Around the time I gave birth to Beans (our first child), we began receiving a magazine in the mail called Parents. We were in such a daze, so utterly sleep-deprived, blue (I was, anyway), and psychotic, that we actually thought this was a serious magazine. But after a couple of months, it became clear to us that the articles were much more about products parents should buy than about mapping the choppy waters of first-time parenting. (Parenting, it should be noted, is the name of another magazine, and one longer on substance than on product-pushing.)
We have come to the conclusion that first-time parents in America must be one of the most sought-after market shares in the commercial world. They’re ignorant, vulnerable, stressed out, and looking for help wherever they can. (At least we were.) In short, First-time Parents = Suckers.
Seven years and three kids later, the Cap’n and I consider ourselves a little older and a little wiser. In that time, we’ve moved twice, given away most of our baby things, and now only have a handful of odds and ends with which to furnish Bill’s babyhood.
We don’t miss all that stuff, and looking back now, realize how little of it we ever needed in the first place. Here is a catalog of the stuff we had then, followed by what we actually think we need now:
Carseat. Gotta have one of these. It should meet minimum standards of safety, and that’s it. Fancy brand names, upholstery, or other whistles-and-bells don’t matter. For the forward-facing kind, we can probably get one without the cup-holders next time.
Crib. Tried to get the kids to sleep in it, with no luck. There was no substitute for that warm piece of mattress next to Ima. Besides, Dave Barry accurately states that cribs are for crying and going to the bathroom (and vomiting). The car is where baby sleeps.
Bassinet. Borrowed one of these and returned it a few months later, practically unused. Beans outgrew it before we could ever get her to sleep in it.
Baby-carriers. I wore our newborns in a sling, which made them feel squeezed together in the dark—a familiar feeling to a newborn. But the Cap’n never got the knack and preferred the Baby Björn. Once baby could hold her head up by herself and face out, she usually preferred it too. From the time baby could sit up by herself, the backpack was the preferred mode of transportation for baby, with a sun/rain cover (very important in Massachusetts) and under-seat storage for diapers and wipes.
Stroller. Anyone with back problems is going to want one of these. Ours was a fancy Italian one with pram option and a warm snap-on boot for winter. As luxurious as it was supposed to be, it snagged on every blade of grass or crack in the sidewalk. Something a little simpler and sturdier would have been better.
Play mat. This is a mat with arches over it from which to hang toys. For a first child, or a second child whose elder sibling is not a good entertainer, this can keep baby occupied for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour (if baby manages to fall asleep playing). It’s not necessary for Bill, who has three elder sisters to coo and dangle toys in his face.
Bouncy-seat. This was a good investment for us and was used by all three girls. It was a metal frame with cloth covering holding a baby in a reclining position. It came with a toy bar and a vibrating feature to lull a fussy baby. It took Beans and the others a while to get used to it, but it was usually good to plunk them into while we did dishes or a load of laundry.
Nursing pillow. This is a back-saver for the nursing mom (and probably of use to bottle-feeding parents too). The more popular nursing pillow in my early nursing days was the C-shaped polyester-stuffed kind, but mine has loose filling which can be shaken to fill one end or the other of the pillow, elevating baby’s head on the side on which he’s nursing.
Changing table. I got one of these for free from another family in the States. At the time I liked the formality of a place to change baby where baby was just the right height and I had storage space reserved for diapers, wipes, etc. But we passed it on when we moved to Israel and wouldn’t have had room for it anyway, since there is barely enough room in a typical apartment here for closets (which are not built in as separate “rooms” as they are in the States, and therefore take up entire walls) and necessary furniture.
Baby bath tub. The kind that fasten onto the kitchen counter top with suction cups. We used this once. I found it more efficient to sponge bathe baby on the changing table until she was old enough to sit up in the bathtub. This thing took up space and worse yet, it’s one of those things one really can’t pass on in the hygienically sensitive Western world.
Portable crib. As infants, the kids never had any interest in cribs, but when they were toddlers, the portable crib took on a whole new cache, and each in turn enjoyed sleeping in one either when we were on the road or when we had house guests and the child would give up her bed for someone else.
