Friday, February 15, 2008

daniel versus the pottery barn kids

Ever since Daniel was a speck in my eye (well, womb), I've been thinking differently about home decor. I flip through the Pottery Barn catalog and see images of beautiful vases filled with perfect, delicate flowers, sitting atop coffee tables alongside glass candle holders, and I think: Clearly, this Pottery Barn family does not actually have children. Even though the catalog's mudroom has individually labeled cubbies for the kids' backpacks, and the Christmas catalog shows stockings hung from photo-frame stocking holders (bronze or silverplate!) monogrammed with each child's name, I don't quite believe the kids actually live there. Because if you put Daniel in that house, he would rip it apart in minutes. That beautiful pot of roses would be overturned onto the beautiful rug below, and the artfully arranged piles of books on the lower levels of shelves would be thrown across the floor, alongside the DVDs and CDs he pulled off the media console. Maybe the Pottery Barn kids are older and have been strictly trained not to touch the contents of coffee tables or the electronic equipment that sits in plain open view in those gorgeous media centers, but Daniel's curious fingers would have Pottery Barn mom and dad scrambling. House plants? Ha.

So I was quite amused to read this New York Times article, which I found courtesy of the Star Tribune blog Cribsheet. Basically: Having children changes lots of things about a couple's lifestyle, and for parents (particularly older ones) who have spent time and money furnishing their homes the way they want them, the world of baby gear and childproofing can come as quite a shock. “Once you become a parent, your home is not your own,” one woman is quoted as saying. “I think you mourn your previous life, at least for a while. You’re never going to have what you had.” Amen to that.

I'd say our house is still a work in progress when it comes to decorating it. Steve and I don't have a lot of expensive furniture, but we've bought a few nice pieces over the past few years. (I cringed when one woman in the article said her 4-year-old used a pen to carve her name into a cherry dining table just delivered from France. “I thought I would die,” she said.) But I know I've had to let go of some of my decorating dreams since Daniel became mobile.

Our living room is strewn with toys, which sometimes end the day reorganized into their baskets, but often spend the night un-put-away. A few of the sharper corners on the coffee table and wood mission chair are covered with horrendously ugly foam protectors, which we realized were necessary after Daniel started to bruise his head on them repeatedly. The coffee table is shoved up against the beautiful cherry bookcase, giving him more play space and blocking from his reach (for now) a few items we would like to keep there untouched — certain books, the box of bill-paying essentials, candles, pottery figures I acquired in Mississippi. The open shelves that serve as part of a dividing wall between our dining room and the front door used to have family photos lined up on them (and Steve's entire CD collection, a holdover from his bachelor days that I confess I was happy to see go). Now they're pretty much empty, except to serve as repositories for harmless, unbreakable things like stuffed animals. We deliberately chose a closed armoire to house our TV, stereo equipment, DVDs and CDs because otherwise they would become part of Daniel's toy collection. Some toddlers might leave that stuff alone, but not Daniel. He has an amazingly persistent sense of curiosity. We set up old stereo equipment in the basement playroom just so he can push buttons, turn knobs and insert plugs to his heart's content. Maybe he will be like his grandpa and be an electronics genius.

In the meantime, we walk the ever-shifting line between keeping our belongings (and son) safe and not giving in completely. We haven't drilled any holes for drawer-blocking devices into our bedroom dresser or nightstands yet — we just can't bear to — so Daniel has free reign in our drawers. We adjust by making sure there's nothing in there that can hurt him. Pens? Nope. Foot buffers? OK. Socks? Fine. We're training him to put them back when he's done pulling them out of my sock drawer. (I am sure we will regret this choice the day he carries some embarrassing bedroom item out into the living room during playgroup, but so far he hasn't looked twice at the ... ahem ... unmentionables.) I resonated with a comment one woman in the article made: “I’m pretty sensitive aesthetically, and it does something for me when I look at a pretty room," she said, describing a dining room they converted into a children's play area. "Looking at what the room used to be was the visual equivalent of listening to Bach or Mozart. Now it’s the visual equivalent of listening to Barney.”

I figure it's just a few years before maybe we can have some of our space back. In the meantime, we try to keep a sense of perspective. We may not have a perfect house, but we do have a pretty cute son (who I'm sure is going to have a pretty cute brother), and we're very fortunate for that. So we live with the toddler-proof home and do our best to keep him away from the gorgeous coffee table displays when we go to other people's houses. That's our life, and I'm OK with it.


