I have often heard jokes about the process that people have to go through in order to become adoptive parents, like suggesting that all parents should have to go though a certification process. One of the biggest obstacles to becoming an adoptive parent is making sure that your home meets certain safety and health standards. Most of these requirements are the things you should have done anyways—like ensuring you can escape during a fire, putting household cleaners out of a child’s reach or making sure that a toddler does not get his head stuck in the banister of the staircase.
Becoming an adoptive parent also requires that one either be, or purchase the services of a handyman. I have become a locksmith—well maybe just a locksmith’s apprentice. I always thought it was a curious thing when I moved to the East Coast that deadbolts on doors were keyed from both sides, meaning you needed your key to get in and you needed it in order to go out. As a crime deterrent it prevents the theft of anything that can’t be tossed out of a window. It also makes entry more of a challenge I suppose, since without a key you can’t just bust through one of the side-lights in an entryway and reach around to turn the deadbolt. The problem occurs when there is a fire. Your means of escape through the front door could be problematic if in your rush to escape, you left your keys upstairs and now the staircase is ablaze. We have had to change all of our exterior door knobs and deadbolts so that anyone could exit the house without having a key. And as far as the crime deterrent aspect goes, we haven’t had much problem discouraging break-ins (see The Dogs posting)
Because our house was built before 1978, there are two issues that we have to deal with related to lead-based paint. First, paint cannot be chipping anywhere in the interior or exterior of the house. Since we recently had the entire exterior of the house painted, we only need to deal with the interior. Inside there was only one area where paint was chipping from the walls and that has since been taken care of. The trim, however, is a different matter altogether. It seems that in most rooms of the house the baseboards, windows and doors from time to time spit small flakes of white paint onto the floor. Our next few weekends will be dedicated to sanding, scraping and painting the trim. Additionally, we have been advised that when the health inspector visits we should have the house cleaned thoroughly. The inspector will be checking for lead paint dust. We have been given an instruction sheet on how to clean windows sills and other areas where the dust may accumulate even in small amounts. By following the diagram for cleaning it will enable us to pass the inspection. But the bigger question I have for the health inspectors is do you care that the other 364 days of the year we are ingesting lead dust?
Another requirement is that we all must sleep on the same floor of our three story house. Well, this would normally not be a problem, but the master suite in our house is on the top floor. It takes up the whole floor and is by far the most pleasant bedroom in the house. It’s bigger than any of the others with skylights and a bathroom, and with tall trees shading each of the windows we imagine it is what living in a tree-house must be like. We considered living on the second floor next to Junior, but determined instead that Junior should move up into the tree house with us. As long as he is under two-years old, he can stay in a crib in our bedroom. But then there is the problem with the master suite. The previous owners who remodeled the third floor were sort of free spirits or maybe they were just weird. In any case there is no door to the master suite or to the bathroom in the master suite. Also one of the walls has been removed so that it is open to the staircase sort of like a balcony. It has always made having guests in the house a little awkward. You take your shower and then run past the balcony with a towel around you hoping that no one is coming up the stairs at the same time. As part of the fire inspection, the child’s bedroom (which in this case is our room) must have a door that closes and latches completely and the room cannot be open to the rest of the house. This is more than just a handyman job; it constitutes a minor remodel for which we are bringing in a carpenter. Having the room closed off from the rest of the house would provide us additional time to escape in case of a fire by preventing the spread of flames and smoke to our room.
Smoke detectors are also a big part of the requirements. Frankly, I think Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) and the fire inspector would be happy if there were detectors in each room of the house, every hallway and closet. They would be like tribbles multiplying and congregating on every wall and ceiling of the house. Right now we have electric smoke detectors throughout the house on every level tied to the security system. Surprisingly there are no “test” buttons on any of them so I am using the good old fashioned testing method—a match. BCDSS requires back-ups to all hardwired smoke detectors. Our social worker suggested getting a smoke/carbon monoxide detector for the basement since we have a gas-burning water-heater and furnace. In addition to having smoke detectors on every floor, there must be one inside our bedroom and in the hallway outside the bedroom door since that will be the child’s room also. Installation of smoke detectors is really simple—a couple of anchor screws and pop the battery in and viola! It would be simple if the detectors worked properly. Of the three Kidde smoke detectors that I purchased, two were defective. I wasn’t particularly comfortable just taking them back and getting replacements so I went searching for another brand. Six hardware stores later, I discovered that the problem is the smoke detector market is dominated by one company. There is at least one other brand that you can find in smaller hardware stores but the unit looked poorly made and didn’t instill any more confidence in me. I ended up just getting replacements since they are really just backups to the hardwired alarms.
We also need a fire escape plan which we have just figured out. We now have an escape ladder that will lower all of us from the third floor down to a first floor flat roof where we can make our escape, well all of us except the four-legged members of our household. While this is strictly a peace-of-mind issue as it has nothing to do with the adoption process, I am also working on an escape plan for each of our 70-90 lb dogs. I have located a harness that will enable us to lower each one of them down from the third floor window. Certainly this would be a last resort escape plan, but I would rather be prepared than have to improvise with sheets and towels with three, big, panicking dogs. The comforting thing is that the fire station is about two minutes away (fire and rescue vehicles frequently race past the house) and there is a fire hydrant really close to our property.
Then there are all of the miscellaneous tasks that have to be done. We have already taken care of the baby’s head in the banister problem. I have always been uncomfortable with the staircase that leads from the second to the third floor. The previous owners remodeled the staircase without any risers between the steps and with gaps in the banister large enough for even our big dogs to fall through. A carpenter came in and brought the staircase up to code. We have bought thermometers for the refrigerator and the oven. We have purchased covers for all but one of the hot-water radiators in our house. For the last one I will likely have to employ my handyman skills. I spent last Sunday installing a new dryer which included sticking my arms up in the dryer vent and cleaning out the two inch think coat of lint that had built up inside. Now I understand the requirement that we take care of that—it was clearly a fire hazard. We are also preparing to move all cleaners, household chemicals, and medicines to a cupboard that is out of the reach of a toddler. Plastic safety locks on lower cabinets are no longer acceptable, probably because they are prone to failure. In addition these items have to be removed from the utility room in the basement where the water heater and furnace are located as a fire preventative measure. So we will be spending the next few weekends moving things around in the kitchen, installing a medicine cabinet and assembling shelving in the basement for properly storing paint and household chemicals.
Maybe everyone should be certified to be parents. It sure seems like our house will be a lot safer and well prepared for an emergency.