Battling the Baby Industrial Complex

As I stepped through the automatic doors with my pregnant wife, I realized I was woefully unprepared for our first trip to the baby store. After an hour under the fluorescent lights, I was feeling lightheaded from the dizzying array of baby gear.

When the panic set in, I began sweating and searching furtively for the exit. Did we take a left at the strollers or the Jumperoos? What the hell is a Jumperoo anyway?

I was still getting used to the idea that we would be responsible for a living, breathing baby in a few months. I always had wanted to have a child in an abstract “That would be nice some day” kind of way, but now there was a miniature human being living inside my wife who would be joining us very soon. If that wasn’t enough to blow my mind, now we had to figure out how to stock a nursery, actually just a corner of our bedroom in our small row house in Washington, D.C.

Maybe it is a lost cause trying to prepare for this initiation ritual of parenthood. In a society built on consumerism, we start with the smallest among us and work our way up. Nervous first-time parents can be scared into buying almost anything with a few simple words: “Don’t you want what’s best for your baby?” Who’s going to say no?

Must resist… hide the credit cards! Batten down the hatches! The baby industrial complex is sucking me down the rabbit hole.

We wandered further into the cavernous store, past the nipple covers and rectal thermometers and rockers. Then we turned a corner and stumbled into a brave new world of baby technology. It was time for shock and awe. Mostly shock, less awe.

Baby monitors used to be crackly walkie-talkies without the talkie feature. Now they have morphed into full-fledged surveillance systems with remote-controlled video cameras, 900 MHz radio receivers, and night vision. Night vision? Yeah, night vision. Big Brother, or Big Mother, can keep a watchful eye and feel that serene sense of calm from knowing that baby isn’t planning a revolution in the nursery.

Maybe that still isn’t enough security? You can never be too careful when there are infants in the equation. How about a motion sensor that detects your baby’s slightest movements? Placed under the crib mattress, the sensor sounds an alarm on a handheld monitor if your baby doesn’t move every 20 seconds. That blows that old adage about sleeping when the baby sleeps right out of the water. You’ll be up 24/7. Better make some coffee or crack open the Red Bull.

Surrounded by this phalanx of high-tech surveillance, a cagey baby would have to pull some “Mission Impossible” stunts to escape, but it could still happen, so consider yourself warned. Here’s the most likely scenario. Your baby uses teddy bears under a blankie as a decoy to trick the video surveillance. Then he clambers over the crib bars and rappels to the floor on a tightly wound rope of baby wipes. Free at last!

Admittedly, the plan requires very rapid development of brain and motor skills, but babies are wily. They will strike when you least expect it. Watch out! There’s one behind you!

What if your perimeter is secure but your baby just won’t settle down? Buy a musical monitor that automatically changes the tunes when the crying starts. There’s no reason you should miss important plot twists in “Lost” just because of some wailing from the nursery. Baby doesn’t like Beethoven? How about some Nine Inch Nails?

We wound our way further into the bowels of the store before reaching the Shangri-La of baby gear. Gleaming like a car dealer showroom, the car seats and strollers were lined up in long rows, offering comfort, safety, and peace of mind… all at an unaffordable price.

We saw car seats with articulating armrests, cup holders, side-impact crash panels, and “comfort-sense memory foam.” Our baby may not remember what happened five minutes ago, but the memory foam will.

On the next aisle, the strollers looked like Humvees with gigantic transformers that shift shape, double deckers to carry the whole brood, and off-road models for the sporty types. Even Jeep has crossed over into baby gear with the humongous Liberty Limited Urban Terrain Stroller, which offers an iPod-ready sound system and three air-filled tires. It must kick into three-wheel drive when I hop a curb, but how does it handle when I need to parallel park in the food court at the mall? If I pop a tire, do I call AAA? Better check the manual.

When I thought all hope was lost, I spotted the doors of the baby store glimmering in the distance, and I desperately pulled my wife toward them. On the road to freedom, I saw the baby product with the best name ever. The Supreme Snuggle Nest is an infant sleeper that “encloses your newborn with protective, womb-like security and offers your family the endless bonding you love.” Who doesn’t want supreme snuggles and womb-like security? Sign me up. I guess the baby can have one too.

You’ve got to hand it to the baby industrial complex. They have honed psychological warfare down to a science.

Parents have somehow managed to raise babies for thousands of years without buying all this stuff. After a few trips to the baby store and a couple baby showers, we’ve got the basics covered. We have survived without the night vision or the memory foam.

Our son Soren is five months old now and is a joy; he’s our sweet little boy who isn’t abstract anymore. He’s sitting here right now smiling at me.

If we hit some bumps in the road, I have an emergency back-up plan. I’ll dust off the credit card and buy that urban terrain stroller. It’s big enough to carry my wife and the baby in case our car breaks down.

Image credit: Ernesto Andrade

1 thought on “Battling the Baby Industrial Complex

  1. Wow! What a great commentary on how mind boggling parenting has become in the U.S. The truth is, most of the “stuff” marketers convince you that you “need” for your baby actually propogate many of the problems we have with our children today (not to mention the problems with maintaining a family budget)!

    Babies and parents will do better just to chill out without “anything” more than they need all of that stuff. Sitting on a patio or in the backyard watching nature (even in the cold), provides stimulation for children up to 2 years old. Sitting in a room with 1 or 2 items to play with, minus all of the gadgets, music, etc…. will expand a baby’s learning and creative potential at exponential rates over a room full of “stuff.” More is not necessarily better.

    Remember the K.I.S.S. Principle! Necessity is the mother of invention. Parents, you can save your money, save your child, and save the planet by walking away and learning to live with less.

    Of course, a nice cozy stroller/carseat is essential and can be a confusing choice, especially if you are also focused on purchasing all of that other stuff, which is highly over-rated and could even be stunting a child’s ability to explore and expand without the need for complicated, high-tech mechanisms or hovering caregivers. Narrow it down to the essential items and ignore the rest is my advice to maintaining parental purchasing sanity! Another remedy to create a healthy perspective is to travel to a third world country and see how kids and parents live with so much less and surprisingly, are so much happier!

    (Though for any stroller purchase for coffee drinkers like me, I would recommend a shockproof, adjustable, removable, heated, insulated, temperature controlled, FDA approved, FEMA approved, PETA approved cup holder with a lifetime warranty available in 6 designer colors.)

    Good luck! You’ll need it because this is just the beginning. Check out the 5 minute video on my website for a perspective on what you and your baby are up against:

    Granny Pants

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