How to Child-Proof Your Houseguests
Photo by Mirko Macari
First off, I do love my MIL but I just don’t know what to do anymore. She comes to visit every couple months and I feel like I have a third child when she comes. This last time she locked herself out of the house (while my hubby and I were out for my birthday) with my 7 month old inside. I was hysterical in the car racing home (we were about 20 minutes away) and the baby was in her jumper- thankfully- so she couldn’t get into anything and my MIL could see her in through the window. When we arrived back she instantly wanted to joke about the whole situation and I have a great sense of humor but it was a little too soon to joke about it. I think I handled it very well and told her that it could have happened to anyone, blah blah but then it got worse.
The day after she left I got my 7 month up in the am and was letting her crawl around her room (the same room MIL sleeps in when she visits) and I hear her choking on something at first I thought she was just spitting up (bad reflux in the morning) until I saw something in her hand- it was a piece of wax/silicone ear plug (the ones you can mold into balls to just stick in your ear) at that moment I realized that my baby just swallowed one and was holding the other. I jumped up and got my husband and we called the hospital which led to us going to our doctor, calling poison control, and then finally deciding that we need to wait and see and muddle through her poop- oh what fun! OK- so who would leave ear plugs like that on the floor in a baby’s room? Oh wait I forgot something- this has happened 2x before with my nephews but the plugs were caught before swallowed.
Oh and there’s more…2x she has dropped medications on the floor without knowing and my toddler almost ate one and the other I found on the floor. After that we asked her to only take her meds at the sink and she has yet to listen to that.
What do I do… tell her she can’t visit until she becomes a responsible adult? It’s just so hard for me to understand how someone could be so careless, especially someone who has raised her own children. Of course I have what I like to call “mommy guilt” and think it’s my fault that she swallowed it, I didn’t have my eyes on her at that very moment, but I did clean the room after she left and since the stuff is the same color as the rug I didn’t see it but maybe I should have known from her history not to assume anything. I’m just so mad for her irresponsibility and I don’t know what to do- help!
Can you tell her she can’t visit until she becomes a responsible adult? No. You can’t. Well, obviously you CAN, but I don’t think ripping the family apart and barring access to grandchildren is a reasonable reaction to the problem.
A couple thoughts, right off the bat: You don’t mention how old your MIL is…but is it at all possible that she’s experiencing some memory loss? The earliest signs of dementia include problems with short-term memory, difficulty performing familiar tasks, poor judgment and misplacing/losing track of things. As in, forgetting that you asked her to keep meds by the sink, losing pills and earplugs, getting locked out of the house and not fully grasping the seriousness of her actions. If you’re noticing a definite decline and increase in this sort of behavior, SAY SOMETHING to your husband, and encourage her to get to a doctor ASAP.
Beyond that, though, I’d encourage you to take a DEEP BREATH and remember this wonderfully annoying cliche: nobody’s perfect. I imagine plenty of mothers have locked themselves out of the house with their baby inside. Hell, if you’ve ever locked your keys in the car (guilty!) you know that it only take a second of absent-mindedness and the door is closing oh CRAP my KEYS too late. Plenty of us have accidentally missed a choking hazard while cleaning up, or forgotten to latch a baby gate, or spaced on who was supposed to pick the kids up from school. If your MIL is having memory problems, or doesn’t sleep as well in unfamiliar places (the earplugs do suggest she’s an easily-disturbed sleeper), or is just generally sort of spacey, she’s going to be less tuned-in to this sort of thing than you are.
I know, though, that feeling. Even though everything was fine in the end, OH MY GOD. MY BABY. My father-in-law, in a fit of…I don’t even KNOW what…mistook a container of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes for the baby wipes and used them on my poor three-year-old’s bottom for a solid week before I realized what he was doing — all while we were frantically rewashing clothing and checking food labels in an attempt to figure out the source of my son’s mysterious, nasty rash. I was…not happy, to say the least, and full of alternating fits of guilt (for having the Clorox wipes in the kids’ bathroom in the first place) and utter annoyance (but who would use ANYTHING with a giant Clorox label on SKIN, ANY SKIN, much less THAT SKIN).
A little butt balm later, everything was fine. My FIL was probably more rattled by it than my son. Your MIL was probably more rattled and embarrassed than she let on re: the locked-out-of-the-house thing, and really, you have to admit there was probably no reaction from her that would have made you happy. My FIL apologized endlessly for days, and I kept gritting my teeth and assuring him that oh, it’s fine! mistakes happen! could happen to anybody! I really just wanted to DROP IT, because every apology sent me back to that moment of discovery and GAHHHH HEAD EXPLODEY.
In the end, though — as much as we want and hope family members will love and care for our children the way we do, they are OUR children, and therefore OUR responsibility. Your MIL’s visits probably will be a bit like having a third child to hover over. If you cannot offer her a space to stay other than the baby’s room, you’ll need to thoroughly sweep the room after she leaves. Hit The Container Store or Ikea before her next visit. Buy her a pill organizer and keep it in the bathroom. Help her unpack as soon as she arrives, and make sure you have specific, non-baby-accessible places for her non-baby-friendly items. (There’s something about living out of a suitcase that makes it easier for things to get scattered or lost. Offer drawers, hangers, boxes, etc.) No babysitting until you’ve determined that her memory is still sound and/or you’ve made it through a couple visits without incident.
Your daughter won’t remember the time she swallowed Grandma’s earplug. She will remember the time she spent with Grandma, though, and the books and games and extra love and maybe some bittersweet memories about how she was always so silly and absentminded and would look for her glasses that were right on top of her head! Oh, Grandma.