The only thing worse than a crying baby is a crying baby with a fat lip. Or a bonked head. Or a pinched finger. Their cries of frustration, hunger or exhaustion are by no means enjoyable, but I would take any one of those over the cry of a hurt baby any day.
The sob of a wounded tyke has an ability to stab you right in the pit of the stomach, their breathless wails shrinking your world to nothing but that growing egg on their forehead. That hurt baby cry is truly awful, and having to hear it is, I’ve decided, my most dreaded role as a parent.
What makes that sound so unbearable is the rush of guilt that floods into your parental guts with every howling upsurge. The dirge of a hurt baby squeezes blood out of your heart, firstly because you can’t take the sting away and secondly because it’s your fault that they’re hurting. And, thirdly, because hurt baby cries are inevitable.
I have, admittedly, been traumatized by Elodie’s learning to crawl.
In just one week, my home transformed from a cozy, happy, secure baby zone to presenting the threat of a perilous menace around every corner. It was just two weeks ago that I could put her on a blanket in the living room with some toys and go into the kitchen for a glass of water without panicking. Now, if left alone for only a moment, the little bugger could find that screw I lost in the carpet six weeks ago, or decide to pull herself up on the top-heavy floor lamp, or stick her fingers into the heating vent.
At 6 months old, Elle is an early crawler. Expecting we’d have another month, at least, to baby proof the house, we were caught somewhat off guard by the fact that our little darling is now mobile. It happened almost overnight. And while the signs of her impending mobility were clear – the rocking back and forth on the hands and knees, the creeping on her belly to grasp a toy just beyond her reach – we didn’t, apparently, realize how fast she would scurry to that childhood milestone.
It wasn’t like we were completely oblivious about baby proofing. I had already stuck those plastic pronged things into the electrical sockets. We had bought cabinet locks and a baby gate. And yet a baby on the move is like a squall that arrives without warning and wreaks havoc on a place – and, ultimately, your sanity.
I learned lesson one in childproofing last week. Don’t leave the dishwasher drawer open, because baby will pull herself up and then slip on the hard floor and come tumbling down and in the process smack her head and give mom her first test in trying to shush a wailing baby who has suffered her first knocked noggin.
The next lesson arrived just a few days later. I watched Elodie pull herself up to standing beneath the dining room table, thinking to myself, “Jeez, that looks risky.” I turned to toss a rag into the trash, and before I could rescue my little daredevil from peril she had toppled over forward onto her face. And voila, we added “First Fat Lip” to the list of six-month milestones. I also added “Be proactive” to my list of things to do as a mom.
While the goose eggs and fat lips are bad, what keeps me up at night are, in fact, the “we missed a bullet there” close calls. The time I got up from our nap together to answer the phone, and returned to find her awake, happy as could be, sitting up with her bottom hanging precariously over the edge of our too-high bed. Or when I let her check out the inside of the refrigerator, and upon peeking around the open door discovered that, yes, she can climb… and was dangling from the second shelf, pawing for a bowl of grapes.
After every scrape, or near-scrape, I berate myself for not being a better, safer mom. I lament at my failure to save her from that ugly looking bruise on her forehead, which had to hurt. I wring my hands and let the sick stomach feeling wash over me each instance in which she narrowly escapes injury, scolding myself for not having seen the potential for disaster sooner.
So I religiously shut the dishwasher door. I don’t let her play in the fridge. She never sleeps in our bed alone. I even hung a sign on the front door: “Rugrat lurking! Open slowly.” And yet, at some point in our every day together, she still manages to find some other impending promise of harm. She wedges her fingers between the two sliding shower doors. She yanks on the cord connected to the iPod dock. She discovers what the bristles of a toilet brush feel like. (OK, that’s not so dangerous, but it’s really gross.)
It’s funny. I eagerly awaited seeing Elodie crawl. Now, I’m a nervous, childproofing wreck who sees opportunity for injury around every coffee table corner. How am I going to be able to survive her learning to walk?