There's something going on with me and baby stuff recently. I think this is for a few reasons: 1) my friends from college are at the age now where they're in the process of making and having them. In fact, my freshman roommate, Justin, might actually be becoming a father as we speak (yes, I know we're not actually speaking, but you can pretend we are if you read this out loud in my voice and yell obscenities at your computer screen in response). 2) It's springtime, and a whole bunch of "re-birth" things, including holidays, mosquitoes, and new episodes of "Trading Spaces", are just running rampant. 3) I spent a weekend in the middle of February in Rhode Island, painting my girlfriend's sister's nursery, shopping for Winnie the Pooh decor, and trying really hard to go to my "happy place" while hanging out in Babies 'R Us.
The upshot is that over the last month my eyes have been seriously opened to both the social mores and the industry of all-things-baby, in this day and age. A hundred years ago, there was no such thing as a milk-pump. Now fathers can actually wear something that enables them to (sort of) breast feed. And without all those silly estrogen pills. And yet I'm pretty sure that even with the up-to-date baby rearing information and the products up the whazoo (that's my word for "uterus"), our kids are still going to blame us for screwing up their lives. That said, a few things I'm learning.
1) Nearly every new parent thinks his/her infant is adorable. I think nature did this on purpose, to want us to automatically help them to live. If every baby born looked like Boss Hogg, the human race would have died out ages ago.
Sometimes, of course, a newborn will be disarmingly ugly. I count myself as an example of this, or at least my parents do. For the first month of my life, I was grey-green in tint, with a hook nose, and one of my ears folded over. No, I'm not exaggerating. Every picture of me starts at 4 weeks. If you don't believe me, here's a story my mom has told many times: She was out walking me in a park in Philadelphia one day, and some sweet old lady came up to carriage, just gushing about the newborn. "Oh, a new baby! May I see him? Oh, I just love new babies. Well, isn't he so -" pulls back the blanket "...small." The nicest thing she could think to call me. True story.
What does annoy the hell out of me, though, is parents who think that their child is so precious that they refuse to engage in any real discipline. And I'm not talking about "stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about"-type discipline. I'm simply talking about the "honey, don't pour syrup in your hair" type. Very few things gall me more than a parent who says, "She's just a terror; I don't know what to do with her," and the kid's, like, three (at 16, that might be a fair thing to say). Or even worse, a parent who thinks his/her kid's "antics" are charming. "The neighbors got so mad when Billy accidentally spayed their cat, but he just looked so cute holding those hedge clippers, I couldn't punish him."
I mean, part of the problem is, as my mom put it, "everyone's so afraid that if they just look at their children the wrong way, it'll screw them up for life." I think (at least I hope) your kid's ego is healthier than that. And besides, no matter what parents do, it screws their kids up for life. These parents who come running every time the baby cries are just as likely to be psyche-damaging as the parents that leave their kids alone for hours at a time while they do something involving a mixture of vodka and beer.
And then there's the issue of whether or not to spank the child. I say yes, but not so as it actually hurts. Don't hit your kids. I'll repeat that: Don't hit your kids. But an occasional potch on the tuchus for effect is, in my mind, a pretty good training technique. Because, at least the way my parents did it, it was a lot more about the shame of being spanked than any actual physical discomfort. Of course if my parents were famous, I might feel differently - I'd write a tell-all book about the "abuse" or sell my story to a sleazy tabloid or the USA network. But as it is, I say let your children know in no uncertain terms when they do something wrong. And, without physical violence or great emotional abuse, let them know that it's unacceptable that they do it again. That way, even if they do deliberately disobey you, at least it won't be for your lack of trying.
Oh, and no matter how adorable you think your kid is, don't dress him up in a sailor's suit. That kind of thing leaves scars.
2) When baby shopping, it's actually possible to reach "cuteness oversaturation." Okay, so hopefully your baby won't be born looking like the doctor delivered him with golf cleats. But we feel as though, because the baby's so cute, everything the baby owns should be cute. There's probably some developmental reason for this, but I don't see why my kid can't own a stuffed manta ray, if I want him to. As long as it's soft with no sharp edges, I'm game.
But hanging out in Babies R' Us for an extended period of time was, um, too cute. After spending the first ten minutes re-examining my childhood (did you know that there's an entire line of "Very Hungry Caterpillar" clothing based on the book?), I found I had to sit down. Luckily, the store also carried a variety of gliders and ottomans (sort of rocking/swinging chairs, apparently for nursing mothers), so I was able to sit and sway and pretend I was in a less "happy" environment, like Heaven. It was a lifesaver.
