The Radius of Doom

The Radius of DoomBefore Dubsie was born my cousin Alison warned us about what she called the Radius of Doom. Anything within baby’s reach at the table is in imminent danger of spillage, breakage, slobberage, or some other form of annihilation.

We learned to conduct safety sweeps and clear the Radius. But of course that isn’t enough. You get complacent and one day Dubsie stretches out her arm, longer with every passing month, and swipes at your wine glass. The Radius is a vigil that never ends.

Until the days come when the child learns to crawl and then to stand and walk, and the Radius of Doom transitions into something far more dangerous and unpredictable: the Zone of Doom.

The Zone of Doom spreads out in concentric circles, like the blast area from a thermonuclear device. Anything left on the floor is eligible to be eaten. Low-lying electrical outlets are trips to the burn unit, and previously innocent objects like candlesticks and picture frames must be evaluated for their shatter tolerance and throw weight.

But the child keeps getting stronger and more mobile. She learns to climb stairs, to wrap the cord for the blinds around her neck as an invitation to strangulation, to mount pieces of furniture only to fall off them headfirst. Shortly after Dubsie was born, a friend confided to me, “Really, until the kid is three or four, you’re basically on suicide watch.”

What took me most by surprise was that the Zone of Doom expands on not only the X axis, but aggressively on the Y axis.

In our living room we have a wonderful old bookshelf, built by my great-grandfather, with stepped shelves, long at the bottom, short at the top. When Dubsie learned to stand, we realized that everything that wasn’t a toy or a baby book had to be vacated from the bottom two shelves. And then she got a bit taller, and the adult items — the ones that reminded us of our simple carefree pre-child life, like the Italian vase — needed to surrender the third shelf and retreat upward.

Now, if she stands on her tiptoes, she can just reach things on the fourth shelf.

All that remains is the fifth shelf, which is only about two feet wide, and it is now crowded with nail clippers, my guitar pick, wine bottles, Dubsie’s crayons and a potted plant. I look at it and think of that moment in the disaster movie where the floodwaters reach the attic.

The same story has been unfolding in our bathroom, on Mummy’s vanity, where Dubsie will eagerly grab and hide earrings, or stab herself in the ear with a mascara brush. Luckily, we can clear the vanity table and stash things on shelves that stand five feet tall. No way Dubsie can reach that, I say to myself with satisfaction, when I step into the shower.

When step out I see that Dubsie is standing on the stool. She has discovered a force multiplier and is delighted at the fact. Unsteady on her fat legs, she rifles through the blush cases and jewelry boxes.

Dammit, the stool!, I say, and clench my fist like a hapless villain. The stool! Outwitted by that little girl once again! Will she leave no zone undoomed?



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