Help! My Children Don't Match My Wallpaper!

When my two oldest children were four and two, I met an adorable toddler at our local playground, one of those blonde cherubs that belongs in a Gerber commercial. Her late-in-life parents were equally charming and we became couple friends. They invited us over -- to their house, they explained, because they hadn't been able to find a babysitter who met their specifications. The steak was delicious, but we couldn't stomach a second date, because of, um, their home. It was a sleek modern townhouse with equally sleek modern art on the walls, sharp edged exotic stone tables, angular leather chairs and white shag carpet. My husband and I sipped Evian while gazing upon a staircase that floated through the living room without handrails or kickbacks, just lovely beautiful air, a lethal weapon for any baby who had reached the crawling stage. One look at that staircase and my husband and I realized we had nothing in common with these Beautiful People.

Naturally, I thought of them, and chuckled a bit over what their white shag carpet looks like six years later, when I read the recent New York Times' Parent Shock: Children Are Not Decor. Turns out the most avid group of furniture consumers are people ages 35 to 44, people with enough financial security to invest heavily in home decor. Especially if they haven't yet had kids. Compound that with the fact that 10 times as many women are having their first child between age 35 and 39 now vs. 1975, and you've got plenty of older, wealthy first-time parents living in gorgeous homes about to be wrecked by their children.

"I'm pretty sensitive aesthetically," explained one 49-year-old mother of five-year-old twins forced to turn her formal dining room into a play space. "It does something for me when I look at a pretty room. Looking at what the room used to be was the visual equivalent of listening to Bach or Mozart. Now it's the visual equivalent of listening to Barney."

Okay, I feel her pain because I hate Barney, too. And I'm not a fan of baby toys and pacifiers underfoot and children's art work on every wall. It's nice to occasionally remember that you are still an adult. But one of the transformative joys of parenthood is that you realize what's really important in life, and it's not furniture.

Another mom in the Times article, who said she was determined not to let her child "take control of the house," still cringes at the memory of the professional babyproofer (didn't know that was a vocation) she paid to drill 300 holes in her flat-front lacquered maple kitchen cabinets. I chortled when a floating staircase entered the story. "We couldn't bear it," a 50-year-old mom of two said, explaining why they refused to safety proof the floating walnut staircase her husband had designed, or to put safety corners on her coffee tables. "It was too ugly. ... I don't feel you have to sacrifice living space to that degree." Especially not when it is just a kid's life at stake. What's next? Banning seat belts and car seats because they clash with the Porsche interior?

What's your take? Have you managed to cling to your stylish decor since having children? What are the rules you've bent and broken to survive with your sanity and your most prized possesions intact and unstained? Do you have friends like the ones described here? Do you envy their Play-Doh free homes? Feel sorry for their kids? Both?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Raising Great Kids
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We never went over board with baby proofing the house. Some of the suggestions that people made never really panned out. Like my brother thought we should throw away the curios or buy gates to put around them. He had this idea my daughter would fall into them. Never even remotely happened. I did put some locks on cabinets and door locks and gates on stair cases but that was about it. We aren't into huge decor. Mostly because we don't have time or money to spend on it right now. But would like a more adult home when kids are older. I do have friends that put in these lovely wood floors (same guy that makes you leave your shoes out doors) and they have no railings on their stair case. We are extremely cautious when my daughter is over there. But so far their twins have learned how to navigate the stair case without rails. Seems crazy to me but to each his own. Kids get hurt all the time. Sometimes you can't prevent every injury. I think just go with the basics. I don't understand the no toys families at all. It is only a few years when the toys start to take over. I noticed by the time the kids are all around 10 and over, the plastic really cuts down. There is plenty of time to have a better home and gardens house.

Posted by: foamgnome | February 20, 2008 7:15 AM

The price you pay for the wonderfulness of kids and pets is scratches on the floors and stains on the carpet. Small price to pay if you ask me. Nothing is forever. You will be able to get your silk sofa eventually enjoy the kids and the chenille while you can (both can be washed or spot cleaned as desired - however, don't use spit on a napkin to clean the sofa)!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 20, 2008 7:29 AM

"I hate Barney..."

Be careful Leslie, or people might start thinking that you've become a republican.

Posted by: DandyLion | February 20, 2008 7:55 AM

I'm with Foamgnome on the babyproofing issue. There's no need to go crazy. We have locks on the cabinets where chemicals were kept, and had gates on some staircases. We never needed more than that.

But I'll never forget attending a seminar about babyproofing when DD was an infant, and seeing the dizzying array of products we "needed" to make our home safe: Locks for swinging doors! Locks for doorknobs! The oven! The toilet! The fridge! Padding for every non-rounded surface in the house! Helmets and knee pads for crawling children! "Wings" for kids learning to walk! It's a wonder they didn't just advise moving to a padded room for the duration of the toddler years.

I wonder exactly what kind of babyproofing the people in your article were told they "needed." I cannot imagine a sane system that would involve drilling 300 holes in one's kitchen cabinets.

Posted by: newsahm | February 20, 2008 7:58 AM

In my experience (other people's kids) some kids require nothing more than locks on cabinets with chemicals and gates around stairs. It also doesn't seem that you need to lock down the house like Ft Knox all at once -- gauge what the kid gets into (some kids have no interest in cabinets and drawers) and secure accordingly. I know one family that didn't latch ALL kitchen cabinets until the 3rd child -- the others showed no interest.

Newsahm -- I only know one kid who needed the doorknob covers - there was one on the bathroom door to keep him out as he liked flushing the toliet, repeatedly!

Posted by: tntkate | February 20, 2008 8:12 AM

This is SO appropriate this morning, as last night we had an incident in our house which involved a child falling off the kitchen counter (where he had been STANDING, mind you). SOmehow or other, on the way down, he managed to take out a drawer in the kitchen. Which would be sad enough, except that the house was brand new three years ago, and this is NOT the first time we've had a section of the kitchen damaged.

