The word, on the face of it, is rather contradictory, combining play—a word with inherent jouissance—with a suffix that suggests confinement. Given that even pens for livestock have fallen under scrutiny—battery cages for chickens, for example, are critiqued because in them, hens “endure high levels of stress and frustration”—it’s not surprising to find parental discomfort with a product that seems so, well, penitential. Of course, the word yard itself has prison overtones, and when examining a product like the “North States Superyard XT Gate Play Yard” it’s not hard to get some serious Gitmo vibes. (Such misgivings about the playpen are exemplified in sculptor Robert Gober’s X Playpen, a bifurcated enclosure that, as one critic put it, “emphasizes this domestic space’s claustrotraumatic quality.”)
Whatever its name, the concept of the playpen reveals yet another fault line in the politics of anxious parenting, as I found via a simple inquiry—whether the playpen was in or out of vogue—at Urbanbaby.com, a site that combines the neurotic firepower of Woody Allen’s 1970s oeuvre with the conviviality-tinged-with-hostility of the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars. Reading through the various replies (including a few from parents-to-be who shared my curiosity), the opinions seemed to fall roughly into two camps: Against were those who said playpens are overly confining, that it is better to child-proof one’s home instead, that playpens are “the first compromise to good parenting” (inevitably followed by television, etc.); on the other side were those who averred that playpens are safe and necessary spaces to park toddlers while getting things done, that it is folly to suggest that one’s parental eyes can always be trained on the child, that far from restricting creativity playpens enhance a sense of independence, etc.
I liked this style of playpen as it gave a lot of room and didnt have thin, easily broken fence pieces. Its thick, has suction cups along the bottom to stay in place on hardwood/tile and had a play wall. While a bit expensive the thickness of the plastic holds up well to abuse, household pets, and teething kiddos. Not having the mesh style panels also made it a bit harder to climb out of. But when my son finally got to the point of not wanting to be trapped in it anymore and able to figure how to pull himself over the top, we took it apart and used it as a baby gate to prevent him from being able to get around the media cabinets/shelves where it keeps him from pulling all our blurays and such off the shelves and from turning off and on the cable box and game consoles.
This thing is great. I have it set up as a wall spliting my living room in half basically. The panels are sturdy so hold up great when my daughter pulls herself up standing against them. As i have it set up as a wall i did anchor it to the room walls byattaching some Velcro to the room wall with a screw at either end then wrapping the Velcro around a piece of each end section. This has allowed me to create a baby safe area with all her toys and then an adult safe area with no toys to trip over, and itlet meget away with not baby proofing the entertainment center.