Friday, November 5, 2010

Unplanned Parenthood

When my practical and low-key sister-in-law was pregnant with my
first nephew, I prided myself in making edgy (at least by mid 1990s standards)
baby shower selections. I was in the midst of my hipster days, and rejected the
Babies R’Us  registry and went rogue at Barneys. Or, rather, at the annual
Barneys Warehouse Sale (I was a thrifty hipster), back in the days when it was
held once a year in New York only.

We knew my brother and wife were having a boy, and we were
reportedly all sturdy newborns, so I carefully studied the infant selections,
looking for items that the parents would not buy on their own, so as to make the
gift that much more special. My brother and sister-in-law are down-to-earth
folks in a small New England town—but, I posited, maybe they wanted their
offspring to be super stylin’! The name they had chosen for their son began with
a “T,” so I hit the jackpot with a small linen throw pillow with a
hand-stenciled “t” in a funky font. In another bin, I spotted a pair of bright,
bright red linen overalls—hey, clowns always look stylish—which got me thinking
“what baby doesn’t look good in bright, bright red?” True, at that point I had
never been within 15 feet of a baby, but I could just imagine how red would
bring out the ruddiness—or highlight the eczema--of a winter New England baby.

Fast forward six years and I am pregnant with my own child. Although
I still had no practical experience with babies, I had a Vision as to how the
early years of child rearing would go. Homemade organic babyfood, stylish burp
cloths, a casual-but-chic wardrobe, no television, classic picture books,
gender-neutral toys….

Yes, my destiny was to be Progressive-But-Nonjudgmental-Mom,
spreading edified fairness and self-important self-deprecation throughout the
Mommy World in my Left-Leaning City. I stocked up on primary colored blocks,
organic cotton swaddle blankets, handknit-by-local artisan infant caps… Ah, yes,
while my newborn slept, I could see a future full of just a few well-chosen
European wooden toys (made from reclaimed lumber and carved by rehabilitating
prisoners, of course), singing nursery rhymes in harmony with my Oilily-clad
toddler, delighting for hours in contemplating flowers in the garden, having
picnics in the park (organic finger foods for him, wine and a pesto panini for

Whenever my son showed the slightest interest in anything—Look! He 
pointed in the general direction of a tree! He loves nature! —I would become
inspired to load up on items to stimulate this apparent interest. OK, the dream
of a minimalist childhood was coming to an end…. But who knew there were so many
awesome things to buy a child?? I would bid furiously on Ebay for things I
remotely recalled liking from my own childhood, though at the time it didn’t
occur to me that if I had any memory of it, I was probably playing with the toy
a lot older than infancy… I distinctly remember bidding more than $50 for a
copied VHS tape (yes, this was a bygone era) of the 1970s special “Really
.” Had I not been so hormonally driven (and, to be honest, a naturally
competitive person), I might have calculated that I was well into double digits
when Really Rosie was released. Of course, by the time my daughter was old
enough to like Really Rosie, I had long since lost the tape and ended up
re-bidding on Ebay for the DVD (but paid less than half for it this time around.
The fervor around second children is much more subdued…..).

Pretty quickly, my parenting style began morphing with my personal
style. If an unblemished burp cloth wasn’t available at the time of an outing,
what’s wrong with tucking the stained corner under my baby’s bottom? Why not
have the news on while I feed him? After all, he was in my stomach during the
2000 presidential election and was exposed to so much cable news my husband and
I joked that he might think Chris Matthews was his father. And, seriously, how
annoying (and disturbing) are those nursery rhyme songs anyway? Humpty Dumpty’s
mortal injury, Jack Sprat’s wife’s body image issues, and the cultish possible
pedophile Pied Piper? And my husband can only make it through the first line of
Twinkle, Twinkle before resorting to humming. So why not sing songs we actually
know and can sing without our blood-pressure spiking? Bob Dylan anti-war songs.
Pearl Jam. The entire score of Rent. And my son turned out to have an affinity
for all things Power Rangers. Sock puppets remained ignored; books with peaceful
pictures stayed unread; videos of Caillou and Curious George, unwatched. So,
rather than amassing more animal puzzles and mini gardening tools, we did what
any Type A parents might do for their first (and at that point, only) child:
when in Tokyo, we spent an entire day at  (sigh) the Bandai museum carefully
examining exhibits chronicling decades worth of Power Rangers. He liked the
color blue, which represented the “blue” ranger, so every article of clothing,
plate, cup and toothbrush was blue. Yes, we occasionally tried to inject other
influences: stuffed dogs, a mobile from MOMA, a Disney video… but we usually
followed his lead and let him express himself this way. He is his own person,
and our job is to guide him to incorporate his interests into his ever-widening

Right after my son was born, an elderly neighbor arrived with a beautifully
wrapped box from Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks was right next to Barneys in our
neighborhood. She was a very kind person who said she had selected this outfit
for my son because it was the type of thing she knew I wouldn’t buy myself. I
opened the box and took out a precious, and undoubtedly tremendously expensive,
sailor suit, complete with jaunty hat. Now I am no more a Saks’-sailor-suit kind
of mom than my sister-in-law is a Barneys-red-overalls kind of mom. Alas, it
seems we all like to project our own Vision onto a baby… and it is the child’s
job to prove us all wrong.


No comments:

Post a Comment