I keep thinking to myself that the point of having kids is NOT to be able to look back at your life twenty years later and say, "Isn't it great? This house looks like nobody ever even lived in it." or "I win. I raised my kids with zero impact on my house, inside or out." INstead, we have a whole gang of neighborhood kids who call our house home, and I do the best I can with washable paint and my Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, and extremely durable furniture from places like Target and I guess that's the price you pay for happy memories.

Posted by: justlurking | February 20, 2008 8:16 AM

The best, cheapest furnishings a parent can buy are rules. My home is not a showplace, but my kids were raised to know what was ok to touch and what wasn't. How to wipe their feet when they came in. How to put their things away. And other than covers on electric outlets and moving valuables out of reach, I didn't really babyproof the house.

But it really leaves a bad taste in my mouth to hear people bemoaning how horrible it is to have their precious possessions threatened by their children (who should really be their precious possessions).

Posted by: jjtwo | February 20, 2008 8:18 AM

I laugh because we had beautiful, white carpet put in throughout our house a couple of years ago, and now we have a baby on the way. Oh, well...

On the other hand, we've had two cats with us during the 'white carpet phase,' and it hasn't been all that bad. I've learned that 'Spot Shot' is some magical stuff and we've purchased a portable stain remover machine that works wonders. So, who knows? The carpet may survive.

Posted by: Corvette1975 | February 20, 2008 8:19 AM

My husband and I are using the prospect of kids to justify our Ikea-and-hand-me-downs decorating style, but really we're just cheap.

Posted by: read.washpost | February 20, 2008 8:29 AM

If you are fortnate enough to have a house with a seperate living or dining room sometimes you can make that room off-limits to children. Then you can pretend to have decor.

Otherwise you can try to keep your house picked up and clean. Your children will eventually grow up and then you can send all the stuff they ruined to Goodwill (or their new apartments) and get yourself something snazzy. That snazzy furniture will look nice until Grandchildren come along.

As to the un-baby proofed floating stairs. I would never buy a house with something like that because just the thought of it freaks me out. I can not imagine sleeping at night with a hazard like that out there.

Children climb out of cribs and beds. They get up when you are still asleep. I suppose they can be trained to stay away from such things, but I wouldn't want to take the risk. What if un-trained friends come over? To me something like that is as bad as a swimming pool with no fence or alarm.

A childproofed house might be ugly, but it gives your child a safe place to be and it won't be forever.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 20, 2008 8:30 AM

"But one of the transformative joys of parenthood is that you realize what's really important in life, and it's not furniture."

Ding ding ding ding ding! Go Leslie! I barely made it through the NYT article -- was laughing too hard. That's just so Not Me. We have a few nice things, but they're mostly things my husband has made. And luckily, wood is infinitely refinishable.

On the other hand, if "design" is really just a symbol to these folks of their past lives that they gave up to have kids, then that makes more sense to me. For me, it was my car: it really took me by surprise how upset I was to trade in my 2-door on a 4-door, how much I actively hated the thought of a standard sedan or (gag) wagon/minivan. But, of course, it wasn't about the car -- the car just symbolized that part of myself I thought I was going to have to give up when the baby came. I suspect those kinds of thoughts and fears are probably pretty normal and manifest themselves through any variety of "things."

Posted by: laura33 | February 20, 2008 8:32 AM

We fit in the demographic category and bought our first "nice" furniture before we discovered we were pregnant. So I thought the Times piece was funny. But in our house convenience and fun has definitely won over asthetics. I'll have all my senior years to enjoy the perfect home.

For babyproofing - ha, ha. My son was and is a climber. He climbed onto the kitchen cupboards before he could walk unassisted. He also scaled our bookcases. And he learned how to unlatch the baby latches on the cupboards (baby hands fit in so much better than a finger).

We did our best to balance safety and supervision and so far, he's survived. All our cleaners are in the cupboard over the stove though, which is a bit of a fire hazard (there is at least a hood in between).

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | February 20, 2008 8:36 AM

Agree -- every child is different. Some show no interest in gulping down toxic kitchen cleaners. Others think the stair railing makes a great slide. Go figure.

But the point of safety proofing your home is that you just never know. Our son was pretty easy to watch, until one day at my mom's he stuck a paper clip in an electric socket. Who knew? He nearly electrocuted himself. A quick study, however -- he never tried that again.

The best babyproofing system is to watch babies and toddlers 100% of the time, 24/7. They put everything in their mouth and you just can't babyproof that instinct.

Statistics show that the three leading causes of death and injury among kids are: drowning, car accidents and head injuries from biking/scootering. So -- pool covers, car seats and seat belts, and helmets. No exceptions.

I just have to note one more chuckler from the article: the kids' names chosen by the aesthetically sensitive parents. Harrison. Vin. Fia. Cole. Brooke. Beckett. They sound like brand names, not children's. Not that there is anything wrong with that! (And if you chose one of these for your kid, my apologies. I actually like a bunch of them. Just not all at once, in one article -- hard to take!)

Posted by: leslie4 | February 20, 2008 8:53 AM

another child safety story comes to mind.

when our youngest was two, she suffered a series of seizures in her high chair. ambulance came, off to children's hospital, more seiures, vomiting, mri, cat scan, spinal tap etc showed nothing. terrifying. turns out she was fine -- febrile seizures brought on by an usual strain of rotovirus. she recovered fully within a few days.

we stayed in the hospital for two days until the docs figured she was okay. our roomie was a 16 month old boy, a young couple's youngest of five kids. at about 10 months old, he started drooling profusely and gagging. doctors thought it was nothing serious -- eventually they diagnosed asthma. mom insisted something else was wrong -- she just KNEW. finally -- six months later -- doctors agreed to an x-ray at the hospital based on the mom's insistence. one look at the xray and the doctors freaked -- he had a PENNY imbedded in his throat. he had swallowed it at 10 months and it had been there so long tissue had grown over it. they performed emergency surgery to remove it. the mom kept the penny as a souvenir of her woman's intuition.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 20, 2008 9:03 AM

Oh, I forgot, we did secure all of our bookshelves to the walls.

