There were no fewer than
three home visits as part of the adoption application process that my husband,
Don, and I were obligated, though happy to undertake. Our cabinets had to have safety latches; our stairs had to
have gates and guards; our coffee tables had to have rubber bumpers. In other words, we had to prove that
our child’s every move would be free of any risk or danger. And once we “baby-proofed” our house (I
often joke the term “baby-proofing” merely makes an environment a child would never want to be in!) we would get the approval of the
agency and, in a sense, the state, to allow us to be parents.
Nobody who has a child
naturally has to jump through these bubble-wrapped hoops! And at the same time, most of our
friends have chosen to protect the hard edges of their furniture and cap the
electrical outlets and gate their stairs because it’s just, you know, safer. That’s
what good parents do. Right? That’s what parents do who care about
the well-being of their kids and who aren’t crazy!
Well. I was recently traveling abroad with my
kids to visit family in South America. It was the first time I had been there in almost 10 years
– and none of my extended family had ever met my children. It was a wonderful trip, all in
all. But one of the most alarming
observations made only because I’d had children in between the last trip and
this one, is that nobody gives
even a second thought to the idea of “baby proofing” or “child safety.” In fact, they think we’re all a bunch
of neurotic buzz-kills with our bike helmets, car seats and safety locks.
My cousin and his wife,
their 9-year old and their 13-month-old baby invited us on an outing one day
that involved lunch and a picnic and a boat ride. When it was time for us to head back, one of the cars wasn’t
heading back to the city. So my
cousin offered for all of us to pile into his SUV. And by “pile in,” he meant the three kids (including my two)
in the “way back,” three grown-ups with the infant on our laps in the back, and
two in front. No seatbelts for the
kids. No car seat for the baby. Was this even legal? I remember being a kid and
sitting in the “way back” of many a station wagon or hatchback. I remember bouncing around the back
seat of my dad’s car without a seatbelt.
I remember all kinds of freedoms I enjoyed back in the ‘70s as a kid
that could only be seen now as child endangerment.
“What if something happens?”
I kept asking. I knew I’d never be
able to live with myself having known I’d made a decision that put my kids in
harm’s way. I pictured myself
talking to Ann Curry about the fateful decision that left me childless. “If only I’d said ‘no’!”
“Nothing’s going to happen,”
my cousin assured me, smiling as though talking to a crazy person.
Am I a crazy person? Are all of us? Have we all just gone over-the-top with
our need for control, or is it our belief that we somehow have any control just because we buy these crazy devices
and convince lawmakers to legislate so that we’re not allowed to move without
them? Bad stuff happens all
the time. Even to those with
baby-proofed homes. The kids may
feel no pain as they brush past the hideously foamed edges of the coffee table
and still land head first on the wooden floor or against the walls. Or they may not be able to reach the Clorox Bleach under the sink
because of those high-tech childproof latches that cost $60 apiece. But it’s just as likely that they trip
over a giant ball made of all recyclable materials and land head-first onto a
developmentally appropriate play kitchen with zero swallowable pieces.
Yes. It’s what Wendy Mogel spoke of as the
“Blessing of the Skinned Knee” in her book of the same title. What’s wrong with falling off your bike
or getting a splinter or even a goose-egg after building a fort in the living
room and bonking heads with – you! Should I have wrapped myself in rubber
before playing with my kids?
Wait a minute. Is this because I’m gay? Am I somehow more vigilant or
protective or just plain scared because I feel, on some level, like I’ve gotten
away with something? I mean – it’s
just a theory – but maybe there’s something to this idea that we weren’t supposed to be parents and yet somehow, now, so many of us
are. We are so grateful for the
privilege that we really want to prove to the world we can do it right! That nothing is going to harm our kids… See world? The gays not only baby-proof their homes but they look and
smell good while doing it?!
No. Now I’m sounding crazy. Why the hell shouldn’t we be
parents? And why am I the one who
is suddenly so defensive? I’m the
good one, remember? The one who
clicked the child-protection lock buttons on the back doors of his car!
Maybe it’s just
cultural. My South American
relatives all have a “what will happen will happen” attitude about life in
general. They do what they want
and hope nothing bad happens. They
who have endured one too many military coup. I remember visiting when I was a kid, and seeing
machine-gunned soldiers throwing innocent civilians on almost every
sidewalk. Perhaps this is their
way of surrendering and trying to find a place of peace and happiness in an
unpredictable world. Meanwhile, we
Americans have all been brainwashed to believe we can actually control our
destiny, a bit, if we follow certain precautions. It certainly didn’t help during September 11th.
But when my kids are snugly
fastened to their five-point harnessed booster seats, I do feel a sense of
calm, however manufactured. It’s
something I don’t ever find outside of the U.S. Note to travelers with small children, pack a bike
helmet or two, some outlet-plugs… oh, and a bottle of Ativan.
DAN BUCATINSKY is a writer-actor-producer known for
writing and starring in the indie film All Over the Guy. With producing
partner Lisa Kudrow, he runs Is Or Isn't Entertainment, behind the
groundbreaking cult comedy The Comeback. His upcoming
book, Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? from Touchstone
Books, is due out in 2012, and you can follow Dan on WhoSay and on Twitter @danbucatinsky.
A programming note: In her tradition of writing dynamic and authentic characters who "just happen to be" gay, this year's GLAAD winner of the Golden Gate Award, Shonda Rhimes (@ShondaRhimes) introduces a new character played by Dan Bucatinsky in this week's SCANDAL, tonight at 10 on ABC.