On the afternoon of the show, my mother dressed me for the occasion. I cannot recall the clothing she chose but I do remember that there were several outfits reserved for special occasions and it was one of those. Excitement gradually bubbled up from deep within my belly as the giant red and white tent came into view through my backseat car window. The suspense caused my heart to pound as we circled the temporary carpark on the grassy reserve.
After climbing out of the car, I remember holding my mother's hand as she led me through the crowd towards the main entrance. I recall seeing some other kids from school with their families, the setting sun, some food stalls, some elephants secured to metal pickets with ankle collars and heavy chains near large semi-trailers and lions pacing, heads lowered behind thick cages. Up ahead we could see the ticket booth and a long queue. I also recall seeing smaller cages with people crammed inside, screaming as they shook handwritten posters stating something about wild animals belonging in the wild, not in cages.
Those people seemed sad and angry. I remember asking my mother what they were doing and her shushing me, and hurrying me along in front of her, grasping my hand a little too tightly for my comfort. She told me not to look at those people.
Of course, being told not to look at those angry, sad faces made me curious and so I stared at them in bewilderment as my mother half-carried me, half-dragged me inside the humongous tent.
When the lights dimmed and a single spotlight shone down on the Ringmaster as he announced the various acts, I continued to hold onto her hand. At the intermission, I met up with a girl from my grade in school. We played around under the elevated seats, racing between the metal bars, giggling hysterically. At one point my mother found me and scolded me for missing the show which she had paid 'good money' for us to see. We returned to our seats for the next acts. Lions leaped through hoops, elephants balanced on blocks of wood, which teetered on metal cylinders. A small boy, probably about my age made three failed attempts at a double backflip in the air, missing the catcher's waiting arms on the trapeze. Each time he fell gracefully to the net and climbed the ladder to the top of trapeze platform to a rolling drumbeat. I recall thinking that I would like to fly on the trapeze, to juggle five shiny swords at once and to breathe fire.
More animal acts followed and as the crowd gasped and cheered with the baby elephant as it ran about the ring, being chased by a man with a whip I recall feeling pity for the scared little animal.
That was the first time in my life that I remember feeling like what was happening to that elephant in front of me was wrong.
It would be another year or two before I would understand what those people in their makeshift cages were doing. They were protesting for the rights of those poor circus animals. Wild animals belonged in the wild, not in cages.
It starts innocently enough. She simply pulls her tiny body into a standing position, using the louvres as rungs on a ladder...
The giveaway is her bubbly big toe. Such a beautiful, flexible big toe rising...
Next, she splays out her tiny toes, like the limbs of a sugar glider as it takes flight.
Before I've had time to react, she has started to climb. Nowhere is safe. Time to baby-proof this house.
We've turned a corner. More specifically, Love has rounded that corner at top crawling speed. It seems like only a week ago that she began to drag her tiny body by first crossing her arms out in front of her, grasping her blanket and pulling her body until her shoulders were above her elbows, occasionally using her tiny toes to propel herself forward; the creeper. I managed to capture that first crawl with a time-lapse movie on my iPhone, which you can see here on my instagram @seaandsalt.
She then progressed to the wounded solider, the same movement but dragging one leg behind her. From this position, she discovered she could balance on both her palms and her knees, with her body parallel to the floor. Soon she began to rock until she figured out that she could get around on her hands and knees and so she swaps between the wounded solider and the criss-cross crawl. You know the one, where she moves the opposite knee and hand in unison. No sooner had she mastered the crawl then she was across the room in a flash. She's stealthy too, a little quiet blur that can cover more ground than any normal human. She's a curious, fast baby crawling blur.
She can pull herself up too. She's not quite standing unaided but she'll use anything, anything to assist herself to the standing position. Shutters, the dehumidifier, the cat, Papa's face (by grasping his nose and hair), the free-standing butcher's block in the kitchen (with the sharp metal edges), the clean, unfolded mound of washing in the basket... Here I was thinking that she would progress to her first steps in a month or two but she did that at the same time! Stepping by steadying herself on her cot rail, or the lounge.
No, no. This girl won't settle for walking. She needs to climb.
And so at ten months we reluctantly purchased a baby barrier, a playpen, an enclosure. I was against it at first, I felt guilt-ridden on the way to inspect it. I ended up sitting in the backseat of the car to breastfeed baby Love in the warm winter sunshine as Byron carried the brightly coloured wooden structure back to the car. On the way home I bit at my fingernail as I watched her sleep peacefully. She's not meant to be in a cage, I thought to myself.
'Are we doing the right thing? I mean, I don't want to become complacent and place her in her playpen whenever I need to hang the washing or cook dinner or fold the washing' I said to Byron.
'You won't', he soothed me. 'It's just to protect her when you need to be away from her for a short time.'
He assembled the six rail sections on the kitchen floor. Initially, Love played on her blankets as the midday sun filtered through the windows but her interest in what we were doing peaked as he started to screw the rail brackets in place. Our little super-baby came scampering across the floor, narrowly missing the corner of the bulky butcher's block leg in her haste. All six sides were slotted together to form a large hexagon. Both of us, her parents, were seated inside as our baby began to climb the blue rail from the outside. I laughed at the irony of two parents seated inside a playpen as the baby tried to scale one edge to climb in, shouldn't it be the other way around?
As expected, Love tried to assist with the screwdriver. She's a helpful girl. Then she tried to chew it. She's also teething.
When it was securely fitted together, we carried the tri-coloured hexagon across the room and lowered it over her blankets. Byron then lowered her inside and she sat inside happily playing with her cardboard books, oblivious to the fact that she was, for want of a better word, contained.
My guilt washed away when I realised that she was happy to do her own thing anyway. Byron then lowered Coco dog into the playpen (is that some kind of dog rite-of-passage?) and she sat on the border of one of the corners, facing the baby with a concerned expression, possibly hoping to be rescued by me.
After Byron left for work and I had successfully, without interruption scrubbed the kitchen, cooked our lunch and dinner, unloaded the dishwasher and sung to Love every nursery rhyme that has miraculously been stored in the darkest holes in my mind (where was this amazing memory ability when I had my statistics exams?), I climbed in to join her. Sure, I watched her as I moved about the kitchen but she didn't seem to mind being in her playpen and so my body language didn't betray my fearful thoughts that I might be treating her like a wild animal broken by circus cages.
We sat together, her preoccupied with her toys, turning to show me what she was holding from time to time with a serious 'Oh' or 'Ooo' sound. I kissed her head, talked to her, read her stories and folded the washing from inside the playpen.
I may never take her to the circus but we will take her to see animals in the wild and in rehabilitation programs, beginning with the wild orang-utans of Borneo next month.
We will teach her that animals belong in their natural habitat, that those habitats should be protected and that our environment is worth more than any temporary financial gain.
We will also continue to baby-proof our home in the safest ways possible to keep her out of harms way.
Do you have any handy baby-proofing or child-proofing ideas? Any money-wise, thrifty tips to keep your little ones out of harm?
Please share in the comments. I'd love to hear what works best.