As far as design goes, I'm the first to admit I have the decorating sense of a prison warden, so there's not much to ruin in our home. But honestly, I didn't think the parents in the NYT story were so bad -- most of them ultimately did change their decor or babyproof their dangerous or stylish stuff in the end. So what if they didn't love doing so?

Now, for a really funny look at people who choose design over function, that a look at any given issue of Cookie magazine. This past issue featured a basement playroom redo that literally made me howl with laughter. The before photo showed a room with white walls, and several large kid toys (playhouse, ride-on, etc.) The after photo showed a beautifully painted room carefully strewn with floor pillows, but with nary a toy in sight. The article made a big deal of how the parents love to hang out there now, but strangely, not much about where the kids play.

Posted by: newsahm | February 20, 2008 9:12 AM

"Statistics show that the three leading causes of death and injury among kids are: drowning, car accidents and head injuries from biking/scootering. So -- pool covers, car seats and seat belts, and helmets. No exceptions."

Drownings occur in bathtubs, buckets, and toilets, too...

Also, the homes with no handrails for the stairs -- isn't that against code??

Posted by: DLC1220 | February 20, 2008 9:13 AM


"I just have to note one more chuckler from the article: the kids' names chosen by the aesthetically sensitive parents"

Strange. I get quite a chuckle out of your kids' names : Max, Morgan, and Tallie!

Posted by: chittybangbang | February 20, 2008 9:16 AM

My wife has always insisted on bannisters, gates, and lots of other stuff around stairs. The reason is that her grandmother died falling down the stairs in my wife's house when my wife was three.

Seriously - my mother-in-law was in hospital giving birth to my sister-in-law. My father-in-law's mother had come over to help my father-in-law with my wife. Grandmum got up in the middle of the night, turned the wrong way, and went down the stairs, landing head-first on the hardwood floor. Died the next afternoon.

So safety issues around stairs are not taken lightly in my house!

Posted by: m2j5c2 | February 20, 2008 9:27 AM

I'm very concerned with what's in my visual space, and I don't want to see the posts that bother me. I would rather look at the "meaningful pieces" (whatever that means) I've acquired.

PUH-LEASE. After reading this article, I strongly felt that these people truly don't understand what's important in life. Oh, and I also felt sorry for their kids.

As for rules, of course they are important, and yes, people can go overboard with babyproofing, but somewhere between the Barcelona chair and tot-locks and rubber corners on every surface, there's a happy medium. Most parents I know seem to have achieved it/

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 20, 2008 9:28 AM

"I get quite a chuckle out of your kids' names : Max, Morgan, and Tallie!"

This from someone who goes by the name "chittychittybangbang." Oh, that's funny!

Re: the NYTimes article, I'm SO glad I don't know people like that. How pretentious!

"But one of the transformative joys of parenthood is that you realize what's really important in life, and it's not furniture. "

Amen to that!

Posted by: owlice | February 20, 2008 9:43 AM

"The best, cheapest furnishings a parent can buy are rules. My home is not a showplace, but my kids were raised to know what was ok to touch and what wasn't. How to wipe their feet when they came in. How to put their things away."

Agreed. Another plus is I am not afraid to bring my kids to an "adult" house.

Posted by: tsm | February 20, 2008 9:48 AM

It is really so bad to want to maintain some semblance of a nice home when you have kids? I really don't see how that is putting you kids' "lives at stake" (and how dare someone ask you take off your shoes!!) Today's post just seems so judgemental - Leslie's house is/was overrun by kids so those who have actually maintained order must be endangering their kids or just haven't learned yet.

I understand some things are common sense -- store chemicals out of reach for example -- but is it really necessary to pad every corner and live in what becomes just a big play room? What about rules and watching your kids? It seems obvious to me: food stays in the kitchen, dirty shoes come off at the door, no playing in ANY cabinets, no touching stuff... We are willing to go the extra mile to pad/remove everything remotely dangerous in our house but not to keep a better eye on our kids and consistently enforce rules that aren't just to keep OUR houses nice and kids safe, but are common courtesies and safety lessons they NEED to be learning. I realize this is harder than I present it, but, hey, it's just our kids' lives at stake... easier to just put them in a padded room I guess.

Posted by: JJ321 | February 20, 2008 9:53 AM

Leslie: You're lucky you were never on a first-name basis with the POison Control Ceneter, as we were for a while. (A couple of calls within a couple of weeks.)

We're a military family and it's also documented that A LOT of household accidents happen while families are moving. You don't get around to babyproofing something immediately, the dangerous chemicals don't get put away promptly, small sharp objects are in boxes on the floor while families are moving. In our case, our daughter ate a disposable diaper (thankfully unused), a houseplant that was listed as carcinogenic and managed to gnaw through the rubber eyedropper thing on a bottle of childproof kids' cold medicine. people at the poison control center: "Oh, it's you again. Hang on, let me look that one up. . ."

Posted by: justlurking | February 20, 2008 9:56 AM

Crikey--there are obvious safety issues -- heck, I would not climb a staircase without railings, let alone let my 7 year old run up and down them, and our outlets all had safety covers on them. But I do think some parents in America succumb too much to the "cult of the child" in letting their kids' toys completely take over their houses. Or in "babyproofing" every nook and cranny--really, "fireplace corner covers" or "coffee table corner covers"? Whatever did people in the frontier days do without those?

I agree with tsm that rules are key to co-existing with kids and their stuff. Our daughter now knows that the storage ottomans and benches in the dining room and family room are for stowing her toys when she's done with them. As is her room. Oh--and when she wants to run around, so that she doesn't poke her eye out on that murderous fireplace hearth or coffee table...we send her outside.

