Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Facilitating Ebony's Love of Danger


I haven’t had much time to write lately. Or to read, or to pluck my eyebrows, or to sit down and just think. Ebony has mastered crawling, so as soon as her chubby little fists hit the ground, she’s off. I spend most of my day picking her up and putting her back somewhere safe.

She likes hanging out near the marble hearth, especially close to the sharp corners. She likes playing near the doors, especially if someone could come bursting through at any moment. She loves plug sockets, with or without plugs in. She likes pressing the switch, or pulling on the wires. She likes eating leaves, swallowing tissues, running her fingers along the edge of the floorboards, scratching the sofas.
She really enjoys finding crap on the floor, and eating it. Crap covers a wide variety of items including hair, dust, crumbs and elastic bands. She likes shoes, a lot. Especially if they are dirty, or have filthy shoe laces she can attempt to devour.
She likes standing up, and crashing to the ground with a squeal. She is learning to cruise, and makes her way along the sofa and around the TV cabinet, pottering about. She wears tights a lot, slippy tights, so often falls. And cries.
My job is to keep her safe, and happy. This sounds easy. It’s not.
She likes the danger. It’s fun, interactive, and teaches her about the world. If I move her everytime she gets over to the TV, then that area of the room becomes even more interesting to her. Why isn’t she allowed over there? And so she wants to go there more. And I spend the rest of the day picking her up and moving her back into the middle of the room.
My Dad has suggested getting a playpen for her, to save myself the hassle. But considering I spend my working life campaigning against captivity, something doesn’t sit well with me about that suggestion.
Frustrating as it can be to repeatedly remove her from potential danger, at least this way she is learning from a young age which areas of the house require extra safety precautions. She isn’t confined to one ‘baby-proofed’ space, she is allowed to explore at will, with me keeping a close eye on her. I feel that this way she will experience things she may not discover if confined to a pen.
While I tidied up the living room the other day, Ebony removed all of the DVDs from the shelf, and then emptied out the laundry basket repeatedly. These aren’t misdemeanors she would have had managed in a playpen. In a playpen she would most likely have access to her usual toys, which she can become tired of if played with too much. Although not ideal to have all the clean washing emptied across the floor, it meant that we put them back in the basket together while I talked to her about the colours and types of clothing. The textures, shapes and colours of the textures must be interesting to Ebony as she learns about the world around her. I think exploring is an important aspect of her development.
It may not be ideal for me because I find myself tidying the same things for hours each day, and because I have to keep moving her from dangerous places, and because I have to make sure I know where she is at all times, but I think it is probably the best way for Ebony to learn.
My Dad pointed out that I sometimes use the cot as a playpen. Though rare, it is true that I sometimes pop her in the playpen while I sort out the washing, or tidy our room. But I do this when I am in the same room as her and can continue to interact. My worry with a playpen is that I may start to use it as I run off to another room to do things.
And although that would be much more convenient in the short term, it’s not what I want to do. And I think it’s better to keep those temptations out of my house to make sure I can’t start being lazy with Ebony.
Playpens were not created to keep babies safe, they were created to keep women running homes. This advert from a 1925 newspaper shows that playpens were used to allow Mum to keep on top of the other household duties. You know, so Dad didn’t come home to a messy house and uncooked dinner. Heaven forbid. Well, this Mum would much rather spend the day playing with the baby than ironing and cleaning the oven.
Ebony is already nine months old, and I cannot believe how fast the time has gone. I only have a few months left to enjoy being a stay at home Mum, I’m not going to waste it emptying the lint from the tumble drier while Ebony entertains herself in a brightly coloured cage.
You may think it dramatic to describe a playpen as a cage, but that is essentially what it is. Like an animal in a zoo, a baby in a playpen is confined. When people began to feel uneasy about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity, zoos adapted their cages. Not to suit the animals, but to trick the zoo visitors. Foliage in a zoo cage makes zoo visitors believe the animal is in a more natural habitat, some zoos now have metal or plastic foliage in the cages. To a visitor, it appears that the animal has foliage and makes the animal appear less ‘caged’. Brightly coloured play pens may look fun, but they are still pens. The colours may entertain baby for a few minutes, but the baby will soon tire of it and crave new experiences.
Ebony should, within reason, be safe to explore the world. My role as her Mum is to facilitate this learning, not restrict it.
What do you think about playpens?

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