0

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How on earth did we raise our children?

Carole Townsend 

Carole Townsend 

I have been invited to a baby shower. I haven’t figured out yet whether I’m excited or dreading it. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to one and even then, I felt so out of touch with what’s going in the baby world these days. Truth: I felt like a dinosaur. How on earth did I raise my children without all the gadgets and contraptions on the market today?

At any rate I need to buy a gift, so I went to the well-advertised baby utopia superstore down in the city. No boring, run-of-the-mill gift for this little one, no way. I may have been out of the baby business for a couple of decades, but that doesn’t mean I have to flaunt that fact.

We didn’t even have a baby superstore 22 years ago when I was patiently awaiting the arrival of my first bundle of joy. I suppose we really didn’t need one. Typical shower gifts back in the old days were clothes, toys, bathing and diapering paraphernalia and — for expectant grandparents and well-to-do-aunts and uncles — strollers, furniture and stuff like that.

This shiny, bright baby superstore in Atlanta is three floors of massive, overwhelming square footage crammed with kid stuff and subdivided by stages of development. Did you know that there is a pre-learning stage? I always assumed that was the nine or so months leading up to the big event (and for some children, a few years after), but apparently there are a few weeks after birth that officially qualify, as well. Go figure.

Primary colors screamed at me as soon as I entered through the sliding doors. Bells tinkled, choo-choos chugged, clowns cackled and stuffed animals hung like old west bank robbers along the entire length of one mile-long wall. I scanned the aisle markers looking for the “newborn” section.

I followed the signs to the area of the store devoted to brand new babies. I always feel a pang of nostalgia and yes, even a little bit of sadness when I think back to those days and my own children. Fortunately, those thoughts are almost always shattered by someone else’s little darling shrieking and snapping me out of it. As I age, the length of my fuse seems to likewise shorten. Anyway, back to my shopping.

The first 20 or so items I came across were completely unfamiliar to me; I had no idea what they’d be used for or how they might help baby or mom. I felt as out of place here as I usually feel in the Home Depot power tool section.

I looked through shelf after shelf of items that, to me anyway, were ridiculous and more of a bother than a help. There was the pee-pee teepee, a little tent sort of contraption that is supposed to prevent baby boys from accidentally spraying mom or dad during a diaper change. Hey, that’s just part of the deal when you have a boy, folks. There was a little inflatable ring that you’re supposed to put around a baby’s neck in a pool — a no-fail way to prevent drowning. It looked inhumane, like a cross between a whiplash brace and the lamp shade dogs wear after surgery.

There were fake rubber hands that are supposed to simulate swaddling or cuddling (first thought: Yeah, but who holds the hands in place?). Grotesque. There was a baby bottle cover, a stuffed animal-looking thing that has a nipple coming out of its mouth. Picture a mama bird regurgitating in her baby’s mouth.

There were gadgets designed to keep parents from smelling, touching or paying attention to their babies at all, ever. In fact, if you bought one of each item in this section alone, you’d never have to see, hear, smell or talk to your kid until he’s at least two. Where’s the fun in that?

I decided on a few gifts that are probably going to look boring and unimaginative at the shower Saturday. I bought mom a “What to Expect During the First Year” book (they wrote that one way after mine were school-age). I bought a couple of packs of diapers, some monogrammed baby linens (more for keepsakes than anything else — the kid’s initials will be the same no matter the sex), some adorable little newborn clothes for the little one in gender-neutral colors, and a gift card for what will be a much-needed dinner out that the parents can use a couple of weeks after Junior arrives. They’ll appreciate that one the most.

I’m probably just jealous of all the cool stuff out there but still, a lot of what I saw just looked like more of a bother than a help. I will say that those puffy, colorful little fabric high chair liners I see everywhere are awesome; I wish they had those when mine were little. All I used were anti-bacterial wipes when we took our little ones out to eat. Necessary, but not much fun.

No matter what stage of parenting you’re currently in, what was the coolest, most helpful gadget you had for those early years?