Posted by: bloomsday_37 | February 20, 2008 10:03 AM

We have a nephew (now 24) who was just the DEVIL Child- this kid would walk into our house (we did not have kids way back when) and just destroy it. His Mother thought it was just adorable, he would literally climb on the kitchen cabinets reach into the cereal boxes and eat the entire box, while his loving Mother and Grandmother would sit around and be amazed he could "climb" that high! This kid would come into a room and simply destroy things, it was also noted at 2 he looked 6 at 6 he looked well 16! So it was always difficult to not get angry or frustrated. I remember one visit- he was put to bed about 30 minuets later I went into check on him and he had literally removed the bed linen's from the bed - pushed the furniture together- knocked the bedside lamp over while it was on and plugged in and draped the bedding everywhere so he could have a fort- this was at 4 years of age!!!!!! I called his Mother in and she thought this was just idyllic- I swear she laughed out loud and said- "he is such a dear creative child". The next morning I wake to hear crunch crunch crunch this dear little 4 year old is sitting on top of my refrigerator eating Cheerios or should I say its raining Cheerios all over my kitchen (its about 6 AM) Well I reach up Pick him off the fridge- dust his bottom off rather sharply, he looks up at me and says, "What's that you just did to me?" I reply - "Little Lamb that was a swat! And don't climb on my fridge; eat out of the box anymore!" I swear he replies back, "My Mommy lets me do whatever I want and I never had a swat before" I reply "Well its my house, my rules so that's that!
With that declaration to this sweet creative little lamb- he listened and was a perfect child after that for the rest of the weekend.....
Fast forward Christmas 2007- in walks my strapping 24 yr old Nephew for holiday dinner with shorts - t-shirt and NO SHOES
I ask him - Where are your shoes, he replies with a wink, MY Mommy says I can do whatever I want, I don't have to wear shoes........... I reply well you don't have to have dinner, he then goes over to his bag pulls out a dinner jacket, shoes and socks and changes.......... Gotta love him,
Moral of the story - they grow up- have control of your house- do what is best for the child and don't sweat the small things- Just swat them!

Posted by: blonde19 | February 20, 2008 10:08 AM

blonde19, that story made me laugh out loud!

Posted by: educmom-615 | February 20, 2008 10:20 AM

The article doesn't strike me as describing anything new. Growing up, plenty of my friends lived in houses that had nice, formal rooms where the children were just not allowed to play: living room, dining room, study. (Of course, this is only effective with children old enough to understand such rules). We played in other parts of the house, or outside.

This presupposes a certain amount of space in the house, which was not an issue growing up in the suburbs. It may be that the New York families in the article just don't have enough space in their tiny Manhattan abodes to cordon off a child-free area.

Posted by: tomtildrum | February 20, 2008 10:24 AM

As for the woman who said, "I'm very concerned with what's in my visual space. When people come into the house, I very much do not want them being bombarded with toys." -- nitwits like this just shouldn't have children. Clearly she is not psychologically prepared to have another person (the child!) sharing the house. Does she think she's going to keep the children catatonic in the closet like the grandparents in Weird Science?

I feel sure there was a missing story, too: couples who were lazy about babyproofing out of "style-consciousness", and as a result their youngsters were injured. You know those people exist - shouldn't America hear about them?

Posted by: mucus99 | February 20, 2008 10:26 AM

I feel sure there was a missing story, too: couples who were lazy about babyproofing out of "style-consciousness", and as a result their youngsters were injured. You know those people exist - shouldn't America hear about them?
Posted by: mucus99

hey, isn't this what natural selection is all about? the unfit parents' offspring don't survive, so their idiocy goes to the grave with them instead of being extended into the broader population.

i think these parents are classic examples of Darwin Awards contenders--it's just a shame they had kids before removing themselves from the gene pool.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 20, 2008 10:35 AM

My children are 21 (my son) and 22 (my daughter) now, BUT at age ten months I found my son on top of the refrigerator. At age 1 1/2, he short-circuited the entire house when he removed a plug cover and stuck his "play keys" into the outlet--he was knocked across the room by the shock. (We went to the outlet covers that screw in. Interestingly, he recently got his college degree in electrical engineering.) At age five he fell out of a tree from 25 feet up. Some kids require more childproofing than others. (My daughter was easy by comparison--but she did like to reorganize the dining room to create theatrical sets (she's now looking for theater stage management jobs).)

We always had one "adults-only" room, with nice furniture, decorated for adults. That was where we retreated at the end of the day, when rooms designed for our kids were overwhelming in their accommodations.

Posted by: DMD77 | February 20, 2008 10:38 AM

A baby boomer grandmother here who finds the subject of childproofing a house to the degree that some parents have pretty incomprehensible. I remember clearly when my brother was born in 1962 (my sister and I were 10 and 12 respectively) that my grandmother said that he had to learn to live in OUR house. My Sweetheart was our day care provider. She didn't believe in moving things and she didn't. She said that she didn't move them when were little and that we had been perfectly fine. My brother was nothing like us and some things did get broken, but overall he made it to adulthood mostly unscathed. Sweetheart also had a hand in providing day care for three of my sister's six children and my only. Once again she didn't move a thing and each of our children is past 30 and just fine.
I have several nieces and nephews under the age of 10 that I have kept over the years during the day and overnight when they were in diapers and beyond. Now I am also a grandmother. My oldest (12) has spent plenty of days and nights at our home and I moved very few things. The two youngest (3 and almost 1) will be with us for the entire weekend while the family moves into a new home. I do not plan to change one thing about the way I approach their being in my home, just as I didn't change one thing when their father was growing up. We had the best that we could afford and did not make any of the lifestyle changes that today's parents are making. I am a very neat, organized person. Our home was just that, a home. It was clean and comfortable. My son learned early to put things away at the end of the day and how to play without making the entire house a play room. Neither he, nor we, ate all over the house but ate and drank where spills could be contained. I taught him as I was taught and never gave it a second thought. Would I want to do away with seat belts and car seats and some of the other wonderful things that make life safer for today's children, absolutely not. But I do believe that some of the latches and covers and gates make a house more of a prison than is necessary. Just my two cents worth.

Posted by: HVStewart | February 20, 2008 10:43 AM

I also grew up in the 'burbs, where just about everyone had a formal, adults-only living room,and some had a formal dining room. It was just understood we were not allowed to play there.
I think there is a balance between having a perfect house and a perfect mess. Though what I find more horrible is the way some parents let their cars looks! YUCK

Posted by: Catwhowalked | February 20, 2008 10:45 AM

""The best, cheapest furnishings a parent can buy are rules. My home is not a showplace, but my kids were raised to know what was ok to touch and what wasn't. How to wipe their feet when they came in. How to put their things away.""

