The Business of Babies: A shopping list, a Lent reflection, and a bit of a memoir…

I recently cleared my house of ALOT of baby and kid stuff; not just outgrown clothes, but bouncers, extra strollers, baby seats and… on and on. Which caused me to reflect on how much of the stuff had actually been useful, and how much had just been in the way.

Don’t be fooled–babies are a business.  The folks at Target, Wal-Mart, and Tiny-Stuff-R-Us KNOW how to play on 1-your hormones,  2-your loss of control over your life and/or 3-your feelings of inadequacy. They play up all the baggage that comes with being a new parent/grandparent/friend of parent, and compel you to spend your kid’s college tuition on matching hats and onesies.

Not only is this business costly and time-consuming, it also sets up some expectations about how much “stuff” your kid should have–as in, always. Furthermore, it compromises the space that is your home, your sanctuary. We took each of our babies home to a 1400 sq-foot house. And while that is larger than, say, a mud hut in Africa, or a flat in Manhattan, it is not huge. You can only maneuver so many exer-bouncy-rolly things in that space before you forget where you put the actual baby.

As I went through all this stuff, I set aside some things for a friend who is having a baby soon. Then i went about making her a ‘shopping list’ of what you actually need, vs. what you might need…which led me into what you really never need, and what, of course, the church ladies will buy for you. (If you are expecting a baby and you don’t have church ladies in your life, I suggest you find some, stat. For more reasons than i can count here. That is a blog for another day!)

So, in the interest of simplifying your life, and saving your wallet (and your dignity) from the baby aisle, here is my list:

Stuff You Need (buy before the baby actually shows up)

-Diapers. Don’t be a hero. Get the kind that you throw away. At least for newborns. If you don’t know why, you will soon. Also, I am not convinced that cloth diapers save the world much, in the long run. They require the doing of lots of laundry–which is not only an extra chore to do (when you have a newborn!) it also means lots of water, detergent, and electricity. In the desert at least, water matters more than trash.  Oh, and don’t get eco-friendly wipes either. You wind up using 8 of them for every one that you would use of another brand…

-Swaddlers. Lacking motor skills, babies whack themselves in the head alot, and then get really pissed about it. You know, babies are pissed a great deal of the time anyway. If you can save them this one small frustration, they might actually sleep sometimes. Not to mention, the wrapping strengthens their limbs for that basketball scholarship you are hoping they will win–since you are spending all their tuition money on matching nursery stuff (i’ll get to that in a minute). We loved these, although both our kids were exceptional and required to be double wrapped–a receiving blanket first, with the velcro thing over top. They will show you how to do it in the hospital, and if they don’t, ask. My husband was a natural–said it was just like rolling a joint. (Not that he’d know, Mom. Not that he’d know…) Also, steal a couple of those receiving blankets from the hospital. One less thing to buy, AND, the kind that you buy are too small, anyway.

-A Fisher Price Rock and Play Sleeper This is a pretty new thing. My first baby did not have one, my second one did. First baby did not sleep; second one did. You do the math.

-Onesies and Feety PJ’s  In Newborn and 3 month size. Don’t buy too much of anything in newborn. It will fit for about 5 minutes. But footed pj’s are the sweetest thing ever. You will save these and wonder how your kid was ever so tiny…

-A Travel SystemStroller and infant seat combo. Have a friend assemble and install for you before the baby is born, because they do not make this stuff for regular people. I mean, I consider my husband and i to be above average in every way, and we were the morons standing in the parking lot with a newborn, and a seat that was still in the box. Surely we just stick her in this and buckle it, right? Avoid this moment.

-Bottles and Formula  if you are adopting or unable to breastfeed, or just plan to supplement.

-A Book of Baby Names Just because there is very little about all this that is within your control. You CAN, however, choose a name for your child that is yours and yours alone–which is why we didn’t share our names with anyone before the kids were born. BTW, you do not need the book of 100,000 baby names.  If it is too strange to be in the book of, say, 20,000 names, then well… it is just too strange. For fun reading, I really liked “A is for Atticus” It is basically the baby name book for English majors.

-A Boppy Even if you are not breastfeeding. Your arms will get tired in feeding.

That’s pretty much it. I’m serious! That is all you need. Here is some stuff you can register for and hope other people will buy for you; if not, you can get a coupon for remaining registry items after the baby is born. Although, Target managed to screw me out of mine, several times. A little hint; i don’t want to say lie but… perhaps fudge a little on your due date. You get the supposed coupon 2-3 weeks after your due date so…

OK, Stuff to Register For:

-cutesie matching nursery stuff   IF you want. But i promise, you don’t need it.

