I’ll never forget the look of fascination on my sons’ faces as they stared at the Gazing Ball in their grandmother’s garden, a big, iridescent orb of swirly blue glass perched precariously atop a spindly pedestal. “What’s that, Nana?” they asked breathlessly. We had just driven in from out of state, and had been at her House all of ten minutes.
“It’s a pretty decoration, a very special gift from a very special friend who has now passed away,” my mother-in-law said in a hushed and reverent tone, the same voice someone might use in the presence of a rare ancient artifact. “There isn’t another one like it in the whole world.”
“Don’t touch it,” I warned, and the boys nodded their little heads obediently. But I should have known better. They were barely above toddlerhood, and it was sparkly, and that in itself is a recipe for disaster.
Because virtually the second I turned my back, I heard a crash. I didn’t want to turn around, but when I did, there it was: the irreplaceable gazing ball, my mother-in-law’s special gift from a newly-deceased friend, as sacred to her as though Jesus himself had descended from the heavens and put it in her flowerbed, right next to the resin angel statue from Big Lots. Now it was less “gazing ball” and more “pile of glittering shards,” all the result of one pudgy finger and a curious little boy who just couldn’t resist.
People love their home décor. And I don’t begrudge anyone their knickknacks or their tchotchkes: if your house looks like Chip and Joanna came and Chip-and-Joanna’ed all over it, awesome. Everyone feels great in a nicely-decorated space.
Everyone, that is, except moms of babies and toddlers. Because for those who have kids of the youngest variety, a simple visit to someone’s house can turn into an exhausting ordeal.
When your kids are small, your own home is a safe space. You’ve got everything kid-proofed there, or at least out of reach, and you know they’re not in much danger of getting ahold of something they shouldn’t. You can relax, let your guard down, go on about your business while they play. And visiting the house of a friend who has kids of a similar age is always great, because their setup is similar to yours: kid-friendly.
But taking your little one to a house with older kids in it – or no kids at all – is a whole different ballgame. Because toddlers, bless their inquisitive hearts, go directly for the stuff they shouldn’t be touching. In a toddler-free household, people can have things like vases and picture frames and gazing balls on full, glorious display, free of the risk of a miniature wrecking crew coming along – until you bring yours, that is. From the moment you walk in the door, you’re chasing after them, redirecting them, trying to keep them contained, and therein lies the problem.
How can you have a decent adult conversation when at least one eyeball is fixed on your handsy offspring? How can you enjoy a chat when you’re jumping up from your chair every few seconds to remove said offspring from an iffy situation? You can’t offer anything insightful to the discussion (or even remember what you were saying, for that matter) when you’re peppering your sentences with, “No no!” And nothing beats the awkwardness of your kid breaking something – it inevitably turns out to be something priceless and rare, because of course.
So, mothers of curious-fingered explorers who don’t know the meaning of “décor”: we promise not to take it personally when you decline our invitations, or want to get together at your place until your kids are like twelve. We promise to understand when you leave early because you just can’t deal with removing your toddler’s hands from yet another breakable. And we promise to forgive you if – despite your best efforts – your kid accidentally crushes one of our valuables.
… Like, for instance, a gazing ball.