The New Play Space (& How It Made Us Better)

The baby takes purchase, grows, takes over the entire abdomen, even encroaching on the diaphragm, pushing the lungs up to your shoulders. Then the Baby is born and moves into the apartment, first just in his bedroom. Soon he moves into the other rooms. There’s a giant swing in the dining room. The front foyer is dominated by two strollers, one for getting around town and another for running. A jumper hangs from the ceiling right in between the living and dining room. Below, a play mat spreads out, his toys scattering from it to the rest of the house like his raisins–he likes raisins and he loses some of them as he shoves handfuls into his mouth while crawling from room to room; they look like rabbit droppings. The breast pump and accoutrements take over a large swath of counter space in the kitchen. Breast milk lines a shelf in the fridge and the freezer. BM is later replaced by purees and whatever else he’ll eat. An exersaucer–an enormous, plastic, gaudy colored saucer shaped toy that he sits inside surrounded by a ring of toys and a tray for his water bottle and cheerios–loiters in the middle of the kitchen and his cheerios are everywhere. The kitchen sink and counter become his bath space every night. There are pictures of him in the living room, in his room, in the hall way, in the dining room, in the kitchen. He starts to crawl, then walk, and climb onto every piece of furniture. The baby takes over your space, your head space, your life, your self.

In an attempt to reclaim some of that space, I disassembled the play mat every night, put the toys into a basket and pushed it to the side in the dining room so that I wouldn’t have to look at it or step around/over it. But sitting on the sofa after putting him to bed, sipping my wine, I could still see the pile of toys against a dining room wall, the primary colors and the plastic. The disassembling of the mat, that really started to drive me nuts. Like fucking drove me up the wall. I hated taking those foam pads apart. Then in the morning I would have to lay them back down, putting them together like a jig saw puzzle from nursery hell–endless, thankless, mindless, tedious, mute, routine, eternal; the foamy bane of my stay-at-home-mom existence. I was chained, not by steel or iron or plastic or sexy boa cuffs, but by foam.

And then one morning I never had to do that again.

While Baby and I were away in Toronto during the holidays, Squeezable Companion secretly put together Baby’s new play space all the while working 100+ hours a week. I cried when I saw it. Baby stared at me a little perplexed. I left a blubbering message on SC’s phone because he was at work.

Anyway, let’s get on with the tour.

Before And After

Before the renovation by SC, Baby’s room was dominated by my old bed. We kept it around only because it had great storage beneath the bed where we kept all our linens. I didn’t know where else we could store the linens in order to get rid of the bed.

Play space room before the renovation.
Before
Baby's room after the renovations.
After

SC made room in his closet, installed shelves into the sloped ceiling part of the closet, and moved all the linen into that space. And he had a small closet to begin with.

And here’s a panoramic view of the whole room.

Panoramic view of Baby's play space

God, the iPhone is so cool. I’m working on a post about my iPhone. But I stray.

Let’s begin the photo tour, starting from the left moving clockwise.

Here’s the crib. No changes here except that SC used the space beneath the crib as toy storage.

Baby's crib is from Ikea with a Flensted mobile from Baby's Hal-muh-nee.
Baby’s crib is from Ikea and hanging over it is a shoal of fish. The mobile was a gift from Baby’s Hal-muh-nee for his first birthday.

The bookshelf was inherited from a roommate, which I painted white while I was pregnant. Most of the books were purchased from T.J. Maxx–big discounts, bigger than Amazon sometimes, if you can believe it. I keep the smaller board books on the lower shelf for easy access by Baby and the other taller books in the tallest middle shelf. SC taped up the picture poster I made of Baby and his caterpillar over the course of his first year.

Old bookshelf I painted it white while I was pregnant with Baby.
Old bookshelf I painted white

SC purchased and assembled a table and chairs set from Ikea. It cost an epicly bad five hour round trip in pouring rain with no covered parking and $20.

George waits patiently for Baby on Baby's new <a href="desk and table set.
George waits patiently for Baby on Baby’s new chair and table set.

To keep Baby from touching the radiator and the cable wires that hang out behind it, SC placed the cardboard fort I made for using the boxes and wrapping paper from Baby’s Christmas presents. Baby crawls into it sometimes and hangs out. Sometimes he rips the wrapping paper off the walls.

Christmas fort in front of the radiator. Baby hangs out in there sometimes. Sometimes, he likes to tear the wrapping paper off the cardboard walls.
Christmas fort in front of the radiator.

Above the radiator, SC hung a wall shelf. He imagined he was me sitting on the sofa about to feed the baby and thought where am I going to put the bottle down? I’m enjoying my morning coffee while Baby plays on the mat. Where am I going to put down my hot mug? And I’m going to need more light for when I read to the baby before bed. SC imagining he’s me thinks, a wall shelf. SC picked up a shelf system at Ikea but had to cut it to fit the space between the window frame and the wall. I love watching/imagining SC using power tools.

