I didn't see any play pens in the cute boutique on the corner so I reluctantly schlepped to that big ugly baby gear store in the suburbs.
After wandering aimlessly under the fluorescent glare for ten minutes, I consulted a salesperson. "You can't say play pen anymore. It's damaging to the child's psyche. They're play yards these days," she explained, completely seriously.
Did I mention that The Grape is barely nine months old? Did I have to? I mean, he was sitting in his stroller during this whole exercise. I doubt he'll remember any of what transpired. And isn't that part of the beauty of parenting? You have a good two to three years to screw up seemingly basic things like play pens without permanently damaging your offspring.
When the sales woman finally calmed down enough to show me the alleged play yard, it was a travel crib. No good. Next she showed me an enormous plastic enclosure. The picture on the box featured an exuberant Golden Retriever behind the cage-like bars. Such a system might work well, if we didn't live in a smallish city apartment, but this take on baby jail would take up my entire living room. Maybe I'll get desperate enough to sacrifice the adult sitting area eventually, but I'm not there yet.
I shook my head and said, "So let me understand this. It's damaging to put him in a play pen, but a kennel is alright?" Then we left, empty handed and determined to find the elusive product elsewhere. I might be running out of time.
While The Grape hasn't figured out how to crawl, he's surprisingly adept at pushing himself backwards and getting his feet tangled in furniture. Also, his personal settings seem stuck on self destruction mode. His eyes gleam as they hone in on a power cord or an empty electrical socket.
Many people hire professional baby proofing consultants to batten down every hatch in the home. Toilets are clamped shut, cabinets rendered inaccessible without a twelve digit code. The consultants confiscate fireplace tools, remove blinds and install alarm sensors under rugs to detect any unauthorized movement beyond the parameters of the Designated Safe Play Space.
My brother and sister-in-law (who are fantastic and loving parents) hired one of these people. Six hours later, their previously charming home resembled a padded, maximum security institution for mentally unstable criminals. I was dismayed to visit and find the toilet seat locked down with something resembling a vise from sixth grade wood shop. I was not, however, the least bit surprised. This level of caution fits completely with their overall parenting philosophy, which can be summarized as: "OH MY GOD! SHE'S GOING TO DIE!!!"
On some level, they buy into the popular notion that jailing the baby for short periods of time is somehow wrong. Doing so would be an admission that they cannot watch her every second of every day of the first three years of her life. So they jail all their stuff instead and let her run amok over hundreds of square feet of empty carpeting.
For better or worse, I don't share this philosophy. Maybe it's because I don't remember my mom's house being like that when my sister was in the infant-toddler age group. Maybe I have an antiquated, wrong headed notion that if everything is padded, he'll never learn the word "no."
Also, I watch friends who are raising kid number two or three, and they make their homes safer without creating a state of complete lock down. So, for now at least, I do what they do: I put the fragile things out of reach and gate the stairs. I've purchased plastic plugs for the sockets and latches for the cutlery drawers.
Still, it would be nice to be able to turn my back long enough to take a shower, pay a few bills or get dinner going. So if anyone has one of those retro play pens I could borrow (I'd be extra interested in wacky old millennium color schemes), I'd be delighted to take it off your hands.