Manny and Jenna were sitting down to dinner when the doorbell rang, followed by a thunderous knocking that shook their front door in its frame. Opening the door, they found their neighbor Ricky looking pale and panicked on their front stoop. Tucked beneath his arms were his 18 month-old twins Owen and Ossie.
“Sarah’s going into labor,” he said. “Thanks for watching the boys.” He thrust the two bundles of joy into Manny and Jenna’s arms, and pushed a bag filled with food and toys across the threshold.
A horn sounded, and they all looked across the front lawn. Ricky’s wife sat in the passenger seat of their car, one arm wrapped around her swollen midsection. Ricky shouted over his shoulder as he sprinted to the car, “I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks!”
Manny and Jenna had known Sarah was coming up on her due date, and they’d offered to watch the couple’s twins when she went into labor. At the time the possibility had seemed far off in the future, a fun lark for the young couple with no kids of their own. Now they each held 25 pounds of responsibility in their arms.
Walking into the family room, they set the twins down on the carpet and gathered their wits.
Jenna said, “I’m intimidated right now. Are you intimidated?”
“Nah,” said Manny. “We’ve both taken care of kids before. As long as we just keep an eye on…” He looked down.
If Manny and Jenna didn’t know better they would have sworn that the twins left behind tiny clouds of dust in the shape of their own outlines, like the old Road Runner cartoons.
“Uh-oh,” said Manny.
Even a simple dining room, with a table, chairs, and a few other items can pose a threat to small children. Luckily, a few simple steps can go a long way to creating a safer environment.
Sharp corners can be covered, and outlets capped. Decorative plants or knick-knacks should be set up past easy reach. Tablecloths that are relatively short or attach to the table can stay stable if used as a pull-up method by a toddler still learning to stand on their own.
“I found one!” Jenna called out. “He was crawling through the dining table’s legs.”
She held the giggling twin to her chest, bouncing him up and down as she looked at her home with new eyes.
“Where’s the other one?” asked Manny.
“Alright, think… what’s the most dangerous room for kids?”
There was a brief pause, then they both headed for the kitchen.
Kitchens are full of devices for grating, slicing, and chopping. But most kitchen tools and knives can be pushed back on countertops, away from prying little fingers. The real dangers are just within reach. Oven controls, for example, can seem like tempting toys, and should be capped with knob-covers.
Cabinet doors can pinch or slam, and the under-sink cabinet in many homes is used to store cleaning supplies that are harmful (or even fatal) if swallowed or rubbed on skin or in eyes. A set of cabinet latches are a wise investment, and even better is finding a new home for those chemicals and cleaners.
Dry pet food isn’t poisonous, but it is often just the right size to pose a choking risk. When feeding pets, watch them finish off their meal, then place the bowl in a child-inaccessible spot.
The kitchen seemed quiet, though the faint scampering of the missing twin could be heard.
“We need to secure the perimeter!”
“Manny, this isn’t a military operation.”
“Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
Jenna groaned. “Playing Call of Duty with your friends doesn’t make you an expert.”
“I’m going to check the garage.”
Full of tools and fuel, garages are dangerous places for small children to wander unattended. It’s best to simply limit their time in the garage, or keep them out completely.
Having said that, reality may rear its ugly head should you leave the garage door open while getting trash bags or while unloading groceries. Do your best to elevate any dangerous items above the reach of your child, so that if they do get in the garage, they’ll be limited in the damage that can be done.
“Split up! We’ll find them faster!”
Jenna shook her head. “Are you kidding me? Haven’t you ever seen a scary movie? Splitting up is the surest way to die!”
“Do you really think this is a horror movie?” They stared at each other for a long moment. Manny opened his mouth, then shut it. “You’re right. Let’s work our way down this hallway.” The next door down was the bathroom.
Toilet lids can be easily opened by a toddler, which at the very least is unhygienic, and at worst can create a potential risk of head injury as a child peers into the toilet. A two-step lid latch is an easy way to eliminate both issues.
Most bathrooms have vanity cabinets, and those can be secured just like their kitchen counterparts. Tub spouts can give a nasty bump at bath time, and a rubber cover minimizes that risk.
“Alright,” said Manny. “Let’s do the upstairs.” He headed that way.
He turned. Jenna pointed at the stairs with a shaky hand, “I never realized dangerous stairs could be.”
Loose carpet and wobbly steps are threats to a child, but also to a parent carrying a child, a load of laundry, or any other bulky object. Secure any loose flooring material and you’ll dramatically reduce the chance of an accidental tumble.
A baby gate is the easiest way to simply shut off the area. A gate at the top of the steps is almost a necessity, and a bottom gate can prevent an adventurous child from climbing partway up the stairs before losing his or her balance. (Depending on the layout of your home, sometimes a baby-gate creates a congestion point or otherwise becomes a headache. In that instance, place the gate a few steps into the stairs.)
When your child is ready to climb stairs on their own but not quite big enough to use a handrail efficiently, consider installing a second handrail at height that’s more accessible. These child handrails also have a smaller radius, making them easier for children to get a firm grip.
After a thorough tour of the upstairs, Manny and Jenna regrouped in the kitchen, and Jenna handed the squirming twin to her husband.
“Here, you take Owen.”
“That’s Ossie. We’re chasing Owen.”
“How can you tell them apart? They both move so fast.”
A crash from the family room interrupted them. Jenna and Manny ran in that direction.
In most family rooms the television is both the most expensive and most tempting item for young children. Before kids understand that the characters they’re seeing aren’t interactive, they often reach out to touch them. This has always been an issue, but it’s become even more common in the hands-on era of touchscreens and tablets.
Televisions should be securely mounted on a wall, or bolted to a stand. Even if the television seems to sit high enough to be beyond a child’s reach, it’s often just within the range that they can stretch. If a television falls, the best case scenario is a broken tv and a scared child. It’s well worth the time it takes to childproof its base.
Remotes and other knick-knacks can be set up on a shelf higher than young hands can reach. These don’t pose a hazard as much as a headache, if they suddenly get recruited to join in playtime with a child’s favorite toys. Do make sure that battery covers stay on remotes—loose batteries are choking hazards.
They paused, gasping for breath. Manny held a twin safe under each arm as they looked at the remains of their flat-screen TV, cracked and broken on the floor. Jenna’s phone chirped. Panting, hands on her knees, she checked her text messages.
“It’s from Ricky,” she said, “It says, ‘False alarm. But thank you. It’ll be good practice for the real thing in another week or so.’”
Manny and Jenna stared at each other. “Do you think,” said Manny, “that we could sell the house before then?”
Jenna exhaled slowly, “I think—” she broke off, “Hey, didn’t you have both twins a minute ago?”
They looked at Manny’s arms, wrapped around a single smiling toddler. From the other side of the house came a loud crash and the echoing sound of a child’s giggle.