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Home, Safe Home

Home, Safe Home

1danbucatinsky

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.

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