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When we first put up the baby gates, Simon was around 8 or 9 months old and I was expecting him to crawl any day. I made a hash of it, and within a month or so had tripped over and knocked down both gates and not done myself any great favors, either. Then Simon finally started to move, and we finally got the original gates up plus two shiny additional ones.

As Matt would say, the house was cordoned off like Sadr City. We blocked the bottom of the steps originating in the living room, the bottom of the steps originating in the kitchen (these combine to form a drum-bridge staircase), the end of the upstairs hall, and the top of the back staircase. The goal was to prevent Simon from going and down without supervision and to prevent him using the steep back staircase, which everyone I know has fallen down at least once, altogether.

As the months went by, we used the gates less and less, and Simon began to play with them more and more. When the mattress delivery guys needed to remove two of the four this fall, we never put them back up. The gate at the bottom of the kitchen stairs, always precarious, became a toy for Simon this fall, and he knocked it over a few days ago. And the gate at the end of the hall upstairs, the one that keeps him on the second floor and the holy grail of gates, is pulling out of the plaster after being toddler-handled one too many times.

Simon, ever cautious, has only fallen down the stairs once-and that time I was watching him. Which is to say, he can go up and down stairs just fine, and the only way to prevent an accident would be to hover over him continuously. That doesn’t seem healthy to me.

So Matt and I have decided that the gates are going, freeing our home from obstacles we have tripped over and smashed toes into countless times. The key word here is “decided.” Neither of us has actually removed the last gate, the one pulling out of the plaster in our upstairs hall, and I think both of us are slightly wary to do so.

All of which is emblematic of an unexpected gray area in parenting books. The guides are great at telling you when you need to start doing something, but they rarely follow through with information about when you can stop. When do the gates come down? When do you stop using a swing? Or a crib? When can I stop cutting grapes in half?

I can see how this gets even harder as time goes on. When can Simon walk to his classroom alone? Or cross a street or bike to a friend’s house? When can he take the bus? Or drive after dark? Some of the best parenting advice I’ve seen was in The Blessing of the Skinned Knee, where the author argued that for matters such as these you should consult and defer to more experienced parents in your area. Which I would do, except most of those who qualify have one-story houses, have new babies and and so have left gates up for the second child, or have older children and can’t remember any more.

So I’m going to keep deciding to pull down that top gate, and will continue to dream of unobstructed passageways and easier trips down stairs with laundry, until someone can tell me that it’s OK, until Simon pulls the thing out the rest of the way, or until I trip over it next, whichever comes first.

2 Responses to “Boundaries”

  1. Jen Bortel says:

    FWIW, we never had gates up in our two-story house. Sam has always been cautious and declined to navigate the stairs unless we were there by his side….until last week, when without parental supervision, he scooted down and then crawled back up the stairs. (I only realized it because a stuffed animal that had been upstairs with us only moments ago was now mysteriously in the foyer.) It seems dumb to put gates up now. I think we’re just going to let the boy take his chances. I might change my mind on that the first time he cartwheels down the stairs, though.

  2. Jessica says:

    Thanks for the perspective. I was truly hoping to hear from some folks I haven’t asked before. It’s so hard to know what’s OK and what’s wanton neglect!

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