second-guessing the baby registry

the other day, jared & i had dinner with a bunch of his history colleagues. a couple of them are taking off for the year on fellowship & everyone wanted to wish them bon voyage.

everyone knows about the pregnancy & of course a few people wanted to yak with me about it. which made me only too happy–i could talk about pregnancy/baby stuff all day long & still be ready for more! the woman that was leaving on fellowship asked me to write down my address so she could send me a baby gift. “just if i find something cute,” she said, “i mean, maybe i’ll accidentally get you something you don’t want, but if i see something cute at the smithsonian gift shop or something, i’m buying it & sending it to you.”

“i doubt you’ll really find too much stuff i’d object to at the smithsonian gift shop,” i assured her.

“i’m just freaked out because i looked at your baby registry & it seems like there’s a lot of stuff you guys don’t like.”

“well, stay away from the glittery fairy wings & the plastic thomas the tank engine set, & i think we’ll be good to go,” i told her.

but it did make me think. i tried to be really detailed in my welcome letter because everyone i know is broke or poor. if they’re going to drop even $2 on buying something for my baby, i want to make sure it’s something that we will definitely use so they’re not just throwing their money away. that’s the altruistic thinking. the more selfish thinking is that we are broke too, & the more useful stuff people buy for us, the less we’ll have to buy for ourselves. i know buying someone a single cloth pocket diaper seems like a really shitty gift (no pun intended), but every little bit helps! if no one buys them for us, we’ll just have to buy them ourselves, & trust me–baby will use them! baby will use a pocket diaper WAY more often than it will use that cute hat knit to look like a strawberry, in fact. i totally understand the impulse to buy “cute” instead of “functional”–i undoubtedly had that same impulse when my friends had babies back in the day. i never could have predicted the obsession i would develop with comparing & contrasting cloth diapers. & that’s why i got so specific in my welcome letter, trying to stress that buying functional is a good thing.

this woman also asked me, “why don’t you want plastic toys?” this struck me as such a weird question. why on earth would i want plastic toys? this lady has been to our house, she knows it’s not big. we only have one bedroom & no space for a nursery. any baby gear we accumulate, including toys, is going to have to be stashed alongside our already-existing adult stuff. most plastic toys are just junk–easily broken, limited in function, just waiting to end up in a landfill somewhere. i know that once the baby gets older & starts spending time with other kids & seeing their toys, it’s going to be difficult to contain its wants, but a tiny baby barely even needs any toys. maybe a nice wrist rattle, some wooden blocks, & a stuffed animal. a two-month-old definitely doesn’t need some kind of plastic gizmo shaped like a piano that recites the alphabet.

i talked to jared about it & he hypothesized that this lady considers herself to be something of a “populist,” & that all of our “no plastic toys, no corporate cartoon characters, no gendered clothing” stuff just seems elitist. because somehow this kind of attitude has gotten a bad rap. like somehow we are making it harder on ourselves & hence on parents everywhere to intentionally forego the “seasame street”-branded disposable diapers & the hello kitty diaper bag with portable changing pad & matching pacifier case. but i think we are just trying to do what makes sense to us & what is easier on us. if i don’t start the baby mainlining PBS children’s TV consumer products as a newborn, it (hopefully) won’t be hitting me up for a $75 talking elmo when it’s three years old. if i don’t dress my baby in tiny newborn-sized denim miniskirts & “spoiled brat” message tees when it’s little, maybe i won’t have to battle with it over wanting to wear heeled shoes & bras when it’s seven. i mean, ultimately, my baby will be an individual & it will learn about the world from sources other than jared & i & i completely acknowledge that i don’t have the ability to completely shield it from all knowledge of icky kid stuff that makes my skin crawl. but i do have some idea about what i value & what i hope my child will value, so of course i am going to try to honor that stuff as i go & not give in to the light-up electronic baby gym mat that purports to teach baby its colors when it’s only six weeks old (& can’t even see colors yet) just because someone gives it to us for free.

i did start to freak out though that by being so specific in what we do & don’t want, & especially by being so “fringe-y” (people at this history student dinner were really freaking out about the fact that we plan to cloth diaper–they were treating us like we were yeti or something), we are scaring people out of buying stuff for us. but…isn’t that what a registry is for? instead of just saying, “buy us cloth diapers,” we are saying, “buy us these specific cloth diapers, here’s a link, here’s the size we want & the closure we’d prefer.” the point of a registry is to remove the guesswork. & maybe it also removes the fun of finding cute baby stuff for your friend, but…if the only cute baby stuff you can find is plastic or super-gendered, why are we even friends? not that i think liking plastic toys & camo pants for babies makes you a bad person. you’ve just got to know that we’re not really into that stuff for our baby.

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