When my now 4-year-old first started getting mobile, he was given free reign of the house. This was, of course, after we baby proofed up the wazoo, but for the most part, he was able to crawl or toddle around and explore every last corner, from the kitchen with the big, shiny appliances to the little nook behind the piano.
When my twin daughters started crawling, however, I had to employ a different strategy which involved penning in most of my living room with baby gates, and throwing them into what my husband and I jokingly call the baby jail. For the past six months, we’ve utilized our nifty little baby jail for a good part of the day, every day. Not only are my daughters super speedy little crawlers, but they’re starting to walk, too. And the baby jail, to us, seemed like the best solution for keeping them out of trouble.
At first we didn’t much of it, but on more than occasion, we’ve had a visitor make a comment along the lines of, “Oh, I could never pen in my baby like that” or, “Don’t you realize how important it is to let your baby explore?”
Here’s my response: Yes, I do think it’s important to let babies explore. In an ideal world, I’d have a live-in nanny who could help me not only keep track of my kids as they roam about the house, but help me with everything from laundry to bath time. But the fact of the matter is, for much of the day, every day, I’m on my own with two babies and a toddler. Even if we take the 4-year-old out of the equation (he does go to preschool and isn’t always in the house), I still think I made the right decision.
First of all, we’re dealing with twins. Not one baby. Twins. Babies who, the second you let them, can and will take off like lightening in completely opposite directions. I’ve tried chasing after them simultaneously in unconfined spaces, and historically, it hasn’t gone well.
There was the one time at Mommy and Me when I took my eyes off my daughter A for a second to comfort my other daughter, K, who’d fallen down trying to take a few independent steps. By the time I was able to scramble over to the corner and see what A was up to, she’d managed to chomp on a crayon and eat paint. On another occasion at a friend’s house, one of my daughters managed to knock over a not-so-small garbage can while I left her loose on the floor for a second to change the other’s diaper.
Clearly, my daughters are more than capable of destruction when left to their own devices, and as much as I can do my best to keep a close eye on them, at this stage of the game, it’s just unrealistic to think I can spend my entire day running all over the house like a madwoman in an attempt to keep them out of harm’s way. Not only am I dealing with two babies at once, but I’m also faced with the challenge of having my toddler’s toys all over the place, many of which contain small pieces that aren’t safe for infants. This isn’t a problem that’s unique to me; anyone with an older child and a baby is bound to be in the same situation. But it doesn’t make mine any easier, that’s for sure.
Here’s the other thing: While my daughters do spend much of their day confined to the baby jail, they also get a fair amount of what we call freedom time, where we let them roam about the house so they can touch, explore, and bang on surfaces galore. On weekends, when my husband is home, they can have freedom time together, but during the week, they’re usually forced to take turns.
I realize this setup isn’t optimal, but currently, it’s what makes sense for us. For now, my daughters seem pretty content in their baby jail. They’ve got toys, books, and access to a gate and couch that they can hold onto for help walking and standing up. The baby jail is large enough for them to crawl or walk around, albeit in a padded, carpeted area that’s much kinder in the face of a fall. I know I can’t keep them in that jail forever, and that certainly isn’t the plan. But for now, it’s the best and safest thing I can do.