Ooo-kay. We're back home. The Pipsqueak is beginning to settle into a routine, but both AJ and I remember all too well how mobile she turned out to be and how we needed to put the child safety gates up in her house... and Grandma is NOT going to let her granddaughter get hurt, so we got plenty o'reminders. :-)
For those of you who read the forums at chinaadopttalk.com ("You know you're adopting from China if you don't know who the Rumor Queen is, but you know who the Rumor Queen is!"), this may sound a little familiar... but the experience has practically scarred me for life, so here's The Story Of The Baby Gates (with a couple of updates & minor edits).
AJ & Miri live in a townhouse, which is builder's shorthand for "helluvalotta stairs" -- there are stairs from the basement level to the main level, stairs from the main level to the 2nd floor, stairs from the driveway to the front door. a short flight of stairs from the entry foyer up into the main level... there's even a single stair running the full width of the house dividing the "living room" from the "dining room" just in case you didn't already get enough exercise moving around the place. Oh, and the stairs coming up from the basement have two landings -- thus two 90-degreee turns -- and so do the stairs going up from the main level.
We all anticipated the need to install gates for a toddler's safety, and I had kind of been eyeing the really wiiiide gap at the top of the stairs from the foyer to the main level with a jaundiced eye for months before the Pipsqueak's referral finally came through. We all figure it would be A Good Thing to be proactive, so as soon as AJ had Miri's photos, she & our folks went out and bought four expandable wall-mounted semi-permanent metal safety gates with locking latches. (Why, yes, the Pipsqueak's Grandma does indeed worry about her safety... Why do you ask...? <grin>)
Travel arrangements are in progress; it's time to put up the gates. We open the first box, and as I'm reading the instructions I come across a very clear, "NOT TO BE USED FOR CHILDREN!"
Y'see, AJ wanted to make sure her feline children (sadly reduced to just one a few days before we left) retained free access to the entire house, so the gates all had small, latching pass-thru doors in the middle. Seems the passthru is an unanticipated entrapment danger for small kids... Pack it all back up! Our folks return all four gates to the store and after a couple of days of increasingly desperate searching they find new gates.
I go to put 'em up and... the opening coming into the house is much too wide for even the largest gate. An added plus is that they'll have to be mounted much higher than their design takes into account in order to give the kitties freedom of movement, so the bottom crossbar presents a real tripping danger for anyone trying to go up or down the stairs.
Repack, rebox, return... After a lot of discussion, we go for the same type of gates originally rejected in Round 1. Special "collars" are also bought so we can mount the gates without drilling or nailing into the handrails on the stairs.
First gate... It takes AJ & me about 40 minutes to figure out how to get those collars placed correctly... Then I discover the gates are held in place by pressure and actually depend on little plastic cups screwed into the wall to keep 'em from literally squeezing themselves out of position... and the little cups take up just enough room for us to have to completely re-engineer how the collars are used & how the gate's mounted in the space... and then it takes another 20 minutes just to figure out if there's some way to actually fit it all into the opening.
I finally figure out how to jury-rig the thing safely(!), and the first gate is done, covering the top of the main stairs. (In retrospect, probably the one we had to worry about the least... Oh, well...) Being something of a coward, I choose to put up the 2nd gate in a more straightforward spot and within 20 minutes it's installed, protecting the top of the stairs to the basement.
Oops, waitaminit -- the passthru doors don't swing loose, they lock in place; we have to figure out a way to hold them open for the cat. After much discussion and experimentation, we figure out the one way we can tie the passthru open. Of course, it means the little door for the passthru now projects into the opening of the main gate, so we have to pick our way through the "open" gate very carefully.
Oh, and did I mention there's a three inch high lip to step over on the bottom of the "open" gate that will trip anyone not paying close attention? (Dude, the kid's gonna be safe, but nobody else is!)
In any case, we've run out of time, there's too much packing & other preparing to do so AJ & I leave for China with only 2 of the 4 gates in place. When we get back home, niecey-poo is crawling around the place at 90mph and taking her first few wobbly steps so it's critical that we get the remaining gates installed.