3) Preparing for a baby is more than just making sure the mother doesn't drink alcohol for nine months. There's a whole process, apparently, even before your baby's born - you have to create a nursery, decide on a theme, buy a whole bunch of furniture, baby-proof the entire house, paint walls and toy boxes and things, find out what a quilt clip looks like, buy pinking shears, and basically do all the things you'll be too tired to do once you actually have the kid.
I'm sort of on the fence about what's necessary and what isn't - those things that really do help the baby vs. those things that the industry just wants you to buy so they can line their own pockets as you line the stroller with anti-horse spray or whatever. It's only been in the last couple of decades that all this brouhaha has been shoved down our throats. I could be wrong, but I think before Dr. Spock (not to be confused with everyone's favorite Vulcan), baby rearing was sort of akin to my 11th grade Chemistry teacher's style: "Dr. Bermel, I don't understand this reaction." "Well, you'd better figure it out; the test is on Tuesday." And yet previous to 1970, children got born, usually didn't die, and grew up to be occasionally well-adjusted.
That's not to say that parents in the 1500s didn't love their children, but when "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" was actually a semi-common occurrence, the concept of coddling was fairly foreign. Even 50 years ago, instead of "we'd better cover all these outlets," common parenting was "I hope that stupid kid doesn't electrocute himself." Hell, before the invention of television, children were actually forced to learn how to read.
4) If you like your relatives and want them to keep liking you, never buy their baby a toy that makes the same sounds over and over again. Okay, here's the deal. Children, especially babies, have no real concept of "repetition." They get "cause and effect" a little - "If I press this button, this thing will make a sound" - but there's no real feeling for "If I press this button over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, Mommy will snap and kill Daddy when he gets home from work."
So you have to balance the kid's love of pushing buttons and making noise with Mom and Dad's love of not hearing "Bouncing is what Tiggers do best!" every 6 seconds for two years. The same goes for kids' movies. If you're going to buy a video for someone's child, think Disney. While having to watch The Lion King every day can get annoying for a parent, it can't compete with having to watch, say, Barney, every day. Given, I would imagine that watching the NFL videotape of Joe Theisman's leg snapping in half on infinite repeat for the rest of your life would be less painful than BarneyBarneyBarneyBarneyBarneyBarneyBarneyBARNEYBARNEY.
5) There is a disturbing number of baby vibrators. Okay, I know that they're not made to be sexual. That would just be sick. But there are an awful lot of mobiles, stuffed animals, chairs (vibrating chairs? Yeah, I know), and other paraphernalia that, in more disturbed hands, could double as sex toys. With fur. And fluffy tails.
Obviously, "studies have shown" that babies like the soothing vibrations of these things (I assume). They probably help put the infant to sleep, or help with cognitive construction, or, I don't know, ensure that the kid grows up to be the Messiah, whatever. But I think that if they could get away with it, the most successful ad campaign would be something like, "Once baby's asleep, then it's Mommy's turn to have fun." Of course that's wrong on so many levels, but I'll bet you they'd sell out in a matter of hours. Or at least as fast as the "Tickle You Elmo" doll.
Now don't take this list to assume anything about my desire to have or not to have a baby. I know my current relationship hasn't even lasted a year, but the truth is that I don't really think I'm at that point in my life yet, in general. Of course, I'm fairly certain that no one's ever 100% ready for that responsibility. But if you're wondering: yes, I do want children some day. No, I don't think I have the maturity yet to entirely put someone else's needs before mine. Especially someone who needs his diapers changed regularly. But I've certainly been learning a lot. I think maybe I should aim lower - if you have a baby, feel free to allow me in the room. I can handle that. And I solemnly promise not to drop your child on his head, tell him that he was a mistake, teach him how to say dirty words, or try to fatten him up so I can stick him in the oven. Though I do hear they taste like chicken.
Oh, and if you're an expecting parent, please give your child a nice name. Nothing says "beat me up every day for my entire primary school career" than a name like "Filbert" or "Mortimer" or some hippie name, like "Snowdrop." Unless your last name is "Panziass," in which case, call him whatever you want. He's not getting out of nursery school alive. I'm just sayin'.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER
more about adam kraemer
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.10.03 @ 7:34a
I spent a weekend in the middle of February in Rhode Island, painting my girlfriend's sister's nursery, shopping for Winnie the Pooh decor, and trying really hard to go to my "happy place" while hanging out in Babies 'R Us.
