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Chris Magyar

Breaking the Fourth Wall

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Charlotte climbed out of her crib today, fell on her head. Or bumped her head on the way out; it's hard to know for sure. It made her cry. I wasn't home at the time, as I was trying to make the most of my South By Southwest badge by "working" (or "playing" depending on your point of view) on a Sunday. My wife called with the three-ring emergency. As she's explaining what happened, I can hear the tell-tale sounds of a toddler hand groping at a phone. "Do you want to talk to dada?"

I say, "Hi, Charlotte." Charlotte, hearing my voice, bursts into tears. Heart crystallizes, shatters, shards in my lungs. "Dada," she says. She's 18 months old. "Uh oh," she says between sobs.

Lacking medical advice or physical proximity, I felt the vertigo of helplessness and tried to provide the only thing at my disposal -- manly dispassion. I assured Veronica that she was fine, everything was fine, nobody died, nothing obvious was broken, et cetera. Meanwhile, I'm trying to remember all the signs of a concussion. Is a baby developed enough to take the concussion tests? And if she doesn't pass them, does that make her concussed, or just a baby? I ask if Charlotte seems to be focussing. I don't seem to be focussing.

After much back and forth, I agree to come home as early as I can from the conference. Once home, I sit down with a hex key and dismantle the front wall of the crib. How do you solve a problem like climbing out of the crib? Remove one wall of the crib.

So my girl's in a big girl bed now, of sorts, and this brings up all the complicated emotions. Okay, not complicated. Just fear. Will she get out of bed all the time now? Will she roll out and bonk her head unintentionally? (As if today's semi-intentional spill was somehow better for being karmically warranted.) Will she wander out to play with a toy and fall asleep on the floor? Will that be uncomfortable for her? Will she start dating now?

Of course, because she's what scientists might term "an easy baby," she took to the open-air cage immediately. The whole family -- mom, dad, grandma -- sat on the couch opposite her crib and watched her mount the mattress by herself for the first time. Seeing an audience, she proceeded to make a show out of it.

You know how sometimes you go to the zoo and you find yourself really into being at the zoo so you stare for an absurdly long time at the animals? That's parenting.

She went to bed like a champ with more-or-less no crying. All was well until the thump happened. The inevitable thump. Veronica went in there an hour ago to settle her back down (Charlotte rolled onto some pillows I placed next to the six-inches-from-the-ground mattress, but still, who wants to fall out of bed?) and I haven't seen or heard from her since. I think she fell asleep. Will she fall asleep all the time in there now? Will she sleep on the floor? Will that be uncomfortable for her? Does my wife need a crib?

None of us get to have that fourth wall. We have to figure out for ourselves how to stay where it's safe. What starts as freedom often becomes danger. But judging from Charlotte's smile when she first crawled in and out of her own bed, we wouldn't have it any other way.

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