I go to put up gate #3 at the bottom of the main stairs and discover none of us had noticed that the stanchions for the railing at the bottom of the stairs are different from those at the top... and whoops, the opening is wider than at the top of the stairs... so I have to sort of re-engineer things with only half the collar set and those dumb little cups for the expansion legs to fit into. Two hours (and a couple of gallons of sweat and quite a bit of rather coarse language) later, gate #3 is in place.
Gate #4 is the most critical: it's a huge opening, and it's "right there" where the Pipsqueak can't help but come close to the edge. I measure, Dad measures, we fit the extension set into place, we figure out which way we want the gate to open...
And realize we're putting a metal bar that seems custom-made for tripping people approx. 4" above the floor at the top of a flight of steps. NOT safe.
We abandon the attempt... Cram everything back into the box... Next day the folks return the gate to the store, leaving an increasingly mobile Pipsqueak at risk (and my sister dropping all kinds of hints about getting the job done ASAP, if maybe not sooner). Finally, Mom & Dad find an old fashioned one-piece wood gate that has an extension kit that'll fill the humongous opening (no need for kitty passthrus, luckily) and they buy it. We unpack the thing, I start checking how it fits... And realize the you-cannot-move-it handrail for the stairs is mounted on the wall in exactly the right place to completely block any chance of mounting the gate there.
grumble grumble grumble grumble
After a lot of talking back & forth, there's a quick run back to our folks' house for one of the old 2x4s left over from basement renovations years ago (I've been called a packrat but I swear it's genetic); we'll cut blocks to attach to the wall above & below the railing so the gate fits. It ain't gonna be pretty, but Grandma had already pointed that out her granddaughter will be harder to repair than the wall so we decide to go with it. Back to AJ's house, back to measuring... And the plan won't work. A bit more measuring, and we figure we'll just attach the 2x4 to the end of the free-standing wall beyond the handrail and mount the gate there.
Oh, wait -- if we mount it that way, we have a 4-1/2 foot long gate swinging out over the stairs directly into the path of anyone trying to get into the house.
grumble mutter mutter grumble grumble
We finally figure out what's going where and how to reverse the direction of the gate, and I start putting all... the... tiny... plastic... mounting... parts... together... based on the microscopic drawings in the instructions. Half an hour of cussing and pinched fingers later, I have the gate put together and half of one hinge ready. The wall anchors are dug out of storage and... oops, we only have 4, so there's no room for mistakes! I make a pilot hole in the wall, line up the first anchor, bang it in...
...and the end snaps off about 1/4" into the wall.
mutter mutter cuss grumble
I'm able to force the anchor into the wall at angle, try the 2nd anchor... and it deforms horribly about 1/4" into the wall. The next 2 aren't any better, but at least they're in. I start to screw in the mounting bolts and run into an apparently solid, unpenetrable object just behind the drywall. After breaking a couple of screws (and quite a bit more interesting language), a dim bulb flickers on over my head. I grab a magnet from AJ's kitchen and start running it over the wall; sure enough, there's a solid mass of metal directly behind the drywall -- apparently, one of the main vertical supports for the entire house frame. It's doing a fine job of holding up the house... and an even better job of covering the entire area we'd hoped to use to mount the gate.
mutter cuss cuss mutter cuss
Finally, AJ suggests I just mount the gate at an angle; it may be extended to its maximum length, it may look funny... but at least it'll be up. I start the task and realize I have no wall anchors left for the screws -- and everyone points out they know someone else with a similar gate who just screwed it into the wall sans anchors with no problems, so that's what I do. I'm worried about it, but that's what I do.
I shift my attention to the latch mechanism on the other side, measure carefully... Use the template that came with the gate to make pilot holes... measure a 2nd time... hold the gate up to the 2x4 and measure a 3rd time... finally attach the latching mechanism to the 2x4 "wall" and swing the gate shut...
...and the meshuggineh thing hits 1/2" too far to one side to engage the latch.
grumble cuss cuss grumble cuss mutter cuss
I unscrew the mechanism from the wall -- which takes a lot of work, because the 2x4 we used was so old it was practically petrified and the screws were jammed into it -- re-measure everything, re-mount the latching mechanism, swing the gate shut to test it...
...and the unanchored screws at the other end tear out of the wall.
