My wife and I know it’s in everyone’s best interests for the baby to learn to walk. We know this, but we ignore it.
We ignore this tried and true fact of life for a single reason. That reason can be explained in two words: baby gates.
Nobody likes baby gates. They are a pain to put up, a pain to negotiate, and a physical pain when you foolishly try to step over one because your hands are full. You almost make it cleanly, except for that foot that has grown older and fatter than you recall it. You go down hard and take the baby gate with you. Now you get to go through the pain of putting it up all over again.
Baby gates are especially hard to think about once you’ve suffered through them, put them away, and enjoyed living in a free-flowing home for a few years.
Our first child became a walker almost exactly on his first birthday. We were foolish, novice parents then. We got caught up in the competition of child development. We fell over ourselves helping that boy learn to walk. We were playing Beat the Clock against a clock that didn’t exist. It turns out that the age at which a child first walks is not recorded on his permanent record.
We beamed with pride when he took those first steps. Then we scowled with annoyance as we put up, and fell over, the baby gates designed to keep our happy little walker from walking anywhere except in circles.
The second baby wants to walk. We also want him to walk. Philosophically, we want him to walk. In practical terms, we’d be fine if he took a few more months to become an Olympic caliber crawler before he took on any new projects.
Every time I forget myself and hold the baby’s hands so he can practice, my wife mouths the words baby gate at me and I sheepishly set the boy down and pretend I have some other pressing business that needs my attention. My wife hates baby gates even more than I do, possibly because she carries more baskets of laundry around the house than I do.
We understand that it could be inconvenient to have a fourth grader who hasn’t yet learned to walk. Maybe we’ll target first or second grade, when the child is skilled enough at reading so that we can post warning signs around the stairs instead of using baby gates.
Yes, I know that’s just a pipe dream. This boy will be strolling around the most dangerous sections of the house before we can wring those last few drops of comfort from duty-free passage between rooms. In spite of our hard-earned wisdom, we’ll help him walk. Then we will attempt foolish hurdles for which we are too old and round. We will tumble down; most likely, a safe, happy, footloose toddler will laugh at our clumsiness.