Redundancy Is Key

All my life I have heard stories about a child who drowns in a pool after leaving through the back door, or one who gets run over by a family member as they back out of their driveway. Many times I have wondered how it can possibly happen with so many people around. I have even sat in judgment of the people involved. But now that I have a son of my own, I am starting to understand how some of these horrible incidents come to be. Let me try and explain.

During Em’s one-year birthday party I realized just how easy it is to assume that someone else is doing the watching especially when you’re surrounded by family members. It’s simple, really. The greater the number of responsible people around you, the more likely you are to loosen up a bit, pay less attention. It’s easy to assume that somebody else is paying attention.

And that can be a recipe for disaster.

Recently I was visiting my parents in New Jersey. All of us were downstairs. Tobyjoe said he was going upstairs to pack. I had to get laundry out of the dryer. My mother followed behind me a minute or two later. My father remained downstairs. No one said, “Hey, can you keep an eye on Em?” He was just waking up from a nap.

Basically, everyone thought someone else was taking care of Em but no one said anything out loud about it.

So, when Tobyjoe left the room for a minute and discovered Em on the sixth step of the stairwell, standing upright and holding onto the railing, we all gasped in horror. Thankfully, Toby approached Em with great ease to avoid startling him. In fact, he was so quiet about it, we had no idea anything had gone wrong until Em was safely in his arms. (I give Tobyjoe a massive pat on the back for reacting with such grace. I’m not sure I would have handled that quite as smoothly. I’d like to think I would have, but who knows.)

I realized immediately that the outcome of the situation could have yielded terrible consequences. And after it sank in that Em was OK—that we had dodged a bullet—I actually started to laugh. The laughter was probably an attempt to lighten the situation, but I laughed nonetheless. I pictured a naive Em sitting downstairs wondering where everyone went and then thinking, “I guess I’ll join them upstairs.”

And he did just that. I imagined how truly bizarre it would have been had he made it the whole way up the stairs and peered into the bedroom where the three of us stood. Would I have guessed right away he had climbed the stairs all by himself? Would I have thought that someone dropped him off there and was merely playing a trick on us? I am not sure. But imaging it made me laugh. (It was either do that or cry.)

We got really, really lucky. I won’t even let myself imagine the alternative ending to this story. Every time I start to, I shudder. It sends chills up my spine.

Naturally, I have learned from this. And you better believe I’ve been counting my lucky stars.

And I’ll probably think twice before I ever judge another family for something like this.


  1. When Ryan was just a few months old we went to a post-natal “class”. One of the sessions they had a firefighter come in and talk to us about child safety. He told us a story of how his granddaughter was at the top of the stairs and decided she could go downstairs on her own, but she couldn’t.

    She ended up falling down the entire flight of stairs. When he picked her up and looked her over he found the only injury was to her teeth. The two front teeth had been pushed back up into her gums.

    He said “kids bounce.”

    Seems it’s not the going up the stairs that’s the problem, it’s the coming back down!

    Ryan had an accident a few months ago. I thought Matt was watching him and Matt, for some odd reason (I wasn’t in the room), thought I was watching him. He ended up going head first over the side of the arm chair onto the hardwood floor.

    Talk about freaking out! A&E for the rest of the afternoon.

    It’s easy to think someone else is watching, but I’ll never make that mistake again. Now, everytime I leave the room, I make sure everyone knows to watch Ryan. Matt gets tired of me saying “I’m going into the kitchen, can you watch him please?” Lesson learned here!


  2. We had a situation somewhat similar to this. Annie was just starting to walk a lot and was nuts for a little walker thing on wheels… she was in the backyard with her Dad and he became focused on yard work or something. I came out and she was gone. We were in a panic, she had gotten out of the gate (her father failed to make sure the gate was locked) and she had walked down our street towards a very busy street. Just the thought of what might have happened if she had gotten further down the street still makes me totally cringe. Sometimes I wonder how any of us grow up safely, there really are dangers everywhere.


  3. When I was growing up my little brother did something similar to the above post, he was 3ish ( old enough to ride a tricycle) well he decided he was going to go for a ride, he rode his little butt about 1 km away from our house to a nearby highway where a neighbor of ours spotted him on her way home from work. I guess my parents had confused who was supposed to be watching him…he ended up fine, the best part of this story is that aside from his bike all he had on him was a pair of tighty whities and some red rubber boots.


  4. LOL at CM’s Brother!


  5. We have a set of steep stairs and a gate at the top. After a long day I climbed up with the baby and I left it open thinking my husband would be right up and I’d take the baby in the bathroom with me because I really had to pee. He fussed because he wanted something on the floor and I set him down (just forgetting about the gate I just left open) I pee, come back out, and feel like someone kicked me in the gut. I ran so fast and scooped him up. He was at the top of the stairs playing with the gate. Thankfully, he played with the open gate instead of trying to get down the stairs. I feel horribly guilty and so stupid. I don’t even have a good excuse!

    I think growing up is pure luck sometimes. My husband and I are freaking out thinking about all the bad things we did that could have killed us and how River might try them too!

    I went into a near panic about him eating some penny on the floor I might miss in my daily searches when he first started to crawl!


  6. I’ve had many moments like that with Evan. He is so independant, it’s not funny!

    As far as passing judgement, I have judged people even after having a child on my own! I was walking to lunch at the mall where I work and as I came around the corner, there was the sweetest little girl (maybe 1.5 y/o) toddling out of the automatic doors of Staples and onto the mall driveway! I froze for 2 seconds, waiting for someone to come out after her (NO ONE DID)then kindly asked her to come with me, offered my hand and we walked back into the store. No one seemed to notice as we walked back in, so I had to use my outdoor voice indoors and ask who’s little girl this was! An older lady looked up from the checkout, where she was probably giving the cashier a hard time (I work in retail, I can tell!)and sort of laughed it off that the little girl was playing near the door. I actually had to say, in front of everyone in the store, that this little, beautiful, innocent baby girl was out in the middle of the driveway! Finally she came over and scooped her up.

    I swear on my life that woman didn’t even acknowledge I was there! She was angry at the BABY because she had wandered out of the store.

    I still get goosebumps.


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