The Time I Saw Red: A Cautionary Tale

Back in 1994, we purchased our first house, an old, yet charming, two story home in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was reminiscent of a farm house, with hardwood floors, a whole dining room wall made up of built-in shelving and cabinets, and plaster walls.

It was exciting enough to buy our very first home, but I was really shaking with anticipation over being able to paint the walls however we wanted, as we had rented for the first six years of our marriage and were at the mercy of landlords when it came to wall color.

That’s why we changed the color of our bedroom from the strange orange shade to…off-white. Huh??? But that particular brain freeze is not what this post is about.

The older boy, who was two, had a really nice room. It was the only bedroom out of the three that was rectangular instead of square, and he had a closet on each end of it. Though each closet was under the slant of the roof and oddly shaped because of it, we could actually walk into them–Jim and I had to duck a little bit but the boy could walk right in, of course. Had he been a wee bit older, these closets could have been great forts or clubhouses.

We had, just before moving, gotten him adjusted to a “big boy bed” and in this, the new house, we set up the bunk beds that Julesie and I used as little girls*. His comforters were red, and we placed other red accents in the room to coordinate with them.

The walls, made of textured plaster, had a wooden picture rail hung all the way around the room, like a chair-rail but higher. (Martha Stewart has a version of it on her website, here) It was a place that you could hammer your nails in for picture hanging, because if you’ve ever tried to hang pictures directly on a plaster wall, you know that if the picture is too heavy it will rip right through the plaster, leaving an unsightly hole.

I decided that since his room may not be done in reds forever and I didn’t enjoy painting that much, I would leave the walls bright white but paint the picture rail a bright red, providing a color “pop”. I loved that the project would only take me a couple of hours, and one day I got the supplies together and started painting. While I was standing on the stepladder, the older boy was wandering around his room, just playing with his toys. It was a win-win situation: I was getting a home project done, and he was right there with me yet able to do his own thing.

I was in my happy painting place and reached down to dip my brush into the small can of paint that was sitting on the window sill when I realized the can wasn’t sitting where I left it. I looked at the boy and almost had a heart attack: he was standing just a couple of feet away with a mouth full of red paint. He was holding the paint can in one hand and using the other hand to scoop paint out and into his mouth. Actually, he looked like he was fresh out of a crime scene, bright red paint dribbling down his chin and down the front of his shirt. His crime scene was a happy one, though, because he was very pleased with himself, grinning from ear to ear when I laid eyes on him.

How could this have happened?? I was RIGHT THERE. I’ll tell you how it happened: toddlers are sneaky little buggers. Any of you who have had a toddler in your house know exactly what I’m talking about. I let my focus roam for just a second or two, and that was enough time for him to get into trouble.

I leapt off of the stepladder and went into full panic mode. I grabbed the paint can from him, put it on the stepladder, and rushed him to the bathroom where I spent the next ten minutes using a wet washcloth to swab the paint out of his mouth as much as I could. I phoned Jim to tell him what happened, and kept working on getting the paint out of our little guy’s mouth.

In the end, the boy was totally fine. I caught him just in time, before he managed to swallow any paint, and he lived to see another day.

I didn’t finish painting the picture rail that day; I took a 24-hour break so that I could recharge my nerves. In the end? The boy never touched paint again–possibly because I never left it where he could reach it.

*He still uses the bunk beds, by the way; currently they are set up as a trundle bed in his teenaged room!



  • Cathy ~ Tadpoles and Teacups

    Been there done that! We had 4 kids in 7 years so someone was always getting into something they shouldn't. We pretty much lived at the pediatrician's office for about 5 years.

  • Tara R.

    You were much calmer than I would have been. Though this is a wonderful tale to bring out on date nights.

  • LceeL

    Three boys – to whom the word 'Mischief' was an item of worship. So yes, I understand. And, I can tell you, latex paint is, for the most part, not really harmful – although the kid may fart bubbles for a couple of days.

  • Heather

    Now that is hysterical, I bet you were freaking out! Kids are always wanting to eat NASTY stuff, why is that?!

  • Tom

    What always amazes me is how they can not only sense the instant your attention is diverted, but can act just as quickly and quietly. I'm convinced Ninjas study toddlers to gain this ability.

  • seashore subjects

    Sneaky and fast – and I absolutely agree with Heather, why do they want to eat everything? Yuck!

  • Mags

    I read this at work in my reader and cracked up at the visual of that cute little boy with a bloody paint face. I'm glad he did not swallow any and also glad he did not grow and extra ear from all of the chemicals. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    From Dawn:

    ACK! That would have completely sent me over the edge! LOL

    Reminds me of the time Scott and I took Nick to Petrified Springs Park (remember that place?) and Nick bent down and shoved a handful of rocks into his mouth. WTH?

    Then, the time he was sitting in the front seat of the grocery cart and I turned my back on him at the commissary for a split second and he reached into the back of the cart and tried to drink the Downy.

    Good times!

  • Michelle

    Yikes! Youre right about those sneaky toddlers. So glad you caught him before he swallowed anything. I would have been freaking out and possibly needed more than 24 hours to try it again. So no pics of the room?