Thursday, December 14, 2006

Baby In Captivity: Gates

My sincere apologies to anyone receiving a feed who is getting this post for the second time. My mom called about another post, so I asked her what she thought of this one. It wasn't there? Hunh. Gone... Vanished with only a ghost in Google Reader to confirm its previous existence. My apologies also to the readers who generously made comments before as the comments were not recoverable.

Mobility. We all want it for our infants. It's just so much trouble when it arrives.

[Note: this post has been sitting in the queue for some time, and much of the following information about BabyGeek is out-dated. His grandfather will consider this slightly libelous, but Dad, I'm not going to try and change all the tenses this morning. I fully acknowledge that your sweet grandson is now a walking, babbling, sippy-cup drinker and is no longer the neophyte chronicled in this post.]

BabyGeek is currently a cruiser. He will probably walk soon, but is just waiting for every other baby we know to walk first (so modest). I think he just watching my face when my momma friends start saying things like "my baby's pediatrician says he is already developmentally a 27 year-old Olympic javelin thrower" and "my baby wrestles angry bulls."

BabyGeek likes to keep me grounded by refusing sippy cups, rejecting all toddler food except cheese (which he would gladly eat in bulk quantity), and only doing really brilliant things when we are completely alone. At least he inherited the family sense of humor.

So, we're more a babyproofing-lite household. If it must be babyproofed (stairway gate), we've done it, but if it's optional (drawer full of old bills) or somewhere he shouldn't be in the first place (a toilet lock in the typically closed bathroom), we're most likely to slack.

This theory has not yet resulted in any trips to the emergency room. ...has not YET...

We have put up a variety of baby gates.

Installed Gates
We installed an Evenflo wooden "top of stair" gate. It's marvelous at keeping BabyGeek from falling down the Alpine slope our home's designers saw fit to include. The gate works fabulously at keeping Baby geek off the stairs. It also works well keeping GrannyLuddite on the stairs. My mom is completely incapable of operating the latch. Honestly, it also took me a few frustrating days before I could consistently use it. It's not a techie/non-techie thing either. It's just a stiff latch that works counter-intuitively. For the top of the stairs however, I am quite happy to have a sturdy gate. After a few days of using it you forget it was ever difficult until, of course, someone comes over to visit. [Granny has now mastered the latch after a few more visits.]

(around $35 at Babies R Us)

Installed gates with step-on latches
Our friends used one of these, and we found its latching slightly difficult and less-than-satisfactory. The gate also adds a secondary threshold to step over- for a klutz like me that spells disaster. The threshold also made the style way too much of a trip hazard for the top of our stairs.

When I was gate shopping however I called my friend to find out her opinion on step-on gates. She told me that she had adored it, but it had broken one day when she stepped on it while frustrated. I'm frustrated far more often than she is, so it would probably be a poor investment for our home. These gates are comparatively expensive, so until I find one at a garage sale price we won't be testing any.

Pressure Gates
We have a handful of these that we move around the house as needed. Remember when you're choosing a size that you are often going to have to step over and periodically will be required to hurdle whatever pressure gate you choose, so your height should probably influence your choice of gate.

Our shortest gate, the diminuitive 24" high Evenflo Position and Lock Gate is a style that really intimidated me. I once tried to install one of these gates at a friends' house without any idea how the pressure bars worked. It didn't go well.

Since that time, I've seen a friend with experience and insight use this gate, and it is actually quite easy to use. It has rapidly become the favorite gate in our house because either parent can easily hurdle it when trying to get a ringing phone before it wakes the baby. It comes in two finishes- natural and dark (the one we have looks like stained cherry). Its Meijer price ($9.99) is also attractive.

[Slightly before BabyGeek began walking, he started climbing everything. Now a walker, his current conquest is scaling this small gate via the adjustment bar. If we turn the gate around in the doorway, the door will no longer be able to close, so we're resisting change. He'll scale this gate any day and will soon force the issue. This gate may be too low for climber-types. With such stunt-monkey children it MUST be installed with the bar on the forbidden side (which may prevent door closure with the gate in place).]

At a rummage sale, I scored the Position and Lock gate's older cousin, the Position and Lock Plus gate. I'm the only person who vaults over this gate, and I always do it with ample adrenaline or careful planning. It is positioned in one of our kitchen archways, so any folks wanting to enter or leave our kitchen have another, shorter gate option. If in a rush to get through that specific doorway, Jim will simply remove the gate. Our visitors always choose to take the long way around.