That's all well and good when your kids are 3 or 4, but when you have a toddler who is learning to walk, there needs to be a gate at the top of the stairs.

I remember shopping for a baby gate a few years ago and some women in the same aisle was lamenting to me about how awful baby gates were because they were so ugly, etc, etc. I didn't really know what to say- I mean, you leave the thing up for like a year or two and take it down. It keeps your kid from breaking his neck when you are in the bathroom. What is there to complain about?

Posted by: floof | February 20, 2008 10:46 AM

"The best, cheapest furnishings a parent can buy are rules. My home is not a showplace, but my kids were raised to know what was ok to touch and what wasn't. How to wipe their feet when they came in. How to put their things away."

My children also could be trusted at other adult oriented homes. The sad comment, is that it surprises me how many ADULTS who visit do not know basic rules such as: use a coaster, wipe your feet, rinse the sink after brushing your teeth. We are raising a society of non-polite people!

Posted by: peonymom | February 20, 2008 10:46 AM

woops, woman, not women.

Posted by: floof | February 20, 2008 10:52 AM

My parents still store their laundry detergent on a high shelf inside a box inside a closet because I was so intrepid as a child. Family folklore goes that I was too quiet one day (I was about 3) and was found in the laundry room pouring laundry detergent and bleach on the floor, making a gigantic mess. I had climbed from my stepstool, to a chair, to the top of the washer and used the broom handle to dislodge the packet of detergent and bleach from the shelf. My parents now have this in place on the off chance that my kid (Ms. Cautious if there ever was one) will explore the laundry room in any depth (though that doesn't explain why they kept the detergent-in-a-box-on-a-shelf configuration from when I was 3 to when I was in my early 30s, before my daughter was born!).

We have lots of crappy furniture in our house, so I can't relate to the folks in the NYT article. I hate outlet covers, so we managed those by rearranging furniture to cover the outlets. We absolutely have a gate at the top of the stairs and doorknob covers for the doors to the outside/basement. We also have latched the chemical cupboard. We also don't do things like answer the phone when she's in the bath. But we're lucky in that our kid is just not that interested in exploring. We also moved a lot of our furniture to the basement - less because we were concerned about her cracking her head on the coffee table, and more because when it's -30 windchill (like it is here today) we need some space inside the house for her to run around.

We do have a formal dining room and a guest room. They are the only nice rooms in our house - painted walls, matching decor, tasteful yet funky tchotchkes. The rest of the house is a little bit of a hodge-podge, so a Fisher-Price toy here and there won't really be dilutive to our decoration.

Posted by: anny | February 20, 2008 10:54 AM

I've always prefered to put the toilet paper on the roller in the "over" position. But do you know what babies do when they find it that way? They whack at it over and over until the entire roll is piled up on the bathroom floor.

This problem can be fixed by putting the toilet paper on the roller in the "under" position.

What an inconvenience! I'm glad my kids are through that stage!

Posted by: DandyLion | February 20, 2008 11:01 AM

Our rationale was to baby/childproof anything that might have a fatal or seriously disfiguring outcome. Everything else we figured they would learn on their own with one or two instances. We put the chemicals up high (bear proofing is a good model) and tupperware low. We also had gates. They have nice ones in stained wood shades that I thought looked pretty good. We also had one room (playroom off the kitchen) that was completely safe so they could be in there and out of our sight. Oh, and we had a rule from day one, no moving chairs around at all - thus they couldn't get on the counters. It doesn't last that long - pretty soon you will look back with misty eyes missing that goofy little babychild and wondering how it all went so fast.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 20, 2008 11:02 AM

I read my husband some of the NYT article and all he could do was snort about those "ridiculous Manhattan yuppies" who are worried about their personal style!

Okay, so we aren't totally styling people, but we do have some nice pieces of furniture. I must confess, however, we were blessed with one of those kids who "doesn't get into things" - we did the wait-and-see approach on babyproofing and basically ended up doing nothing but covering the outlets (we did have gates at the top and bottom of stairs in our old house; new apartment is one level).

In our current home, we have a mostly grown-up looking living room, with a corner devoted to my daughters toys and books. True, by day's end they get all over the room, but are easily picked up and replaced to "their spot" so we can enjoy a mostly kid-free living room the rest of the time. We talked about having a separate play room but she wants to be with us (and we want her with us too!)

I've always wondered about people who live in homes that look straight out of a magazine - it just doesn't seem very realistic to me to expect a child to "respect your decor".

Posted by: viennamom | February 20, 2008 11:20 AM

My husband and I are both architects and we're design-geeks; we LOVE modern design, especially furniture from the 30's (Corbu, Breuer). However, we both knew that we wanted kids when we married. We've been ridiculous in how we've planned: we bought a house that - by the suburban standard I grew up in - is small, but affordable. We do not have a separate living room or dining room for "nice" furniture and, knowing that kids were inevitable, our furniture choices for the 10 years prior to their arrival were in preparation for them.

So, in lieu of the $4K Herman Miller sofa that we WANTED, we bought a decent couch with fabric that... matched the designer dog that we had at the time (weimaraner). Carpets were sisal to resist the dogs nails and even though we have wall-to-wall hardwood floors throughout the house, we are waiting to refinish them. These things have survived the dog and (so far) 4 years of kids.

The lesson here? Our house may not reflect our design passions, but with three kids under the age of 4 that stuff can WAIT. My mom had a plaque that I hang in my kitchen just like she did: "May my house be clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy." Sounds great to me.

And as far as child-proofing, we covered all of the outlets, proofed the kitchen cabinets, and use gates to keep the kids off of the stairs and/or in their rooms at night. We pretty much use as much supervision as we can, with a few trinkets thrown in so we don't have to be hyper about it.

