Miles of Stuff

Hi, I’m Sara, and I’m an attached parent.

As such, I have become increasingly conflicted about where my paychecks come from. You see, I sell a bunch of stuff to new and expectant parents that undermines instinct and promotes detachment. Not everything, mind you, but a good percentage.

Video baby monitors, for example. Not long ago, we had a product video playing (the vendor pays for such marketing, and as obnoxious as those TVs are in the department, they really do move merchandise). The script for the particular baby monitor went something like, “Having a baby brings many moments of joyous connection. Maintain that connection with the XXXX video monitor.” Because being connected to your child obviously means leaving it alone in its room while you watch it on a tiny screen from the other end of the house. “View the many adorable moments she spends alone in her crib,” was another gem from that same ad. I don’t know about you, but I had trouble putting my baby down in the same room with me, I just wanted him with me all the time. It just goes by so fast, I wanted more of a memory than an image on a screen. Is it just me? Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I mentioned in my diaper post how I’ve become a little jaded when it comes to my place of employment. I’ve discussed my ambivalence towards Stuff in the past, and I’m still struggling to simplify my own circumstances when it comes to all the clutter around here and the buying of new things.

The thing is, the baby industry is literally booming. Sales numbers are probably something like double what they were last year, and my current department is definitely feeling it. We can’t seem to keep up with restocking and filling everything that gets sold along with the new products that arrive daily by the pallet. Every week, more and more people come into my store, fill out their paperwork, and aim that handy scanner gun at thousands of UPC codes on hundreds of different products that somebody somewhere decided were the 21st century baby’s must-have items.

But the more I learn about raising babies, the more uncomfortable I get not only with the aggressive marketing of things to occupy a baby’s time or the latest gimmick to speed up development of the infant brain (see: Your Baby Can Read, Strollers, Baby Carriers and Infant Stress, or the new information about formula additives DHA and ARA) but also with the fact that the marketing actually works. Parents come to my store because they heard about this great new thing to make their baby smarter or healthier or sleep longer or eat better. And all I can do is say, yes, that’s what it claims to do, and some people find it works really well for them. Because I get paid to help the customer buy stuff they think they need so the store makes money and stays in business so I can go to work and get paid. But in my heart, I really just want to tell these vulnerable new parents to trust their instincts and listen to their babies. I want to (and occasionally do) tell them that they don’t actually need all this stuff.

Some of it is great. Breastpumps, for example, allow the working mommy to continue to provide her baby with the most natural food available. I sell a whole lot of the most expensive –$380– model purely because I believe in it and that the investment in providing breastmilk for babies is worth it every time. Other great products in our aisles include the snuggle nests, co-sleepers, slings and soft structured carriers for baby wearing. Certain types of bottles that make it easier to nurse, nursing covers, a variety of diaper bags and coming soon: some modern cloth diapers (finally!).

But some of it I just have to say, WTF?

Like bottle props. Hate those. Or the bottles that have a nipple attached to a straw so nobody has to hold a bottle or be anywhere near their infant during mealtime. I see folks register for five or six types of baby “containers,” and that’s so much overkill. I liked having a bouncer, somewhere to set my kid where he could see me but left me free to do things like fold laundry or make myself some food. But one (or two, if you have a couple levels to your house) of these seats/mats/exersaucers is fine. You don’t need all of them. Because then you’ll be back in the store for noggin nests, body supports and sleep positioners because your baby has a flat spot on his head.

Instead of spending so much money on stuff for our babies, we really need to focus on spending time with our offspring. Cuddling. Nursing. Holding. Carrying. Comforting. DVDs won’t make our kid smarter or more social, interacting with the world and the larger humans that take care of it will. I held my son All. The. Time. And wouldn’t you know it, never once did I worry about him developing a flat head. And as an added bonus, with the closeness we had, I often got the benefit of people complimenting me on how alert and happy my baby seemed. Especially when he was all squished against me in our sling.

My store and others are in the business of convenience. And while much of the “stuff” you can buy does, in fact, make life with an infant more convenient, there’s a quote I first encountered on one of my favorite parenting websites that goes like this: “Remember, you are not managing an inconvenience: you are raising a human being.” (Kittie Franz)

It might serve us all better to keep that in mind sometimes. Especially if we’re trying not to buy stuff we can’t afford, like many of us should be doing in a recession like this. Do I have all the answers? Heck no, I’m as fumbling an idiot parent as the next guy. Did I, personally, never choose convenience over extended attention or continued frustration? Of course I did. But I usually remembered to put my baby’s needs before my own unless it was a really, really bad day. I don’t have a problem with the fact that this stuff is out there (well, the bottle props and straw nipples, I kind of do) because most of it can be extremely helpful when used in moderation , but the fact that we have all bought into this consumer mentality that life will be better for us if we have ALL the tools of convenience at our disposal. When sometimes, though we may not always realize it in the moment, the truth is the exact opposite.

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