Monkeymama said...

I remember the gradual shifting of our Illinois living room as Rebecca gained mobility. Everything of importance slowly moved up and then into our bedroom. When we moved to New York I found a whole box of things like candles and pottery that used to sit around. I think things might look cluttered to me now.

And my poor house plant that I got in college - I had forgotten about it. After too many attacks it got moved to a higher spot, didn't get enough light, and died! Ah, the sacrifices. :)

I can see how it would be difficult for people with "real" furniture. We still have so much old hand-me-down stuff, the kids really can't make it look worse!

Soupy said...

ahhh, this is my life right now, as K starts to move. Love this post, Emilie- this made me smile and grimace all at the same time! LOL now I'm off to rescue the VCR from sticky hands! LOL

Marketing Mama said...

Great post Emilie. Our coffee table is now in storage, my plant stand and all my beautiful plants but one gone, and the house is overrun with bright plastic toys and little trains. I wish I had a spare room that could be a playroom to host more of the toys... in the meantime, the next 5 years or so will be kid-oriented.

Anonymous said...

Dad recently made a comment that stuck with me, regarding the romanticized image of a horse-drawn sleigh on a Winter, moonlight night. Here was the comment:

"It never existed."

First of all, the horses had to be harnessed. That is loads of sweaty work. Second, where were the people in the sleigh headed? Probably to some sort of dreaded social obligation. They probably were not feeling the joy that so many Rockwell paintings want you to think they were feeling.

Those pottery barn images don't exist in real life, even for childless households, let alone yours, as you said.

Ellen said...

Maybe children really do live in those Pottery Barn rooms, they just happen to be what they look like after mom spends the whole day cleaning them when she actually has a full day to herself. Then she knows they will be torn apart once she lets child roam through them, but the few moments of clarity and organization in her living room which she has to gaze her eyes upon is enough to get her through until her next cleaning day. This will be my life.

Ellen said...

Here is how I react to the woman who said in the article, "Looking at what the room used to be was the visual equivalent of listening to Bach or Mozart. Now it’s the visual equivalent of listening to Barney.”
I am aesthetically sensitive too, and I totally hear what she's saying. But the comment still left me aghast. Back in the day, Mozart was a composer for the people, and appealed to a similar demographic which would probably play Barney for their children in today's times. The scene Mozart spent much of his career in was not pristine, and from what I know, he never enjoyed the luxury of a pristine livingroom...or a burial. It's what came out of his life that was pristine, and now people associate that with something that's not tainted by the chaotic presence of children. That's not what Mozart would want. I'm not sure about Bach. Of course the difference between Mozart and Barney is beyond comparison, but there is no reason a parent can't expose their children to both. I know everybody is different, and the woman is right in feeling that way, but at the same time, I'm like "lighten up!"

liz said...

I read a similar article about home design and kids, and something that really struck me was how preserving a home's design post-baby is actually a good way to teach children boundaries and social skills. If everything is childproof and all valuables are put away, says the article, children don't learn not to touch certain things and they get a false sense of entitlement that the world is all about them. I have no way of knowing how realistic this is since I don't have children myself, but I thought the article was really interesting. You can find it at

Anonymous said...

The Pottery Barn family has a woefully underpaid, yet hardworking illegal immigrant maid.

Emilie said...

Interesting article, Liz. I'd say the question of whether that idea is realistic depends on a number of factors, including a child's temperament and how much room a family has in its house. (Eg. Is there a separate living room that can be off-limits for toys, or not?) Age, too - up to a certain point, toddlers just don't have a developed sense of impulse control, so teaching them ideas like "respect" for fragile antiques is going to be a bit like herding cats ... until they're a little older, in which case certainly they should learn there are things they shouldn't touch.

I have to say, though, I don't agree with the parents who think making one's house baby-friendly is tantamount to not teaching boundaries and allowing kids to grow up with an inflated sense of entitlement. Most parents I know have modified their home design a little to keep things less stressful and more safe - and they also work hard to teach their kids limits. I know we do.

Ellen ... I don't know if we were supposed to take that comment quite so literally ... but I see your point!