Just returned from a five-day visit to my in-laws, who live a few states away. There is a lot for me to “process” from this trip. One of the main things on my mind this morning is how profoundly and completely having kids affects my husband’s and my life. Well duh, you might say, of COURSE having kids changes everything.
But, where I’m going with this is, I don’t know if my in-laws realized to what degree our stay at their home, with our 1-year-old and 4-year-old in tow, would be defined by the kids’ needs, schedules, and so on. They weren’t completely clueless by any means. They knew we would need a highchair, and DH talked with them before our trip about the boys’ nap and nighttime schedules. Plus, my FIL raised a child (sort of) and my stepMIL raised a child, partly as a single mom.
That being said, there were aspects of our stay there that drove me up a tree. For example, I didn’t expect them to have a closet full of toys and activities for the kids, but if I had realized that my MIL was going to prepare for our visit by getting a few coloring books and puzzles at the dollar store (my 4yo doesn’t even use coloring books) – and borrowing a few books and Legos from a friend – then I would have brought a heckuva lot more toys and books than I did.
I reached desperation in finding things for the kids — especially my 1yo — to do. As I told my husband, it’s not that kids need an endless stream of toys toys TOYS to keep them “entertained.” BUT, kids do need something to do! Especially when they’re cooped up inside a house that has a lot of “don’t touch” and “don’t go in there” types of things. And especially when no one is helping us out by suggesting that we go to a park (or telling us where a park is located). A few different times, I asked MIL and FIL if there were any empty boxes (cereal boxes, shoe boxes, or anything like that) that the kids could play with. My 4yo likes to make things out of boxes, and my 1yo likes to just explore them.
Since they don’t recycle (AHEM!), there wasn’t much of anything around except for an empty beer case (insert my eye rolling here) that my FIL found in the trash. But the main thing that bothered me about that was that no one seemed very concerned about finding things for the kids to do. At my parents’ house, my mom would have emptied out boxes from the pantry, if that meant that the kids could have something fun and constructive to do….especially in light of the fact that there was very, very little in the whole house that was a toy, kid friendly, and so on. I’m not saying that everyone has to be like my mom, but I am saying that I was disappointed that my MIL and FIL seemed so clueless (and seemed not to care, perhaps?) about the kids’ needs.
I did think about asking if they had any empty Rubbermaid totes, or anything (anything!!!) along those lines, but frankly I bypassed that idea because I was afraid they wouldn’t be keen on hauling things out and making a mess. I did pull out a few kid-friendly and sturdy kitchen items for the kids to play with, but I did limit that because I was afraid 1) something would break, and 2) my MIL wouldn’t like the whole idea.
Oh and the childproofing! I don’t even know where to begin with that topic. It was a very, very, very good thing that we brought along two pressure-mounted child gates, so that at least we could have some measure of sanity (albeit limited) on the main floor. My 1yo is very much an explorer, and I believe he is to young for us to do a lot of “no no no no” with.( I am going by John Rosemond’s “Making the Terrible Twos Terrific” book where he recommends keeping your home in childproof lockdown mode until the child is around 30 months. This makes a lot of sense to me and I am very comfortable following his recommendation here.)
A few downsides with the child gates, however: First, I was afraid of what the gates were going to do to the walls as far as leaving marks or indentations. Second, my MIL has some health and joint problems that made it difficult for her to step over the gates. Third, even with the gates in place, there were a number of childproofing problems to contend with (A VCR, for example, and some lamps that we finally decided to remove entirely).
It is a good thing that our visit was the length it was, and not any longer. I know that my MIL and FIL love the kids dearly, but I also know that there are some issues (cluelessness? selfishness? misplaced priorities?) that get in the way of having a good visit at their house.
On the second morning of our stay, DH and I loaded the kids up in the van and headed over to a discount store (all of this before MIL and FIL got up for the day, but that is another topic entirely) in order to pick up a few necessities and also to buy some toys for the kids. How sad is that!