You turn your head, and your toddler is gleefully shredding the work papers you brought home. Or you put the laundry basket on the floor, and next thing you know the baby's tipped it over and is covered with underwear.
Mostly, we're lucky; our momentary lapses are harmless. But some close calls are scarier -- what mom hasn't seen her child take a fall and felt her own heart plummet? -- and leave us swearing, I'll never do that again!
These moms, who tell stories of little blunders that almost caused big tragedies, were lucky too. But we can't depend on good fortune to protect our children.
Here, how these mishaps might have been prevented:
A Risky Ride
"Shortly after Madeline was born, I took her to work to show her off. I was nervous about riding the commuter train with her, so my parents came with me. At the station, we rode an escalator with Madeline in her stroller, and as I reached the top, I raised the wheels and then put them down, missed, and hit the edge of the metal lip. To my horror, the stroller started to go up and over the front wheels as I was being pushed toward it by my mother -- and the twenty or so people behind her! Luckily, my father was there to grab it in the nick of time. Madeline was okay, but I still cringe when I think about that incident."
--Lisa, Barrie, Ontario
How to stay safe:
Take the time to look for an elevator, even if it's a hassle. Most public places like train stations and shopping centers are handicap-accessible, so they should have one. Escalator steps are too narrow to accommodate both the front and the back wheels of strollers, which makes them more likely to flip, says Robert Tanz, M.D., former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics's Section on Injury and Poison Prevention. And pushing a stroller onto the escalator prevents you from holding the handrail, so it's easier for you to lose balance.
If there's no alternative, fold your stroller and have someone else carry it. (If you're alone, ask an attendant or a passerby to hold it for you.) Then carry your child onto the escalator; this also keeps shoelaces, drawstrings, and fingers from getting caught.
"On my first outing with my four-month-old, I went shopping for clothes at a local store. I placed her in her carrier on top of the bench in the dressing room so I could try on some outfits. As soon as I turned my head, she toppled over onto the floor and the carrier fell on top of her. I was horrified and probably screamed louder than she did. Luckily, she was okay. Now, no matter where we are, I always put the carrier on the floor!"
--Gina, Goodyear, AZ
How to stay safe:
Always put your baby's carrier down on the lowest surface you can find that's within arm's reach. That doesn't include car hoods! Watch out for couches too, since soft, plush surfaces can be unstable. Unless it's on the ground, the carrier isn't really stable. "An active baby, even at four months, can move or tip it by squirming around in the seat or pushing off on nearby objects with her feet," says Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., program director for the National Safe Kids Campaign. Most of the time, toppling over is harmless, but in some cases, a fall from as low as two feet can cause brain damage. When you're shopping for a carrier, look for one with a wide, sturdy base and a safety belt.
A Wide Reach
"I thought my two-year-old son, Thomas, was napping in his room while I was upstairs. Then I heard him make some noise, so I went to check and found him covered in baby powder. He'd reached over his crib rails to the changing table, grabbed the powder and wipes, and dumped nearly the entire container of white stuff all over himself. He was using half a dozen wipes to 'clean up.' Thankfully, the only damage was the mess he made, but it could've been much worse: He could've put everything in his mouth."
--Sharyn, Athens, GA
How to stay safe:
Childproof your home. Toddlers are naturally curious, and this makes it easy for them to put their hands on things they shouldn't. Every year, more than 1 million unintentional poisonings among kids under 6 are reported to U.S. poison control centers. In Thomas's case, though baby powder isn't toxic, it can damage the lungs if it's inhaled. To prevent such accidents, you'll want to survey each room from a kid's point of view:
• Get down on your hands and knees and look carefully for any potential dangers between the floor and about three and a half feet above the ground.
• Remove items that are within reach from his crib and high chair.
• Check the carpet for buried items (such as pins, coins, and buttons) that your child could put in his mouth.
• Keep locked away -- or at least out of reach -- household products that may be harmful: cosmetics, art supplies, medicines, vitamins, and alcohol.
• Leave the toll-free number for the poison control center (800-222-1222) by your phone, and call right away if your child swallows something you think may be toxic.
"After cleaning the shower, without thinking I tossed a disposable razor into the wastebasket in the bathroom. My twelve-month-old had just started to walk, and a short time later I found him there on the floor, with the razor in his mouth. Fortunately, he didn't cut himself, but I don't even want to think about what could've happened."
--Jamie, Merced, CA
How to stay safe:
Before you throw anything away, consider whether it would be dangerous if your child got his hands on it. When you have a tot who's just started to walk, everything becomes a risk, even if you assume it's safely discarded. And at 12 months and even up to 4 years, your child doesn't yet understand potential dangers. To him, a razor blade seems like a new toy. So if the item could possibly be harmful -- like a plastic bag (a suffocation risk) or a small object (a choking hazard) -- throw it away in an inaccessible trash can, one that's in a locked cabinet or in a room blocked off by a baby gate.
Watch The Steps
"I ran upstairs to grab a load of laundry, and as I turned to head back down, nine-month-old Maggie, who was crawling at the time, was on the third step. I sat at the top and calmly urged her to come to me. She began to crawl up the steps toward me with a big smile. But when she was on the sixth step, she turned away and fell all the way to the bottom. I was powerless to help. I ran down and immediately checked her out. She had a huge bump on her forehead. I put on an ice pack and called the pediatrician, who told me to bring her in. She was monitored for a head injury. She was fine, but I still have nightmares about the helpless feeling of watching her fall and not being able to save her."
--Sabrina, Dittmer, MO
How to stay safe:
Put a gate at the top and bottom of your staircase. (The one at the top should be secured to the wall or railing.) Babies can crawl a lot faster than you think, and they often learn to crawl up steps before they develop the motor skills to crawl down. To let your child practice climbing, pad the floor below the stairs with a few cushions so she won't get hurt if she falls, and keep a close watch.
"Ethan, who's one, was asleep in his car seat when I pulled up in front of the house. I let him sleep while I quickly ran inside to make a brief phone call. It was hot out, so I left the car running to keep the air conditioner on. My husband was standing in the doorway to watch Ethan, in case he woke up and got scared. My husband turned to me to say something, and when he looked back at the car, he saw someone inside -- a man was stealing it, with our baby inside! Our worst nightmare had taken place right in front of our own house, in our quiet neighborhood. Thankfully, our little boy was found nearby half an hour later, still asleep in the car. The police told us the carjacker probably got scared when he realized there was a child inside. Now, no matter how much of a nuisance it is, I take Ethan when I get out of the car, even if it's just for a second."
--Amy, Virginia Beach
How to stay safe:
Never leave your child alone in a car. Although rare, carjacking is just one risk. The fumes might make your child sick, he might play with the power controls and hurt himself by opening and closing the windows, or he might climb out of his seat and set the car in motion. Even if the engine isn't running, it's never a good idea to leave him in the car by himself -- in warm weather, the temperature inside can quickly rise to a dangerous level. "Even when the weather seems pleasant, a child can succumb to heatstroke in minutes," says David Jaffe, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. At home, always lock the car and keep the keys out of your child's reach.
Jennifer Tzeses is an associate editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.