When we moved into our two-story home three years ago, I even hired a professional childproofing service to come over and assess the danger zones and install industrial strength gates on the stairway. But unless we move every piece of furniture out of the house and install six-inch deep foam on the floor and walls, there’s no way to completely safeguard the house for our diaper-clad spawn of Spiderman.
Childproofing is especially tricky when there are older siblings in the house. How do you lock the toilet when your 4-year-old will invariably race toward it in a last-minute emergency and have no time to figure out how to disable the child-lock device? How do you keep a toddler from using the stepping stool to climb up into the sink when your older kids need to stand there to reach the water faucet? If you’ve got solutions, I’m all ears.
The only “fix” we’ve found so far is to lock the bathroom door. We taught our boys how to jimmy it open with an old credit card. And, yes, it does bother me a little that we’ve given our 6 and 4-year-olds all the necessary skills to perform a breaking and entering. Not my proudest parenting moment.
But back to the issue at hand – the climber. After locking the bathroom door and hiding as many of the ladder-back chairs as possible, I did the only thing I could think of that might satisfy her need to climb as well as my need to protect her (and my sanity). We enrolled in a Gymboree class where there’s a padded room full of things for toddlers to climb. I could hardly wait to watch her squeal with delight while navigating a toddler-friendly obstacle course where moms don’t have to yell “No!”
Then she did the most aggravating thing. She paused, looked up at me, held my hand and – for the first time in her waking life – stood still. She didn’t want to climb. What? You’ve got to be kidding me. Doesn’t want to climb? Impossible. If this was a steaming volcano spewing razor-sharp knives, she’d climb it faster than I could yell “No!” So I bent down and got eye-to-eye with her baby blues and golden pigtails and said, in a sweet-yet-totally-serious mommy voice, “Honey, you ARE going to climb every single thing in this room and you are going to love it. Get movin’.”
Perhaps she sensed the tension in my voice because she began tentatively scoping out the room and climbed a few of the ramps and stair steps. We’re going to our second class this week and I’m hoping she’ll soon learn that this is the place where she’s supposed to exercise her daredevil tendencies. Because if she keeps climbing stuff at home, I may just lose my mind. Then I’ll be the one spending time in the padded room.