Home & Garden 2012: Baby, Take Notice
When it’s house versus toddler, making sure the kid wins can take help from a pro.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Gail Root picks an envelope out of the recycling bin and rips off a corner with her teeth. Looking me straight in the eyes, she starts chewing.
I get it. The wet wad in her mouth is a choking hazard.
Root, a grandmother with a commanding yet warm presence, is a little old to be chewing on our trash. But my curious 15-month-old son is just the right age for it, and that’s her point.
Root is the coordinator for Parents’ Place, a Pacific Grove Adult Education program offering classes for parents and kids from birth to age 3. Baby proofing is a key piece of Root’s curricula. So today she’s touring my house room to room with baby-goggles on, looking for the hazards we’ve overlooked.
She gives us Brownie points for the measures we’ve already taken: moving breakable and heavy stuff at least 4 feet off the ground, covering electrical outlets, blocking the garbage cabinet, locking the oven door, putting latches on cabinets with baby-unsafe contents, installing a gate to keep Little Guy away from the cat litter.
But she also finds a few dangling cords the kid could yank, bringing heavy things down on his head. Our tables have sharp corners that could hurt him during a tumble. Some of the cabinets we’ve left unlatched should be rearranged. The fridge needs a lock; the stove knobs need plastic shields. The home office is full of perils, from loose pens to a paper shredder – better to just make it off-limits to baby.
Child proofing is more than a checklist, Root stresses; it takes knowing your kid. “It’s all about the temperament of the child. Some kids are just little monkeys,” she says. “You need to know the potential [for danger], but you also need to know your child.”
It also takes constant reassessment as a child grows up, gets smarter and more mobile. Sometimes that means environmental redesign, like pulling the couch in front of an outlet once the baby figures out how to take off the cover.
Another consideration: visits to other homes. A space that’s child proof for one baby might not be safe for another. A lot of accidents happen at grandparents’ houses, Root says; now that her own grandbaby is 3 months old, she’s gearing up to proof her entire house again.
Root’s one of very few in-town experts. Another is Paris Vogelpohl, who runs Peninsula Child Proofing – the only local business dedicated to the task, offering home assessments, baby-proofing products and installations. (A way with babies runs in her family: Paris’ father-in-law, OB-GYN Dr. William Vogelpohl, was voted Best Doctor in Monterey County by Weekly readers.)
Her business is only two and a half years old, but real-life experience raising two kids – ages 14 and 11 – makes Vogelpohl a child-proofing veteran. “If I can prevent one child from getting hurt, I feel like I’m doing something,” she says.
Pricing depends on the home’s square footage and location, but Vogelpohl charges about $125 for a 2-hour assessment of a typical home in Monterey.
“I’m crawling around on my hands and knees,” she says, “because you have to get that perspective from a child’s viewpoint.”
Vogelpohl’s questions for parents can get rather personal, like, “Do you have a gun?” But she says her clients aren’t offended. In this business, child safety takes priority.
It’s a little trickier telling parents their glass coffee tables have to go, or that they have to put foam corners on their antique mahogany end-tables. “I try to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible,” says Vogelpohl, who’s also an interior designer. “But some of these child-safety products aren’t very glamorous.”
I’ve already given up the visions of my own home as Martha Stewart-worthy. Clunky baby-proofing devices, eco-plastic plates and a regular sprinkling of clutter have become part of our new feng shui. It’s alright. The Little Guy’s smile is cuter than Martha’s ceramic sets, anyway.
Electrical outlet covers, toilet locks, table-corner padding, stove-knob covers, oven locks, baby gates and cabinet latches are among the more obvious baby-proofing staples. Here are a few of the dangers even the most conscientious parents may overlook.
The little rubber tips on the ends of door bumpers (choking hazard). Take them off.
Window blind cords (strangulation hazard). Shorten cords, secure dangling cords out of child’s reach, install wind-up cord devices or replace with cordless window treatments.
Gaps of 3-7 inches between vertical rails or slats on cribs, stairways and porches (strangulation hazard). Fill in with plexiglass or mesh.
Heavy bookshelves, dressers, mirrors and televisions (tip-over hazard). Anchor them to the wall to prevent them from falling on a climbing baby, or tipping during an earthquake.
Plastic film (suffocation hazard). Secure all plastic bags and other film out of child’s reach.
Plants (poisoning hazard). Check for toxicity with the California Poison Control Center: www.calpoison.com/public/plants. Do not leave toxic plants such as philodendron and poinsettia within reach of children.
Sources: Gail Root of Pacific Grove Adult School’s Parents’ Place: www.pgusd.org/parents, 646-6623. Paris Vogelpohl of Peninsula Child Proofing: www.peninsulachildproofing.com, 277-3476. This is not a comprehensive list.
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