Posted by: harerin | February 20, 2008 11:58 AM

Oh, and I wanted to mention that we also supervise our kids when we visit our friends' homes who may not have kids and/or childproofing measures in place. We are teaching our kids to respect others' property and rules when in someone else's home. That is our job as parents!!

What does get me though, are the family members who do not want to have us visit because of our kids. I was told by a very close relation that we couldn't visit their home because they "didn't want to be bothered with the crying, diapers, and childproofing" (putting away a collection of Dept. 56 Christmas Village stuff that is out ALL year). And they wonder why we don't come to see them!


Posted by: harerin | February 20, 2008 12:05 PM

"(and how dare someone ask you take off your shoes!!)"

Maybe it's just my researching for my trip to Japan, but this seems like an odd spot to be fixated on.

I have a good friend who is an entomologist for the army. It's amazing what doesn't get spread throughout the house when you leave the shoes by the door (and slippers are offered)

Posted by: slazar | February 20, 2008 12:09 PM

Well I'm a bit cranky reading all the people who outright say that having pride and a sense of goodness from maintaining a stylish and well designed interior of a home is lacking priorities.

There's a level of reasonability here- and I certainly don't see why we can't have both (huh, balance) a fabulous interior and young kids to a reasonable extent.

I just hope the ones who nay-say certain priorities don't get huffy when someone tells THEM that their priorities are all messed up.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | February 20, 2008 12:33 PM

I do enjoy nice furnishings and a nice home, and do expect my child to grow up knowing how to behave in a non-plastic world. He's not a climber, so basics like a stair gate, a few outlet plugs, and cabinet locks for the chemicals, knives, and fine china were sufficient. Otherwise, we've stayed with the antiques, white silk, white leather, sheepskin rugs, etc. that we didn't stop liking just because we love our son. He knows eating is done exclusively in the kitchen or dining room and messy shoes are left at the door, and I recognize that rubbing alcohol removes crayon and fine furniture holds up well and is easily recovered or refinished if absolutely needed. By the way, every ding and stain inflicted on our furniture thus far has been done by an ADULT. Our child is the only grandchild in the family who does not trash his grandmother's home or require significant knick-knack rearranging on her part. Our parental job is both to protect and to civilize our children; too many have lost sight of the latter in enabling their children to run wild.

Posted by: topicaltimely | February 20, 2008 12:54 PM

What the Times article didn't mention is that city law requires bars on the windows of all apartments where there are children under 10 years old. As our youngest's tenth birthday approached, we were eagerly awaiting our release from "prison decor." Then we realized how much our Golden Retriever likes to stick his nose out the window, and the joy we take in welcoming our friends' toddlers. So I guess the inmates have taken over the asylum for good!

Posted by: mo-lama | February 20, 2008 1:02 PM

"The price you pay for the wonderfulness of kids and pets is scratches on the floors and stains on the carpet."

I just don't get the mentality that your kids' childhoods will only be enjoyable to them and to you if the house gets trashed in the process.

Ditto what HVStewart said--it is actually possible to have a nicely-decorated, clean house that is also safe for kids. Yes, accidents happen and someone gets marker on the sofa or scrapes the wood on a table or floor--it doesn't mean that you have to resign yourself to the fact that there's no use buying nice things or decorating because it will all just get wrecked anyway. Granted, my decor is not modern and doesn't include rail-less staircases, but it also doesn't include broken cabinets and toys all over the place.

I don't think it's child abuse to want to keep toys in certain rooms or parts of rooms or not to cover every sharp corner in the house with foam, or to not give kids free license to draw on walls or do whatever it is that would make it necessary to postpone buying furniture or decorating until they've grown up.

With regard to childproofing, the one kid I've known who broke her arm falling down the stairs was from a home that had gates at the top AND bottom of the stairs and the mom was a zealot about child safety. The notion that as long as you childproof everything just right your child will never sustain any type of injury, but if you don't childproof adequately your kid will definitely be maimed in some way, is crazy. There are no guarantees in life. The people I've known--including my friend's 5 year old daughter--who were killed in car crashes all were in seatbelts or carseats.

Posted by: maggielmcg | February 20, 2008 1:12 PM

My husband and I are using the prospect of kids to justify our Ikea-and-hand-me-downs decorating style, but really we're just cheap.

Posted by: read.washpost | February 20, 2008 08:29 AM

LOL. It is nice to have kids to justify it, though. I fall into this same category, mostly because of necessity, but now, of course, because even if I did have a lot of extra money, it would not be practical to spend it on stuff that the kids will destroy anyway. When I was preggers with my son, we did paint the walls, only to have him draw all over them when he was a toddler. We repainted as soon as he was over that stage, and are resigned to the idea that our daughter will also draw on the walls when she is able.

Posted by: emily111 | February 20, 2008 1:14 PM

"Help! My Children Don't Match My Wallpaper!
. . . "What's your take? Have you managed to cling to your stylish decor since having children?"
-- By Leslie Morgan Steiner '87 | February 20, 2008; 7:00 AM ET

From the title and Leslie's mention of "décor," my first reaction was, hey, ¿doesn't this topic belong on a Friday? But there have been a lot of good child safety ideas posted today.

Last week, I was cleaning up the kitchen in the house we used to live in when our two oldest were born. Sure enough, the safety catches were still there for the drawers under the counter. To open a drawer, you have to pull it open half an inch, snake your pinkie finger inside, push down on a button to disengage the catch, and pull the drawer open with your other hand. First now, 22 years after we moved out, I got a screwdriver and removed the catches.

Also, no one so far has mentioned safety covers for electrical outlets. (Our word for "electrical outlets" was "don't-touch-its.") The little plastic plugs that fit into the sockets are not good enough -- any kid whose fingernails have grown in can pull them out. Better are hard plastic covers that attach by means of a long screw that takes the place of the outlet plate cover attachment screw. There are a couple of holes in the sides for the cords to come out.