High chair. The Cap’n and I invested in what my parents called the Cadillac of high chairs when Beans was a baby. It adjusts height-wise, tilts back for when baby falls asleep at the table (a breach of manners which happened with shocking frequency), and collapses to fit in a narrow space, out of the way. But it also takes up about a square yard of floor space, is easily tripped over, and needs to be almost completely disassembled to be cleaned well. If we had it to do over again, we would have bought a much simpler model, easier to clean. Or even just a booster seat.
Baby swing. We borrowed one of these with a hand-crank for use on Shabbat. It was great for a few minutes of entertainment, and sometimes for getting a fussy Beans to sleep, but when we returned it after she was done, we never borrowed it again for the other girls. It took up too much space in our small condo, and we didn’t really miss it.
Booster seat. This is a great invention. We got the kind that comes completely apart, straps and all, and when I want to clean it well, I disassemble it and throw the pieces in a warm, soapy bathtub for a good soak. They come completely clean, reassemble in minutes, and it’s also extremely portable. The tray isn’t as big as that of the high chair for playing with toys or crayons and paper, but it’s very serviceable nonetheless.
Diaper disposal system. We had one that took any garbage bag that fit.
Carseat. This time around, we bought a rear-facing infant seat/carrier that clips into a stroller. I’m not sure when we’ll use them together, but they were good-quality, second-hand and cheap.
Nursing pillow. I still have my faded-but-trusty one.
Baby rocking seat. Our old bouncy seat is long gone, but the Cap’n insisted we get something similar for Bill. There are a couple of chain stores in Israel for baby things, one of which is called Doctor Baby. The two baby chairs we had to choose from were the typical rectangular-shaped seat that reclines (separate adjustments for back and feet), or an oval-shaped seat that was displayed with the back upright and the footrest lowered, looking eerily similar to Dr. Evil’s chair in the Austin Powers movies. We chose the rectangular chair, but the Cap’n has still dubbed it the Dr. (Evil) Baby seat.
Booster seat. We hung on to this and are glad we did. A friend who had twins fed the babies in booster seats on the kitchen floor rather than investing in two high chairs. Easy clean-up, easy on the budget. (We still have the fancy high chair, too–not because we need it, but because it was so expensive. I’ll eventually bring myself around to getting rid of it.)
Stroller. This is more so the Crunch girls can take Bill for walks and give me some relief. The Cap’n and I wear Bill in the Björn when we take him anywhere, but the stroller will also be nice to have when he’s too heavy for the Björn.
Portable crib. This remains in storage for the time being (see my post on co-sleeping), but at some point perhaps I may transition him into it, then into the kids’ room to sleep.
For us, that was 15 items reduced to six. (Clothing and diapers are non-negotiable, though the Cap’n likes to hold our newborns over the toilet several times a day. He thinks it gets them used to the idea of using the toilet and saves the occasional diaper. Infant potty training is big with him.)
There is very little that parents need to invest in, and some things on the market can be improvised with common household items. We’ve created a bassinet by folding a blanket and putting it in the bottom of a rectangular laundry basket. We’ve replaced the baby bath tub with a plastic laundry tub. We’ve placed diaper changing kits on two of our four floors, containing diapers, wipes, and changing pads. (Changing can take place on a bed, couch, or floor.) Diapers can be thrown in a covered garbage bin which should be emptied frequently. (Solid diaper waste can be dumped in the toilet before throwing away soiled diapers to spare the rest of the family from lingering noxious fumes.)
My overall message here is for parents to be conservative about what they spend on baby equipment. It’s astounding the number of products invented and marketed to befuddled parents. Rather than running out and buying the most elaborate equipment available, think about what you really need in a high chair, for example: What is it for? What features are really necessary? Where will it be used and stored (i.e. how much space does it take up?) How easy is it to clean? Is there anything simpler that could do the job just as well? What do you think is a reasonable amount of money to spend on it? Do you know anyone who has one to lend or sell for less money? Ask a skilled veteran parent what they think of the model you’re considering and see what he or she says.
Children are expensive enough. Better to put the money away for day school and college than to blow it on unnecessary baby equipment.
This post is based only on my experience and what I’ve seen other parents do. Do you have any suggestions to help simplify the early child-equipping years?