This gate is best used in a doorway that is rarely used or rushed through unless the users are willing to regularly hurdle or remove it. That aside, it is a very effective higher gate.

[Again, BabyGeek may try and scale this gate via the adjustment bar, but he rarely gets access to the forbidden side, so we simply don't know.]Safety 1st's Lift and Lock Gate was love at first sight, but this romance has slightly soured. It seemed like an easy gate to remove and re-install. The upper middle height gate was $20 at Babies R Us. I bought a couple for my house and a couple for the grandparents. The Lift and Locks initially seemed more user-friendly than they actually turned out to be. They're easy to install incorrectly. When they aren't in exactly level or exactly perpendicular to the side frames of the doorway, one of the rubberized feet will be very easy to push out of position. From there, the gate remains only in the doorframe out of slothful indifference and will readily fall to the next pressure. Needless to say, BabyGeek loves messing with these gates.

My initial reaction to an improperly installed gate was to assume that my doorframe had an irregular surface causing it to be a tiny bit off-kilter. I simply expanded the gate a little more which made the misaligned foot less able to be removed. BabyGeek identified the system's weakness and immediately began working to dislodge the door. I again expanded the gate. This time the center of the gate bowed. This system limped along for a while until plastic fatigue started setting in and the gate would made a loud snapping noise when I tried to over-expand it and simply fall into a more appropriate tension. The gates slipped easily out of place until I found the correct method to install them.

The Lift and Lock has four "feet" that push against the doorframe applying tension. Two of those feet are static post. The other two feet have a bit of retraction. It is critical that the two retracting feet are firmly pressed into one side of the door's archway first. Then the two static feet are carefully moved into place. After installation, when viewed from above the gate should be PERFECTLY perpendicular to the surface of the doorframes it is touching. If it's not perpendicular and the confined baby is active, that gate is coming down. I purchased this gate before I realized the wonders of the wooden gate, so my thinking was probably clouded by FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

My wise friend Amy has these same gates and loves them. Being pregnant, she is generally banned from hurdling, so, like the smart person she is, she used those parts I threw aside and installed the gates as swing gates. They are installed high enough the cat can get under them, but the baby can't.

[Properly installed, this gate doesn't have a foothold for BabyGeek like the wooden ones. I may give up on protecting the woodwork from drilling and reinstall the gates as swing gates. Especially as I don't know that gate, in its pressure only format, is sturdy enough to resist his tendencies toward demolition for long. I'll update with any future developments.]

Which gates or types of gates do you like or loath?


Lewis said...

Too bad no one else commented on this post. I'm in the market for baby gates, and would love other's feedback.

Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

oh finally!! someone with a good suggestion as to how to install a stair gate so that the cat gets full access but toddler doesn't! i've been tearing my hair out googling every combination of 'cat' 'stair gate' 'toddler' until finally was led here. i have a cat with a few behaviour problems that restricting his access would make worse, plus i want to prevent our little girl from playing sand castles in his litter box, but obviously don't want to prevent him from going there. i never would have thought to install it higher on the wall. thanks.

Anonymous said...

please don't buy gates at rummage sales. You will have no idea if they are recalled or still safe. Plus, always install according to mfr. instructions. Its your child's safety at stake.

adrienne said...

hi anonymous-

I'm actually sort of recall obsessed, so I check every purchase (new or used) at the CPSC site before using it in my home. Your comment however has value, because I have brought home a high chair under recall that we couldn't use (I got lucky at the company refunded exactly the same amount I payed).

With all resale purchases, I carefully inspect all parts for damage. In the case of the gate I've purchased used, they have all been models/types I am very familiar with. The large gate works and is constructed exactly like our short gates.

It's not impossible to buy decent, working gates at rummage sales, but you have to be very selective, inspect the gates carefully, look up the manufacturer's instructions online, be willing to throw it out if you find a recall, and do all your homework before using it in your home.

I should also mention that our critical gates in protecting Ranger from real hazards (like stairs) were all new.

Anonymous said...

My parents still have the wooden "Position & Lock" one installed. Their youngest kid (my sister) is 9.