You can put all the safety devices in your home, and there are still no guarantees. I cracked my forehead open on a steel door jamb chasing my brother around the apartment, and our youngest son cracked his forehead open by tripping and falling against a wooden dining-room table leg. Still, we did everything we could (short of turning our home into a padded cell), with absolutely no regard for "décor." We live in a home, not on a movie set.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | February 20, 2008 1:28 PM

"Well I'm a bit cranky reading all the people who outright say that having pride and a sense of goodness from maintaining a stylish and well designed interior of a home is lacking priorities.

There's a level of reasonability here- and I certainly don't see why we can't have both (huh, balance) a fabulous interior and young kids to a reasonable extent."

I don't know. I think it probably has more to do with personality than it does with balance or priorities. Some people love to have showcase houses. It's important to them; they feel it reveals who they are; and that's fine. Others just want to live comfortably. This does not mean that their houses will be trashed by children, but it may mean that they are not willing to go to the trouble of constantly monitoring their children, to make sure they don't get on expensive designer couch, etc. I have a reasonably clean house (most days). I also have a small house, which means that we don't have a room to spare where which we designate as a no kids zone. We live in the entire house. Which means to us that we furnish it for practical purposes. We still think it looks and feels nice, but to us, it is primarily a place to live. Looks are completely secondary. Cleanliness is important, but only because of hygiene. That's how we achieve balance, because it suits us personally. If other people are more invested in their stuff than we are, we respect that.

Posted by: emily111 | February 20, 2008 1:37 PM

Emily, you can always do what my parents did - they cut open brown bags from the supermarket and masking taped them on one specific wall -- ours was in the hallway between the stairs and the kitchen. The paper was the length of the hallway (10' feet or so), about 5' tall, down to the floor. I was allowed to scribble on the wall as a special treat. And then when we had company, or when we moved, they just pulled down the bags. Kids' markers won't bleed through the bags, and it's a giant canvas they love to draw on. We have one for our daughter in the kitchen (on the pantry door) - and it's awesome. She knows that she can color on the pantry and that's it. Might be worth a try.

Posted by: anny | February 20, 2008 1:40 PM

Anny, thanks for the idea. We will try that idea and see if it works.

Posted by: emily111 | February 20, 2008 1:53 PM

"The price you pay for the wonderfulness of kids and pets is scratches on the floors and stains on the carpet."

I just don't get the mentality that your kids' childhoods will only be enjoyable to them and to you if the house gets trashed in the process

I don't know exactly what in my comment means that the house is trashed. Do you have children or pets? Cats and dogs are going to scratch the hardwood if you let them walk on it. Children and pets (more often the pets) will always throw up on the carpeted or upholstered surface, even if a hard surface is near by (this is the same law that guarantees that a slice of bread will always land butter side down). So while I like a reasonably clean house, I am unwilling to spend all morning scrubbing a spot on the carpet until is is invisible. Frankly, the previous owner of our home did just that - carpet guy all the time - and all she did was ruin the shape, texture and color of the carpets. Once you steam clean all the protection is gone and it will hold every bit of dirt and stain. I don't want kids who can only color or eat in one room, sometimes the whole family likes to pile on the couch and eat popcorn and watch a movie. Like Emily said, for us at least, its about balance. We'd like a nice home but are unwilling to sacrifice the little people, animals and the way we live to have a show home. This is but one of the many things in my life that would be dramatically different if we didn't have kids. Number one being the location of my breasts!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 20, 2008 2:00 PM

"When I was preggers with my son, we did paint the walls, only to have him draw all over them when he was a toddler."

Emily, you remind me of how proud I was for actually "decorating" my son's room before he was born -- ok, not fancy, but there was wallpaper involved, dammit -- seemed like a big deal to me. The joy lasted until last month, when I walked in after naptime, and discovered that, during the 30 minutes I had listened to the boy babbling himself to sleep, he had apparently been occupying himself by peeling off the border as far as his fat little arms could reach and ripping it into teeeensy, tiny little shreds! He was at least as proud of his "work" as I had been about mine!

"You can put all the safety devices in your home, and there are still no guarantees."

Matt, I am poster child for that. As a girl, I cracked the side of my forehead on the coffee table so hard I spent an overnight in the hospital. While there, I woke up in the middle of the night and didn't see my mom. So I crawled down to the end of the bed, leaned on the footboard to see if I could see her in the bathroom -- and promptly slipped and cracked the OTHER side of my head on the metal footrail. I still have "matching" scars on the corner of each eye. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | February 20, 2008 2:04 PM

I am now a boomer grandmother. As a child my mother insisted that knick knacks stay in place because children need to know how to behave in polite society. I followed her example resulting in my son at 2 drinking tea out of a bone china tea cup in a formal dining room while visiting a neighbor. I made very few adjustments to my home when my toddler grandson would come to visit. As an art collector it tickled me when he at 4 asked me, " Grammy how come your house is so beautiful?" When I asked what exactly did he mean, my delightful boy went on to describe the various paintings and sculptures that he likes. He made sure to point out the new acquisitions to his mother when she arrived. Beauty is important to me and I believe children need it in their daily lives.

Posted by: gardengate14 | February 20, 2008 2:25 PM

I come from a a long line of women who are all about the formal living room that kids (supposedly) don't play in. Well, inevitably, it was always where my brothers and I wanted to be. I liked my great-grandmother's baby grand piano, and the plush new carpet made great roads for my brothers' matchbox cars.

So, my husband and I had a formal living room for a while that contained furniture that I inherited from my deceased grandparents. The chairs were uncomfortable (not to mention pink), the end tables not practical, and in our tiny cape cod house in Silver Spring, it was a waste of space. My husband called it the "dead room" because it was unusable and because everything in it had been property of people who were now dead. We got a sturdy leather sofa, ottoman, and chair from what used to be Hecht's--decent quality, not too outrageously expensive. The dogs' claws have scratched it, and the buttons on the ottoman are all popped up from kids jumping on it, but it's much more usable and comfortable. The pink chairs are in the basement--one of them broken from being accidentally dropped down the stairs on the trip down--and the end tables are in my parents' attic.

Posted by: dave19er | February 20, 2008 2:26 PM

"Beauty is important to me and I believe children need it in their daily lives."

