Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Way to Keep Baby Away from the Tree

When my first-born child got near to her first Christmas, she was about seven months old. Oh great, I thought. How in the world am I going to keep her from grabbing all of the ornaments off of the Christmas tree? Worse yet, I could picture her breaking the fragile ornaments or hurting herself by eating the needles from the live pine tree. It was a dilemma! My husband and I thought and thought. He suggested that we forego the tree that year. Now that is absolute sacrilege and completely unthinkable. My Christmas tree is very important to me, and I figured I'd just have to redouble my efforts to keep the baby in check.

We kept her in her high chair to watch the household tree-decorating ceremony. She oo'd and aw'd over the colorful ornaments. We even let her hold some that were durable enough to survive mauling by seven-month old hands and safe to put into her mouth. And when we plugged the lights in, her eyes got big just the way I had imagined that they would.

And then the fun began. The tree was very attractive to my little girl. I couldn't turn my back on her, even for an instant. She wasn't very fast at that age, and moved around mostly by rolling and scooting at her unsuspecting targets. But that tree was so interesting to her and so exciting that she seemed to scoot towards it like lightning even while I watched. It's amazing how fast babies can move when they are motivated, isn't it?

This went on for a week or so. I was nearing my wit's end, and just about ready to throw in the proverbial towel. Maybe she just couldn't be in the living room with the tree after all. Maybe I had seriously overestimated my own patience with the process and grossly underestimated her persistence and desire to get at that tree. I swear that she found ways to scoot faster than ever before, and each time I put her on the floor in that room, she made a beeline for the tree. I retrieved her, distracted her, turned her around, and in moments she was right back headed for trouble. I suppose I should've been impressed with her stick-to-it-iveness or overjoyed by her motivation. I wasn't. I was flummoxed and completely stymied as to how to solve the problem. Sad to say, the seven month old child was actually outwitting her mother, rather handily.

Then inspiration struck. When we had put up the tree, we had taken down the playpen to make some extra room. The child rarely used it anyway, and mostly it was turning into a giant toy box. Her father and I hadn't thought a thing about it. We just moved it aside, folded, to be retrieved after the holiday if we felt we needed it.

That playpen actually saved my tree that year. Instead of putting the child in the playpen, we reasoned, what if the TREE went in instead? The playpen that we used was one of those fence affairs that stand freely on the floor. We opened it up and propped it on the corners of the walls around the base of the tree. It made a very nice barrier, allowing baby to look to her heart's content, but not to touch or hurt herself or the tree. And the tree didn't cry and yell when left in the playpen, either. I didn't feel one bit guilty about leaving the tree in the playpen for hours at a time, or even days at a time. My baby was free to roam the room and explore the way that babies should be, and the tree was safe too.

We always take pictures of the tree each year. Since there are three girls with a total of five years between their birthdays, the tree lived in the playpen for about six years running. Each and every year while the girls were little, the Christmas picture shows that silly playpen fence standing guard around the twinkling Christmas tree. Each girl in turn oo'd and ah'd over the sparkle, and each in turn reached for the pretty colors.....and stayed on her own side of the fence.

We don't need the fence anymore, since the girls are in their teens (though I'm tempted at times!). But I suspect that when the grandchildren come along here in ten or twenty years (optimistic, aren't I?), that each of them will have a tree in a playpen at some point, too. It's a sanity-saver that's well worth passing around.

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