I attended a wonderful baby shower yesterday for my friend who is going to be a mom. She’s beautiful, kind, pragmatic, and hard-working—she’s ready.
But the baby industry is not for the faint-hearted. Even the best of us fall into its clutches, which makes us feel like abysmal failures if we don’t set the baby up with all the necessary supplies. They give new moms free magazines chock full of obnoxious advertisements loosely disguised as informational articles. They create an entire industry around things that we don’t need. It’s the American way.
Baby showers are lovely. They’re rites of passage for women. Somewhere around the time that the near-mom gets big, fat, and grumpy, she gets to sit down in a chair to eat cake with other women who were once (or will be) big, fat, and grumpy telling horror stories. Near death tales about terrible births and baby emergencies that would render Poe speechless, like how she won’t sleep for eighteen years. It’s an endless feed of information nobody should speak out loud lest the world depopulate. At least she gets presents. It’s a bonding experience, because like it or not, motherhood is a club.
Before I entered The Club, I had friends who were moms. They gave me “the look” every time I opened my mouth. It didn’t matter what I said, I got “the look.” The look that said, “You poor girl. You’re as dumb as a stump. If you were only a mom, you’d understand.”
“I just picked out a theme for the baby’s nursery,” one friend said.
“Not me,” I replied, “I’m going to get hand me downs, and they will be free.” Seemed pragmatic and environmentally friendly enough. But no…the look.
“When you’re a mom, you’ll want the best stuff—and you’ll want your nursery to match.” I did not.
“I hope you don’t mind that we’re going to be parking cars up and down the street all day Friday and have the fourth ring of Ringling in our front yard,” said my neighbor. “I wanted her to be able to have a big party this year. She hasn’t had one yet.”
“But you had twenty-five kids last year.” One man’s big is another man’s small, I guess.
“No, eighteen. But she’s in school now. They make you invite the whole class.”
I’d be damned if I’d let some kindergarten teacher dictate the rules of my kid’s birthday party—no adult wants to go to those anyway. It’s like the times in high school when kids put those plastic flamingos on someone’s lawn under the cover of darkness and they woke up to realize they got tagged. “A kid birthday invite. Crap!”
“I’m not going to invite the whole class to anything. I will let him have his few good little friends, and that’s it.” You guessed it—the look. And a bonus comment just to help me get my mind right like Cool Hand Luke.
“You wait,” she said, maintaining the look—gee, I was kind of hoping her face would freeze that way, “You’ll do it.” I’m proud to say I haven’t. And I won’t.
If I poured myself a drink for every time I have heard “you’ll do it,” I’d be majority stockholder in Betty Ford. I have resisted the urge to go insane just because I have allowed an egg and sperm cell to join in my womb and creating a human being. I think that’s a big enough miracle in and of itself—that I (my husband can have some of the credit, too) have made this little boy who is becoming his own obnoxious little person. He can say “no” on his own, choke on marbles on his own, sleep standing on his head all by himself and fail to listen to me twenty times a day. All without help from the marketing machine.
Baby showers remind me just how insidious the industry really is. Sure, getting together to give a new mom little clothes soon to be covered in poop—that’s all well and good. But in addition to the practical items, there are a ton things on that list that I can’t even identify. Here are some of the market victories the baby industry achieved at this shower:
- Diapers: Good old petroleum-based plastic. Most of us go for the plastic. Who wants to scrape chocolate-pudding poop off of terry cloth in public and carry the diaper around in a zip-lock bag. This ranks somewhere below using a handkerchief to save snot for later. This may be the one free pass people get while the rest of us try to save the planet.
- Wipes: Face cloths would work, indeed, but disposable wipes in the wasteful plastic bin are beautifully versatile. Not only do they clean baby puke—they can be used to detail a car while waiting in line at a drive-through.
- The monitor: Just in case the baby doesn’t wake you up every five minutes, this can amplify the sound.
- A spout cover: This one was new. Looking somewhat like a hollow, Sesame-shaped phallus, which is disturbing enough on its own, I discovered that it slides over the metal spout of the tub, thus preventing The Child from sliding around and whacking his or her head on the metal. I feel like a really bad parent for never investing in this. The other day, for example, Declan was playing soap hockey in the tub after it drained. I told him not to, but he’s not preprogrammed to listen, so “crack,” he whacked his head on the spout. I simply told him that he had bad karma for not listening, and to stop crying immediately. Clearly this could have been prevented by the Elmo-phallus.
- Baby blender: Why would someone needed a mini blender to make baby food? It’s pretty easy to squash carrots in the big blender, but I suppose for urban dwellers this might come in handy in saving counter space. You can cut up an orange in just seven small sections and throw the juice in your smoothy.
- A travel system. Never call it a stroller. The one I saw yesterday was brilliant. It had a separate carrier for every time the baby gained five pounds, and it snapped together perfectly. It came with a gift certificate for ten free lessons from a former NASA engineer, at the end of which the new mom would be able to take The System apart and put it in any minivan in the country in not more than six minutes flat, even with a crying baby. This particular one came with a mosquito net and a rain cover in case they travel to sub-Saharan Africa or the rainforest for vacation.
- Lots of knitted things. These make marketing people cringe because they’re handmade with love. Who hand makes anything these days when Marketing Guy can get it wholesale from some village nobody can spell in some small underpaid nation? Handmade with desperation, which is sort of like love, because the poor kid who made them while chained to a tree loved the penny he got for doing the job. But people love to give knitted stuff to babies. The blanket he’ll cry over when he leaves it at Chuck E. Cheese, requiring a twenty-mile trip back, the little sweater in which she’ll be arranged for the family picture. Everyone says, “Awww…” Except I’m noticing now that the age of the handmade artisan crew is shifting. It’s not the grandmas anymore—they’re too busy retiring and having fun. It’s the 20 and 30 somethings who are bringing back these timeless crafts.
- Stuff that you’ll lose and have to buy again: This includes, but is not limited to, bottles, hygiene stuff requiring an electron microscope to find, things with two parts, brushes and cleaning supplies, mini Tupperware in which to save the tablespoon of baby food made with the tiny blender, safety silverware and sippy cups without BHT.
- Lactation supplies: The husbands who come at the end to pack up the car always look away when these things emerge—the breast pump, the little bags for saving breast milk, and worst of all, the nipple cream, but like it or not nursing is making a comeback. In several states, it’s no longer illegal and won’t get a mom arrested and registered as a sex offender the baby tosses off the cover while nursing quietly in the corner of a restaurant.
These are just some of the things the consumer industry convinces us we need for our children, and often we cave, labeling it an investment the future. Because somehow, if we don’t provide the basics, they’ll be off to a disadvantaged start, then they’ll drop out of school, rob banks, or worse yet–become politicians.
I’m torn between admiring the baby marketers for their genius, and wanting to banish them to an uninhabited island for promoting junk that no human needs. But either way, I love the baby shower—it’s a nice time to get together and induct one more person into The Club.