Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Great Escaper (or Stair Master)

From the time that James could free-range around the house Kylee and I were conducting risk assessments.

When researching for this blog I came across a selection of safety audits from our filing system. Typically they revealed the following information.

Item: Power Points
Potential Risk: Death
Remedial Action: Plastic Plugs

Area: Kitchen
Potential Risk: Sickness and/or Death
Remedial Action: Safety Fence and Gate

Location: Stairs
Potential Risk: Broken limbs and/or Death
Remedial Action: Barricade

More telling though is the insight they revealed about the anxiety levels of first time parents. And I’m not going to point the finger but one member of the parenting partnership is an accountant who has tended to overuse excel spreadsheets for organisational purposes in her civilian life. But I digress…

So, on a daily, nay hourly basis, James would test our defences. Kitchen fence, no luck there. Flicking power points, yes, success. Sticking a fork in it … wait a minute … “Hey kid, who gave you that fork?” (tussle occurs) “Thankyou, I’ll take that.” (kid cries). And he would test for weaknesses of the jogger pram that had been placed at the base of the stairs as a barricade.

James would push the pram without luck. Brake on. He would try to scale its heights. No foot holes. He would attempt to tunnel underneath. Ouch, sore head.

Surprisingly, we had discovered a sentry that would watch those stairs vigilantly and would foil any break out attempts. Mr Jogger Pram went about his business without any fuss for months and months.

But like ‘The Great Escapists’, James had been hatching a plan. It only required him to grow a bit and get a bit stronger. Once again, time was on his side, and operation Tom, Dick and Harry was put in place.

I should have been alerted to the little mounds of dirt that were appearing on the grass, but like the Germans I was clueless and I had put those down to the ants. I had just thought it as cute when James was playing with the treadle of the Singer sewing machine table, who knew he was mocking up SS uniforms. And he was whistling all the time too.

Like Steve McQueen, James Garner, Lee Marvin and Co, James waited for the good weather of summer to make his break….

I was sitting at the dining table keeping an ear out for James. There was huffing and puffing and groans of exertion. Nothing really out of the ordinary with that. Then the alarm for all parents went off, the sound of silence.

I turned and out of the corner of my eye I saw James’ feet disappearing around the corner of the return landing. He was half-way up the stairs, the land of milk and honey beckoned. Freedom. I channelled Sgt Schultz, “I know nusssing.” (Sorry, wrong reference point, that one’s a WWII German parody) I composed myself, “HALT … or you will be shot.”

James stopped. He looked back at me and our eyes met. We both realised that a significant event had occurred and that life would change from that moment on.

And, so it did. We kept the jogger pram barricade for a few more weeks after the first breakout, although it did need some reinforcements. The nappy bag was brought in, as were some cushions.

I began keeping watch as time and again James was able to breach the secure perimeter. He demonstrated ingenuity for overcoming my cunning placements of obstacles. Pushing, pulling and climbing were his usual strategies. And all for an opportunity to engage in his natural instinct of seeing what there was to see. Obviously he didn’t know it was just the other side of the mountain.

A parenting decision about this new juncture in the road was needed. Debating lines were set, the argument for the affirmative team was clear, “As, we have a house with stairs, he just has to learn how to use them.” While the negative team argued like a true opposition putting up the scare campaign of, “What if he falls?” It was an emotive topic and both arguments had compelling points to consider, but with an eye to the future, the adjudicator came down on the side of the affirmative.

The crowd, of one (James), gathered at the bottom of the stairs. It was a smaller crowd than the one that gathered in Berlin to watch the Wall come down, but it was no less symbolic. On this day, the barricade that had been preventing the re-unification of toys was removed and access to the upwards and downwards thingies was granted.

Slow, tentative steps were taken at first. Actually, James was quite adept at the going up, but guidance was needed for the coming down part. In true parent-child teaching fashion, child ignored parent who knew best and tried to tackle said problem his own way. The inevitable tumbles (under controlled conditions) occurred, but through trial and error a degree of proficiency was achieved.

Today, James fairly flies up the stairs, likes to try to walk down them with the aid of the balustrade, knows that sliding backwards on his tummy is the ‘careful’ way and is also the quickest method (especially useful if a favourite treat is on offer). He knows that a hasty retreat to the stairs will provide a delay to the inevitable activity he is attempting to avoid. And on the rare occasion that he does take a tumble, James will usually pick himself up, look a bit surprise, hold his hands out and say “I know nusssing.”


  1. What's wrong with using spreadsheets in your personal life?

  2. This post had me in fits. I remember our fantastic barricade system of cushions and sofas placed just so and our own little "prisoner" spending time pretending to watch play school while actually learning to climb.