CUSS CUSS CUSS MUTTER CUSS GRUMBLE CUSS
It's now 11:30 on Saturday night, so our folks convince me it's time to take a break... besides, the plans AJ & I had made to meet some mutual friends for dinner and to introduce them to the Pipsqueak are already toast. I have weekend manager duty on Sunday, so I have to wait 'til early evening to return to the Baby Gate Destruction Zone. This time I bang 4 anchors into the wall, use extra-long screws, and remove a small plastic tab that was supposed to help the gate line up properly from the latching mechanism. I swing the gate shut...
...and it all lines up OK. (Yay, me!)
So now the Pipsqueak's being kept safe by baby gates at the top & bottom of the main stairway, at the top of the basement stairs, and at the top of the drop-off from the main floor to the front door. Approximate cost of gates, anchors, screws: $300. Approximate elapsed time (not including two weeks in China in the middle of the project): two weeks overall. Average work time per gate: 3+ hours. Average number of cuss words per gate: uncountable. (Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the upstairs gate.)
When I originally posted this story in the forums, I ended with, "Next time, I'll just make sure AJ upholsters her entire house in rubber and we'll leave it at that!" What I didn't know at the time was that my niece would turn out to be an utterly fearless explorer, with a relationship with gravity that can best be labelled "adversarial" -- I spent several months telling everyone she was going through life headfirst, accompanied by the occasional loud "THUNK" noise.
Well, the thunking has died down somewhat, but then came the day a few months after the first round of baby gates when AJ was surprised to encounter her daughter coming UP the stairs from the basement -- the Pipsqueak had managed to find the only stairway access we had left unprotected! (I can almost guarantee she did so with the full knowledge that she really shouldn't; I've noticed that my niece is rarely quiet when she moves around, but lately has shown she has a stealth mode that's very effective for moving between points A and B when she's been told not to do so. Aaah, to be young again...)
The concerned grandparents had a new gate in the house within 24 hours of hearing the story, and I was told that I would be installing said gate at the first convenient moment, and that the very next moment was convenient no matter what else. I figured this was gonna be a piece of cake: familiar gate, the easiest location for the installation, lots of experience... I just didn't count on my niece helping me.
Yep, she helped -- at least that's what she said she was doing! I'd mark the spot where I needed to mount one of those meshuggineh plastic cups on the wall, then put it down to grab a screw... and when I'd turn around Miri would be holding it up against the wall steadfastly refusing to give it back with a loud, "No! Hep!" I found the fastest way to get through the job was to let her help me by holding things -- that is, picking up & playing with those items she wanted to "hep" with -- then thanking her profusely for helping and asking if I could please have it back now. I was actually able to measure, mark the walls, and get the cups screwed into place in under 10 minutes with this approach.
Unfortunately, after I laid the gate down on the floor to make sure I had the right extension attached, I decided the Pipsqueak was soooo cute walking back & forth on it (being careful to not step between the slats, trying to just keep her feet on the metal frame) that I backed off a bit and paused to capture part of the balancing act on my camera. I say "unfortunately" because she proved stronger than I thought and managed to stand the whole assembly up on its end -- and then let go, sending it crashing into the corner of the wall. I was lucky this time; neither niece nor gate nor wall were damaged (although she was momentarily scared by the noise of the crash and her Grandma, fearing the worst, practically teleported to the site from the kitchen upstairs). I quickly finished the installation while AJ bargained the remaining extra pieces from her daughter and moved them to a safer location.
I think that we've pretty much gated off anything that we're going to be able to at this point... although we've all learned we have to lock the gates, not just latch them shut -- it only took the Pipsqueak a couple of months to figure out and (and teach herself to use) the latching mechanism on the metal gates... <sigh> Now I'm contemplating welding shut the sliding door to AJ's 2nd-story deck, but I don't think she'd appreciate it... stay tuned...
ADDENDUM: I originally wrote a shorter posting about my baby gate misadventure in the China Adopt Talk forums a couple of months after returning Stateside, then did a cut-and-paste into Blogger & added some updates on April 28th... but then I decided to post a few other items first. Since then, we've discovered that Grandma & Grandpa's stairs are so much fun to climb (especially when chasing Tigger, or sticking one's head through the railing on the 2nd floor) that we now have to figure out how to mount baby gates on their curved wall & iron railing. Like I said above, "...stay tuned..." !!!!
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!