NOTE: This piece was originally published on 4.5.16.
At a dinner party a couple of weeks ago, a friend shared the news that his wife is expecting. It’s their first, and, after months of fruitless efforts to adopt, very welcome and joyful news.
My friend asked me what piece of baby gear was my “can’t live without” pick. It was a good question. There’s a huge industry for parents, both new and experienced. Diaper Genies, sound machines, strollers, bottles, toys that make all manner of sounds.
I thought about his question for a moment and decided on an answer: a comfortable glider. We used it daily for its intended use, feeding, but the glider also proved its worth on countless moments throughout the day. Rocking Jolene to calm her cries, reclining horizontally as she napped on my chest. The chair was a great addition when I wasn’t holding a baby, too. I used it for reading, meditating, relaxing, thinking.
Sometimes, I just needed to rock myself to sleep.
As soon as we started telling people that we were having a baby, packages arrived at our doorstep from Target, Babys R Us, Gymboree, and Carters. “You’ll need plenty of burp cloths!” people would say. “I couldn’t live without a Baby Roo,” others would proclaim.
Since we were still 7+ months way from putting the gear in actual use, the growing collection of packages started to feel overwhelming. Did we really need all of this? Where would be put it all? Can we even afford this baby?
But then it occurred to me that the boxes weren’t just for Jolene. They were for expressions of love from our friends and family. Promises that we’d have a network to lean on for support, whether it be emotional or material. Physical representations of a secure future.
And as Jolene grows into her own capabilities, we’re beginning to see the “stuff” fill her with joy, wonder, curiosity, surprise, laughter. The silly flowers that make sing-song chimes, the hand-me-down plastic toys in kindergarten colors. Every item holds the potential for a new insight for Jolene’s development. Another opportunity to experience the endless variety of the world and of human experience in a fresh way.
My cynical and smug minimalist response to gifts of “stuff” is that material things simply add clutter, maintenance, vanity. That comfort and convenience are slippery slopes. Go too far down the slide and you end up surrounded by objects and distracted from the more important things.
But, as a new parent, I’m learning that comfort and convenience aren’t necessarily evil. The physical, mental, emotional, financial cost of being a parent is substantial. And with that extra strain comes a new need for balance. A comfortable chair to offset the physical toll of carrying around a child. A ready-made formula bottle for when you don’t have access to water. (Or, to be frank, when you’re too exhausted to make a bottle yourself.)
Another “new parent” surprise has been the helpfulness of drive-thrus and service stations. Any option that lets me keep a sleeping baby in her car seat improves my quality of life tenfold. And the cherry on top is that I can cross off a To Do list item: grab a coffee, fill up the car, pick up the RX at the pharmacy.
There’s a danger in leaning in too far to these little comforts and conveniences. A car-based lifestyle drive by single-serve comfort can lead to massive waste, entitlement, and obscenely cluttered urban landscapes. So I try to never take these little pleasures for granted. I make a little mental note of gratitude for the gas station attendant, the drive-thru barista, the fast-food worker. After thanking them profusely in person, of course.