Childproof? Ha!: A Piece of My Mind

It happened just like they warn in the emergency care manuals.

We had been having houseguests with small children all summer. We had childproofed the main rooms with all the breakable gewgaws put away. We had taken the cleaning supplies out of the children’s bathroom. We had the toys in an easily accessible closet and locked the door to the attic.

But we had not hosted a 2-year-old in years.

It started just like they warned it would: “Where’s Joshua?” “I thought he was with you!”

Then the search began. He was not in the kitchen. Not upstairs. Not next door at Grandma’s. Not visible walking up or down the street. Finally, his dad found him – in the master bathroom. It had never occurred to me to make this part of the house off-limits, because no other visiting child had ever ventured into this part of the house without escort. There were about a dozen bright-red ibuprofen pills scattered, some smushed, on the bathroom floor.Never underestimate the tenacity of a 2-year-old.

An unopened box of ibuprofen pills, flaps still glued, had been shut away in a drawer. Joshua had opened the drawer, found the box and ripped it open.

Inside was a “childproof” bottle, the kind where you have to press on the sides at the same time as you turn the lid. No problem for Joshua: He bit down on the lid with his gleaming, white baby teeth and turned. Off came the lid.

The contents were kept fresh by a vacuum-glued, foil-lined seal. Many are the times I have sworn at these seals as I tried to pry them off with fingernails, toenail clippers or scissors. Again, no problem for Joshua. He gnawed through the seal like a roof rat gnawing through an orange.

Then, fortunately, he spilled half of the pills on the floor. His dad found him as he was trying to replace them in the bottle.

He told us that he had not eaten any of the pills. Maybe he was a little scared because he had spilled and smashed some and made a mess. Maybe he knew he was in trouble and told us that he had not eaten any so that the trouble would be less. We all watched him like a hawk for signs of drowsiness, stomach pain, nausea – nothing. Two-year-olds are tough.

There had been other close calls for toddlers in my experience. Once my little brother fell out of the car as it was going around a corner. He just opened the door and – poof! – he was gone. (This was before the days of seat belts and child safety seats.) Once my grandson slipped out of his flotation jacket in the swimming pool and was two feet down before I grabbed him. But these were accidents of poor design, not carelessness or lack of oversight. This time I felt responsible – I should have been more vigilant.

For the rest of the visit, “Where’s Joshua?” became my mantra. Even with my elevated level of surveillance, it was amazing how quickly the 2-year-old could be gone. Once he got as far as the end of the street, down by the unfenced creek. “Where were you going?” “I was just walking.”

Happily, Joshua survived the visit. His curiosity is no longer my immediate problem. But his visit left me with a lot less complacency about the safety of my home and the adequacy of my imagination in recognizing hazards. The next time I have miniature guests, I’ll invest in padlocks.

If the guest is Joshua, he will probably find bolt cutters in the garage.

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