Winnie the Pooh.
Babies 'R Us.
Who the hell are you, and what did you do with Adam?
Just so you know, we're not paying any ransom.
3.10.03 @ 10:24a
Yeah, that's what my parents said.
3.10.03 @ 10:36a
Sounds to me like you spent too much time in the fuzzy toy section.
The baby market really is insane, though (as I'm sure Russ knows). My parents did get rid of their two-planks-held-up-by-some-bricks shelving system before I got old enough to pull it down on my head, but I don't think they went around fixing outlets and so on. Nor did I get a delux super-padded stroller with a cupholder and snack bag. And yet somehow I survived.
3.10.03 @ 10:56a
Well, my grandfather (and my dad, afterwords) was a sales rep for a stroller company for a number of years. At the time, it was state-of-the-art for these strollers to be able to unfold into carriages, and for the handlebars to be able to swing back and forth. I don't even know if the stroller my parents used with me had breaks.
3.10.03 @ 12:04p
Over the past three years or so, all my friends are in the having kids stage. A few are even working on their second.
The one thing that annoys me about new parents is when they can talk about nothing except their kid.
Yes, we know you're excited. Yes, we want to talk about the little tyke, too. But not 24/7. It's amazing - I'd go to dinner parties where the entire 5 hours I was there, no one talked about anything other than baby. Literally.
3.10.03 @ 12:10p
I completely second that notion. Babies are awesome, blah blah blah, but really how much is there to say? Be considerate of your friends and acknowledge that there is, in fact, other things going on in the world. Besides, it just makes you horribly lame and no fun to be around.
And just because you have a girl, you DO NOT need to dress them head-to-toe in pepto-bismol pink. Talk about nausea.
3.10.03 @ 12:23p
Well, sometimes it's necessary: if she's bald or slightly mannish.
3.10.03 @ 3:57p
I'm going to weigh in now, even though I'm not done reading this article yet. Okay, um, here in NYC, most people _I_ know, anyway, do not have a nursery. Or a theme. Or freshly painted walls (why bother? who owns their own apt.?) Or enough room for any new furniture in their already cramped apartments. Reality check?
3.10.03 @ 4:02p
Well, I have friends who still baby-proof and paint apartments that they don't own. You just have to get permission from the landlord. Or move to New Jersey.
3.10.03 @ 4:06p
There is no child worth moving to Jersey for.
...Says the baby born to the Garden State.
3.10.03 @ 5:31p
Not to get off-topic (though I am), but it's funny you say that. I was at a thing this weekend where some guy actually got his clock verbally cleaned when he made the pronouncement that all girls from New Jersey are whores. We were in a bar in New Jersey talking to a bunch of local women at that point. Idiot.
Back on topic - any people with babies have any other pieces of information for those of us with naught?
3.11.03 @ 10:56p
Hey! I was born and raised in the Garden State and...never mind. I'll escape someday.
Meanwhile, I've been hesitant to comment. I just don't get along well with babies. I've never wanted to be a parent, or be responsible for anyone other than myself.
Babies don't interest me. The column is very good, and hits on many of the things I witnessed through my former friends who became parents. Once the kids reach 18 I'll probably be friends with the parents again.
Loved the Tickle Me elmo stuff.
3.12.03 @ 10:52a
Technically I wrote "Tickle You Elmo" and, yes, it was on purpose.
dr. jay gross
3.13.03 @ 3:56p
From the title, I thought this was going to be a guide on how to change a diaper. I'm not too disappointed though.
Did you know that your Father represented a line of 'baby strollers' when you were conceived?
I do agree with you on one point, ugly babies don't necessarily grow into good looking adults. I always hated the 'pretty baby contests' held on the Atlantic City boardwalk.
I think making this article into a book is a great idea. "Spare the rod and spoil the child, an anti-Spockian how-to manual".
3.13.03 @ 4:05p
Actually, it was my grandfather, at that point. My dad didn't take it over until I was around 8.
I prefer "spare the child and spoil yourself."
3.13.03 @ 5:27p
Ya know, Jay's got a point. Try as I may to think "Winnie", the subtitle just makes me think "dirty diaper."
Or maybe I just make a "babies=smelly load" correlation. Either way...