Love or Logistics?

I remember my grandmother being none too impressed with the idea of baby registries.

Asking for specific gifts? Telling people what to buy? We’ve all raised children; we know what a baby needs.

I tried to explain them from a logistical standpoint.

It’s to prevent duplicate gifts. People can buy gift cards or certificates to apply toward larger items. Or you can buy gifts to match the nursery theme.

She understood all these arguments, but she did have a point. Still, I registered.

I spent the excruciating better part of a Saturday at the local baby superstore, one which my husband still laments never being able to get back; one which I still remind him proved he was a sore sport. We took a break at one point, resting in two of the array of gliders on display. Stretching out on the coordinating ottomans, he said how much his feet hurt. Your feet hurt? I am carrying around a nearly full-term human!

My sister-in-law recounts a similarly disappointing experience. She, too, entered the store full of excitement and anticipation, ready to get all the things her little one might need. One look at the wall of bottles and nipples sucked that right out of her.

There’s different flows? I didn’t know there were different flows! How do I know which one to get? How am I supposed to know which my baby will like?

She ended up walking out of the store, the lunch date with my brother-in-law a much better prospect.

I’ve come to revisit this harrowing phase of a woman’s life – the waiting period before one’s first child – because I attended a baby shower this past weekend. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since I’d attended one. I hadn’t realized how much psychic distance I’d achieved from that point in my life.

Scrolling through the mother-to-be’s online registry, I pondered all the minutae we stockpile for one fragile little being. Watching the mother-to-be open myriad boxes and bags, I marveled at the physical objects we amass in preparation for their care. I thought about the stupid decisions we make beforehand – because we have nothing on which to base them. We don’t know whether our baby will like to be bounced or rocked. We don’t know whether they’ll take a pacifier or spit it out. We don’t know whether they’ll take to nursing like a vacuum or suck down formula like it’s going out of style. Yet, we let marketing gurus and product developers make these decisions for us; tell us what our baby will need before we’ve even met them.

I was thinking how wonderful it would be if we instead showered the mother with practical wisdom. Looking back, having been what I’ve been through, I think, would it not be more beneficial to surround the mother with support rather than things? Not to offer harping advice or to scare with harrowing tales, but share our experiences and struggles; to let the mother air her concerns and ask questions.

Is not the combined experience of all the mothers in that room much more valuable than the material trappings?

Modern society may have streamlined gift-giving with the registry process, but it also omitted something special. The human element. The generational wisdom and tradition. The magic and wonder of growing and birthing and caring for a baby. That one little trick your mother learned from her mother that will stop a crying baby better than any toy or tool can do.

Mothers need other mothers more than they need anything else. Love and support, the nest of family and friends. All things that no amount of logistics can provide.

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Things That Need to Be Said

I have a relative who says things she shouldn’t.

She says the things you don’t want to hear.

The things that make you uncomfortable, that turn the mirror back on yourself in a most unappealing manner.

In a discussion of summer vacations and friends’ doings, I mentioned that some friends had taken their families to Disney.  We lamented the hot weather in Florida this time of year and how trying it must be.  I said it would be trying at any time of year with my youngest being only three.  If I experienced sensory overload and exhaustion at the dawn to dusk days of Disney, I would have to wait until my children were older before I subjected them to its amusing assaults.  I jokingly shared my observation I’d shared with my husband and kids: that I was fourteen years old before I had my first visit to Disney so I was in no rush to get my own much younger kids there anytime soon.  If I had to wait, they could wait.

And that’s when my grandmother dropped her bomb.

There are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat and here we are worrying about what’s the right age to take our children to Disney.

Nothing like the perspective of an eighty-four year old woman to smack you back in your place.

I hadn’t been lamenting my fate.  I hadn’t been saying my children desperately deserved a trip to Disney, but the poor dears weren’t old enough.  Hell, if anything, I was glad they weren’t the ‘right’ age so I didn’t have to go through the whole ordeal.  I don’t see Disney as an obligatory childhood right of passage.  In America, it’s just something a lot of people do and it’s part of our societal subconscious (again, thank you to the ever-pervasive Disney marketing).

But my grandmother was right.

I’d like to think her comment was not directed solely at me.  That it was just an astute observation of the irony of what many call ‘first world problems’.

But it cut to the quick.

In one concise sentence, she cut the wheat from the chaff and crystallized what should be our priorities.  In a world where families can spend thousands of dollars for over-the-top entertainment, others’ can’t afford food for one day.  In a world where I worry about the stress of an over packed summer schedule, there are mothers who worry if they’ll make it through the week.

I didn’t like what she had to say because it made me feel guilty.  But guilt is usually born of some seed of truth deep within our gut.

My grandmother wasn’t trying to nurture that seed.  She was simply speaking her mind in the privileged way that a long life has earned for her.  In her eight decades, spanning two centuries, she’s seen a multitude of changes, not all of them good.  In her evening ruminations, she discovers a perspective the rest of us can’t necessarily see – or don’t because of the frenetic pace of our lives.

I have a relative who says the things that need to be said, things she’s been waiting her whole life to say.

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