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Safety Patrol

 A few years ago my girlfriend Abby and I got together at a friend’s house for some introspective girl time. Abby’s first son Isaiah was maybe a year old and she was enjoying a rare afternoon off from chasing an active boy. We were sitting on the floor of our friend’s apartment talking about weighty matters and fell into a comfortable, contemplative silence. I turned and looked at Abby, who was staring deeply at the floor.

“What are you thinking?” I asked, certain she was going somewhere great.

She blinked slowly. “I’m thinking,” she replied, “that there’s a penny on the floor and it’s a choking hazard.”

Ever since Maddie’s been on the move I find myself viewing the world in a very different way. Early on, of course, there was the obstacle course of nagging older women – Put more clothes on her! Where’s her hat! She’s too hot! – and slobbering, disease-infested dogs to be navigated during our stroller walks. I’d eye a street corner and decide which way to cross based on the number of potential haranguers or charging beasts coming a given way.

Now that she’s independently mobile, though, I scrutinize the physical landscape much more closely. People don’t concern me as much; Maddie either ignores them as part of the t.v. show that swirls around her, or cries in terror if they get too close to her personal space. But the detritus that lines her crawl paths is suddenly much more abundant than I imagined: I never realized the sheer number of gum wrappers and dust bunnies and, yes, pennies that were strewn on indoor floors.

Just last Sunday Maddie was happily walking around the front of our church. I know for a fact that our sanctuary is cleaned right before Sunday services, and maintained several times throughout the week. But as I got down on my hands and knees with Madeleine I saw a veritable forest of potential ingestibles around her. From five feet away, the floor looks pretty great; from five inches, it’s a different story.

And is that a loose screw on that pew chair? Does it look a little rusty? Could I maybe get it to just screw back in a bit tighter so she won’t a) catch her hand on it and begin bleeding copiously, come down with an infection and have to go to the hospital; or b) lick it? And is that kneeler looking a little frayed? That’s a stumble and fall waiting to happen! And these chair corners – does the wood have to be so pointy and, well, sharp??

When I regain my distance, of course, everything falls back into perspective and I calm down. But viewing things from her level keeps my Mommy Eye sharp and on the alert. And keeps my house much cleaner, I have to admit: since she became mobile I’ve been diligent about vacuuming at least once a week (the number was closer to once a month before, if you must know), and now that I do so I can’t believe I ever let it go so long. As Maddie and I are doing one of our dozens of crawl laps through the house each day, I see the dust bunnies under the piano and swear they’ve gotten bigger since we crawled past it five minutes earlier. I finish vacuuming and breathe a sigh of relief, happy to have Madeleine crawling around on a spotless floor. Yet somehow she still manages to find a piece of lint and put it in her mouth before the vacuum’s even cold.

I’m proud that Madeleine’s becoming more independent. She loves walking and cruising around furniture, crawling through open spaces, and exploring things on her own. As for me, it’s a relief to be able to put her down a bit and not have to hold her all the time.

But it’s also a signal for my blood pressure to jump back up. And stay there until we get to our clean, sharp-edge-free home.

Yesterday, I walked past a penny lying on the sidewalk and for the first time in my life I didn’t think, “Wow! Free money!” and pick it up to put in my pocket. Instead, I instinctively thought, “I better pick that up before some baby chokes on it.” Then I realized how ridiculous that was and laughed at myself. It’s a public sidewalk!

The baby would be much more likely to catch some disease from the penny than choke on it.

Maybe I’ll just sanitize it instead.


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