Beauty is important to me also. But I see the beauty in other things as well. My son's lego projects are beautifully displayed in what use to be our formal dining room. Our kitchen wall is decorated with wonderful kid art. It is beautiful to see my husband, asleep on the living room couch, with our baby daughter sleeping on his chest.
Keats said,
"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'"

I think that if your house reflects your truth, then it can be beautiful, regardless of the decor and expense. In the end, it is about living honestly, whatever that means for each person.

Posted by: emily111 | February 20, 2008 3:13 PM

Baby gates are a serious hazard. My wife put one up to keep our 1 year old from getting into the kitchen and dumping the trash can. I tripped over it and was lucky I didn't get hurt. No way was I going to let her put a gate at the top of the steps. Babies bounce down steps a lot better than DandyLions do. Besides, kids need to eventually learn how to go up and down stairs on their own. If they fall, it's a lesson learned for them on risk management.

Posted by: DandyLion | February 20, 2008 3:31 PM

When I was preggers with my son, we did paint the walls, only to have him draw all over them when he was a toddler. We repainted as soon as he was over that stage, and are resigned to the idea that our daughter will also draw on the walls when she is able.

Posted by: emily111 | February 20, 2008 01:14 PM

We painted one wall in our kitchen with blackboard paint. I leave chalk out so the kids can draw on it. They're pretty good about it. Also chalk is easy to get off cabinets or other walls etc when my 22 month old decides to "test the rules" and draw elsewhere. :)

Posted by: nabelk | February 20, 2008 3:35 PM

nabelk - we had a problem with kids eating chalk when they were younger, so we went with "markerboard paint". Kids use those standard dry-erase markers that every office products shop sells. Non-toxic, and apparently tastes bad enough that they don't put them into the mouth twice. (The markerboard paint is fairly expensive, but worth it in the long run in terms of reduced stress and effort.)

Posted by: m2j5c2 | February 20, 2008 3:43 PM

Our house is a mix of nice stuff and cheap, IKEA-type furniture. We keep the nice stuff out of reach of our toddler but accept there is a chance she's going to find a way to get to it and break it or write on it or ruin it. And that's okay with us. I think it's fine to have beautiful things with a kid around as long as you accept they may be completely wrecked.

Posted by: tsouderos | February 20, 2008 3:50 PM

This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite quotes about motherhood:

"It will be gone before you know it. The fingerprints on the wall appear higher and higher. Then suddenly they disappear."

-- Dorothy Evslin, American writer

Amen to fingerprints!

Posted by: leslie4 | February 20, 2008 3:58 PM

I followed her example resulting in my son at 2 drinking tea out of a bone china tea cup in a formal dining room while visiting a neighbor.

Gardengate dahhhling. That is so charming. I was just saying to Miffy the other day that I don't know what is happening to our youth. All these children drinking from brightly colored plastic cups and laughing and playing. What will this next generation do without knowing how properly to drink from bone china? Next thing you know they will want to send "scholarship" students into our schools! Keep the faith.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 20, 2008 4:07 PM

I couldn't relate to the NYT parents. I was offended by the woman who didn't want to protect her kids from falling 3 stories off a cliff ( her stairs) because safety barriers were too ugly.

Some kind of childproofing of a house is a necessity, because the number one killer of children is accidents (and yes, car accidents figure prominently, but lots of kids die or are hospitalized each year with injuries from household accidents). That being said, it can be prioritized, and individualized to the kid's needs. We've had fun being creative.

My husband and I insisted on installing standard safety gates on a hall stairwell (top and bottom). Trust me, if your kid falls down the steps, you at least will have a nice 10 hour ER visit for Xrays and a then a sleepless night watching for a closed head injury. We also have a curved stair with nice wooden balusters, and we couldn't figure out how to put gates on the top of those stairs without ruining the woodwork. So we bought a sheet of plywood, coated it with a quilt to make it bulky and padded, threaded it through the railing openings, and secured it to the woodwork with strong ties so that nothing can dislodge it. It effectively forms a 'wall', and the kids can't get to the stairs. We can untie and remove it if we want, with no damage done. It also doesn't look so bad--the quilt is white, so the thing blends in with the white walls around it.

We have learned to use rubber bands to secure doorknobs and drawer knobs together so that our toddler can't open them (works well for double doors); we couldn;t find any satisfactory child locks that worked for these items, and we did not want to drill holes in our drawers. Adults can slip the bands off, but if done properly, toddlers have alot of trouble--by the time you see them trying to get the bands off, you can intervene! (The usual cabinet slide locks can be slid over metal knobs--our 18 month old learned how to do that; he can;t do this w/ rubber bands).

We have a cream colored carpet. We use a nice area rug to protect it where the kids play, and if they want to play in other parts of the house where the carpet is, I quickly throw down a sheet or two. Helps keep all that baby spit up off the carpet.

But, basically, we try to enjoy our kids and not worry about our house, because our kids are far more important. The simpler I keep the house, the more time and energy I have to enjoy the kids.

Posted by: dan1138 | February 20, 2008 5:16 PM

Gosh darn it, you just can't win for losing. Devote your adult life to building a nest that looks like it's out of the pages of Martha Stewart Living and here comes Moxiemom to make fun of your two year old granchild and his bone china sippy cup. My question is, did he point his little pinkie finger in right direction or not?

What with all you people, don't you understand the RULES, the critical importance of that free floating staircase to a person's identity and self esteem, the necessity of a tasteful and HGTV approved sense of decorating ascetics. I mean how is your kid ever going to learn to appreciate the artistic superiority of Picasso if you keep posting his artwork all over your house Emily. Oh you guys so disappoint...

Posted by: pinkoleander | February 20, 2008 5:43 PM

I'm not a big believer in childproofing. I informed my son what was my stuff and what was his stuff. That worked most of the time. When it didn't, I came to understand that being a parent of a toddler was a step toward nirvana- it helped me not to be so attached to earthly possessions!

Posted by: demosthenes24 | February 22, 2008 10:02 AM

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