The floating shelf is great for added storage space, lighting, and bottles or glasses.
The wall shelf is great for added storage space, lighting, and bottles or glasses.

The pièce de résistance a l’Ikea: the sofa. SC bought it via craigslist for $70, originally $300, which is less than the price he was able to get for the bed at $75. He somehow transported it from Newton to Cambridge strapped to the roof of our 1999 Corolla, brought it into our house like a mighty ant carrying a load ten times the size of his own body, underlayed the sofa cover, which he laundered, with our anti-bedbug/waterproof mattress liner, which we stopped using because it made the bed hot and he stopped worrying about bed bugs. The point is, he got the perfect sofa for a great price and then made it toddler-spills-proof.

Hardly used sofa found on craigslist makes the perfect addition to the play space for adults to sit.
Hardly used sofa found on craigslist makes the perfect addition to the play space for adults to sit.

But it gets better than that. The sofa was chosen for three reasons: one, we needed a place for me and SC and any adult to sit down when playing with Henry–the floor is good too but not all the time; two, when the second baby comes, I’ll need a comfortable chair to nurse him–yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a son because I want a daughter; and three, it’s just the right size to leave enough room between the wall and the sofa for a toddler bed when Baby 1 vacates the crib for Baby 2–we’ve already picked out the bed from (you guess it) Ikea and it will fit perfectly.

The space for a future toddler bed accounted for in the purchase of the sofa.
The space for a future toddler bed.

In the center of the room is a 6′ x 6′ extra thick foam mat made up of 36 12″ x 12″ squares. Baby can fall on his head and he’ll be okay. He could even fall off the changing table and he’d be okay. That extra thick 9/13″ of foam mat of bold primary and secondary colors pulls all the elements of the play space together.

The extra thick foam mat covers the whole center of the play space.
The extra thick foam mat covers the whole center of the play space, never to be pulled apart at the end of the day ever.

Safety Features

Safety is paramount to SC. I mean, this is the guy who will read and did read every word on our lease from beginning to end even though it was the same standard lease he’d seen a dozen times. It’s great because I can be sloppy and lazy about this sort of stuff.

He screwed in anti-skid pads on the feet of the chairs and table so that they wouldn’t slide out from under Baby. He stuffed the extension cord into a power strip cover. He put in outlet plugs. He attached foam door stoppers so that Baby 1 won’t slam the door on Baby 2’s fingers. (Is this level of in advance thinking blowing your mind like it blew my mind?)

Anti-skid pads on the table and chairs installed by SC while Baby assists.
Anti-skid pads on the table and chairs installed by SC while Baby assists.
Baby proofing with foam door stoppers, power bar cover, outlet plug, and improvised stand up lamp tether.
Baby proofing with foam door stoppers, power strip cover, outlet plugs, and improvised stand up lamp tether.

Toy Storage

Last but not least, storage. The storage solutions shown here are not particularly clever or innovative. But all the toys are in the play space rather than gathered up against the dining room wall like a gigantic ant hill. It looks better.

But better than that: while the baby is awake and playing, the toys remain in his bedroom. It’s not in the living room. It’s not in the dining room. It’s not in the kitchen. It’s not in the hallway, the bathroom, or the front foyer. I don’t have to look at it when he’s in his room napping or down for the night.

Store shoe boxes of toys and puzzles and block under the sofa and the crib.
Store shoe boxes of toys and puzzles and block under the sofa and the crib.
Books and extra toys on the  book shelf and wall shelf, more toys in the Christmas fort, basket, and riding toys, and plastic cookie jar used to store small objects.
Books and extra toys on the book shelf and wall shelf, more toys in the Christmas fort, basket, and riding toys, and plastic cookie jar used to store small objects.

* * *

We needed rooms of our own, SC and I, for our marriage to be ours and not Baby’s. It’s never been ours until recently. We got married after I got pregnant and during the pregnancy, we were about the pregnancy, nesting, the baby. And then once the baby came, it was about the baby. It’s now easy to imagine how marriages become a function of the child instead of the child a function of the marriage.

In order for our marriage to be ours, we needed each of us to regain, remake, remember our selves. And we needed space, physical space, that would make concrete the psychic space necessary to do that. Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” With every room shaped for parenting, we were being shaped into parents, but only parents, not husband, not wife, not me, not SC. Not having rooms of our own began to make us forget us.

And frankly that’s just unfair. Baby, less than a seventh of my mass, was taking up 90 percent of our apartment. That’s wack. We needed to get that shit under control.

And SC got on it, got all over it and did this great thing. He didn’t just put together a play space for Baby to have a blast in, which he does; he made room for us.

Henry having a blast in his new play space.
Baby having a blast in his new play space.

For more photos, go to Flickr.

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