THE LAST OUTLET COVER
“Hey, what’s this?” John’s puzzled voice echoes from beneath an end table in the living room. “I can’t plug in the stereo. Something’s stuck in the socket.”
I hunker down, crawl in next to him and find myself face to face with an electrical outlet cover, a leftover from the days when my children couldn’t be trusted not to zap themselves curly-headed with an ill-placed paper clip or a drool-coated thumb.
I pry the round hunk of plastic from the wall and hand it to John, explaining what it was used for back in his hell-boy diaper days. He rolls it around in his hand, listening. “Did I ever try to stick anything in a socket?” he says, his voice equal parts curiosity and embarrassment.
You certainly tried, I tell him. I describe the pins and fingers and various pieces of silverware, and the howling rage that accompanied his frustration at the hands of an impregnable ten-cent piece of child safety equipment.
“Did I do anything else?” John asks, sounding a bit like Lon Chaney Jr. struggling to recall a night of mayhem under the influence of a full werewolf moon.
Oh, absolutely. I expound on the four different types of cabinet latches we installed to keep him from drinking bleach or eating toilet paper, the drawer locks that kept him out of the carving knives, and the tricky knots we added to his car seat to pin him properly in place, lest he mosey out of the van mid-freeway.
And let’s not forget the special handles on the oven to prevent self-immolation or house explosions, the gates to thwart stairwell swan dives, and the inflatable guards we kept on every spigot in the house so he wouldn’t scald himself or ram his head into the bathtub faucet.
“Boy, babies can get into a lot of trouble,” John murmurs. I place a hand on his shoulder and nod in my wise, Ward Cleaver way. But I’m not done yet.
I tell him about the door locks placed high to prevent street wandering, the yard patrols that kept banana slugs, kitty treasures, and other unwholesome foodstuffs out of his mouth, and the house plants discarded lest he gnaw through the trunk of a poisonous sapling. As a last resort we kept a special medicine on hand to make him throw up anything nasty he swallowed. It was a measure of our parenting skills, I proudly relate, that we never had to use it.
“What else?” He’s smiling a bit now, a Dennis-the-Menace-like glint in his eyes.
With suitably dramatic gestures I impart the grand finale: the toilet lid latch, put in place to keep him from diving in head first or drinking water out of the bowl.
“Gross,” John says, grimacing. “That’s what dogs do.” Dogs, I inform him as our beloved Rosie trots by with a disintegrating tennis ball in her mouth, are like toddlers who never grow up.
Then, one by one, the safety gizmos disappeared. John got past the age where he was likely to set the house on fire or go sponge diving in the toilet. The latches and handle covers broke and weren’t replaced, or were simply thrown away by parents grown weary of anticipating every possible disaster.
We scramble out from under the table, stereo-plugging mission accomplished. John tosses me the outlet cover. He scurries outside, headed next door to his friend Chris’s house, calling over his shoulder as he goes. “Well, at least you don’t have to worry about me anymore, right?”
But as he races down the sidewalk my parent brain flips into auto-anxiety mode, thinking of the thousand streets he has yet to cross, the bicycle rides in traffic, the skateboards and rollerblades and, God help me, the child snatchers and the schoolyard shooters.
I stick the outlet cover in my pocket and take a deep breath. How could I have known, as I battened down the child safety hatches so many years ago, that those would be the easy days?