- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

Mobility. It's something a new parent looks forward to for months. One day it's there, and life will never be the same, ever, for child, parent or dog.

Yes, the Little Viking has started moving. I wouldn't call it crawling, more like creeping. His strong legs do most of the work while his arms steer.

For those familiar with yoga, his position is usually that of "downward dog," with his body creating an inverted V. He pushes forward with his feet and then flattens out. He moves from one end of the room to the other by repeating this movement over and over.

You would think it would take an eternity to move this way. Not really. Babies can be very determined. If Squeaky Duck or one of the Little Viking's many battery-driven educational toys is across the room, nothing will stand in his way. He'll get to his destination in a minute or two.

The Little Viking uses other resourceful ways of moving, including pulling himself up to a standing position, sitting up from a belly-down position and "cruising" the early stages of walking while holding on to furniture.

Keeping the Little Viking under constant surveillance has always been important, but now, with his increased mobility, the level of surveillance required has reached new heights. Unless our 9-month-old is in a crib or playpen, my husband and I take him with us wherever we go, be it the shower or the kitchen.

If a parent ever gets lax with the "constant surveillance" rule, a near-accident (or an actual accident) may occur. Recently, the Little Viking was on his belly in the living room, playing intently with one of his many toys. Because we were in the next room, we can only use our deductive powers to figure out what happened next.

Without a word or cry of warning, our 9-month-old grabbed hold of Fluffy Train, which can be ridden by someone of the Little Viking's size, sounds like a choo-choo (if you press on the locomotive's "head") and has wheels. With the help of this nifty vehicle, the Little Viking crossed the room in seconds we were gone for just a few seconds and ended up standing next to the hearth.

That would have been fine if we had childproofed the sharp edges of the fireplace, if a fire weren't blazing and if the hearth were made of a friendlier material than brick and tile.

Scared to death, we removed the Little Viking, who just stood there innocently, smiling. Nothing happened but it could have.

The lesson? This is a resourceful guy, and we need to get onboard with childproofing and be 100 percent alert. What's next? The Little Viking might pull the bookshelves down to get to his favorite Sesame Street books or pull his sippy cup off the free-standing kitchen shelves.

Keeping the baby and everyone else safe in these times is not easy, and we barely have started the process of childproofing. Whole chapters, maybe even books, are devoted to this matter.

But first things first. The best way to detect possible dangers for the little guy is to get down to his level. We have started looking at our house on all fours, approximately 30 inches above ground. It's a dangerous world out there, we have discovered.

It includes outlets, electrical cords, blinds, unstable furniture, loose knobs on furniture, stairs (still without gates), sharp edges and corners, plants, matchbooks and general floor clutter.

It also could include choking hazards pens, sewing supplies, safety pins, marbles, scissors, knives, buttons, plastic bags, cleaning materials, jewelry, mothballs, balloons, etc.

Three questions arise: 1. What do we do about all this to stay safe? 2. How did we survive our childhoods? 3. How do we maintain the fun of exploration if everything's a "no-no."

The answer to the first question is that we do our best to childproof, adding the necessary gates and cabinet locks, removing clutter and loose furniture knobs, hiding cords and blinds. We also attempt to teach the Little Viking that certain things are "no," "ouch" and "boo-boo." We make sure he is dressed to prevent accidents; for example, leather moccasins instead of stocking feet may help prevent slips and falls.

The answer to the second question is that most of us just survived, as incredible as it may seem, even when our parents' homes remained intact without the addition of padded walls and rubber dinnerware.

The answer to the last question, I believe, is don't go crazy with the childproofing and don't hover over the baby every single minute, because exploration is important for fun and learning. Babies, and hopefully adults, learn from mistakes. If we never allow the Little Viking to make mistakes, he'll never learn.

Ultimately, saying "no" to every enterprise our 9-month-old wants to embark upon may affect his curiosity and sense of adventure, such important tools and traits in life. Trying new things, even if we fail, is exciting. We wouldn't want to take that away from our little guy.

As long as we, as parents, use common sense, the little guy probably will be fine. If we create an environment for the Little Viking in which he's surrounded by good sense, good care, kindness and love, a few blemishes and bruises soon will be forgotten, we hope.

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their "Little Viking" in May. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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