-A Breast Pump if you are nursing and if you ever want to sleep again. And/or leave the house without your kid.

-a jumparoo or exersaucer kind of thing. But you do not need both!

-crib and sheets.

-A high chair  Or not. They make great boosters and strap-to-the-table seats now that don’t take up nearly as much space.

changing table  Or not. If you have a big person bed in the baby’s room, or a crib with a collapsable rail, the table is just taking up space.

-a diaper champ or diaper genie Or not. Know what else works? Small plastic grocery bags. Take out once or twice a day.

-if you want to make baby food, invest in a good food processor,because a blender is a pain. However, you do not need a fancy babyfood maker. You will be making baby food for approximately 10 weeks of your kids’ life. A fancy processor can continue to make fancy grown-up food, long after a baby food gismo starts gathering dust in the pantry…

-A baby bath tub  Or not.  A big sink works just fine.

–A Pac-n-playOr not. Anytime you travel, you can probably borrow one.

-A white noise machine.On second thought, might add this to the list of “BUY NOW” stuff. Game changer in our house.

-A Bumbo!  My kids were both soooooo much happier once they could sit up and do stuff/look at things. The bumbo makes it happen sooner.

-A baby bjornDon’t go cheap on the carrier. As someone with neck/jaw problems, i needed one that supported my whole back. The one-shoulder kind can be bad news. Also, the bjorn is a little more man-friendly than those cute little pea/pod things. If you want the baby-daddy to carry the baby–or its stuff–go gender neutral on the slings, the diaper bags, etc. Although, i do love to see a big buff manly man carrying a pink flowery purse.

Which brings me to some general rules about stuff:

-Go Gender-Neutralwhenever possible. If you have a second baby–or your friend or your sister has a kid–you will really be kicking yourself if you bought pink frilly everything and new kid is a boy. You will have to go through ALLLLLL this again.

-Repeat after me: YES, i would very much appreciate your hand-me-downs!!   Just, trust me.

-Consign, consign, consignLet some other sucker pay $45 for the new outfit from Gymboree. Their kid will wear it twice (if that) and you can buy it at a consignment sale for $3. Your kid is well-dressed, and you are smarter.

-The “One at a Time” Rule You know those big-ass plastic things that fill your friends’ living room/garage/back yard/bed room/car? Your kid only needs one of those at a time. For instance, a newborn might enjoy a little play yard/mat for tummy time, but is nowhere near ready for a jump-a-roo. Your 4 month old who loves the jumpy thing no longer needs the play mat. Nor does he yet need the big honkin’ play house/ kitchen/tool bench/tricycle. ONE AT A TIME keeps your space free of clutter, and saves your kid from sensory overload. And here again, you can consign everything. So you buy one big toy and trade up every 6 months or so. You will practically break even. Let some other sucker buy it new.

And finally, here is some stuff to Never Buy:

-Cute outfits for newborns.I mean it. I know they are adorable, but your kid will be swaddled, naked, and/or covered in barf for the first 3 months. Those things will look great hanging in the closet, but that’s about it…

-A matching ‘mommy and me’ outfit. Just, please don’t.

-A picture frame.You will get these as gifts, whether or not you have church ladies in your life.

-Hats, booties, toys or blankets.Again, the gift train will come–if you are blessed and lucky, mostly driven by church ladies–and your home and life will be filled with these and other good things. Never spend your money here.

There will come a day when your precious baby is about 2 weeks old. Maybe you’ve just had a nap or a solid 3 or 4 hours of sleep, and you will come out the haze for a second and look around your house…and you will say, “Who knew babies came with all this STUFF???” Well, they don’t. Not really.

No, we are the ones that come with stuff. We have baggage about what it means to be a good parent, what it means to have a comfortable home, what it means to be successful… Yes, many of these new things will make your life with baby easier. But NONE of them will make it easy.

Because nothing good comes easy. And if you’ve got a kid, you know that…whether you gave birth to them, adopted them, or contributed the genetic material neccessary for the making of them; whether they are 2 weeks or 2 months or 24 years old; not a minute of it is easy, but it can be so much simpler. Much of the stress of parenting comes from no place but our own little selves; the sooner we learn that on the journey, the happier we will all be…and the better able to pay for tuition.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://laurahammpeterson.wordpress.com Rev. Laura Hamm Peterson

    Thank you! You’re a good person for writing this, whether it was explicitly written for my benefit or not…
    I was navigating the Amazon baby registry start-up list the other night and almost burst into tears when a search for “pack and play” returned 400+ hits. Armed and confident, I can now consider heading back into battle… :)
    xoxo


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