YOU CAN’T BUY MUMS’ KNOW-HOW
Purchasing pointless baby gizmos, says Sarah Caden, can only temporarily ease the fears of first-time parenthood
Afew days ahead of a foreign holiday this summer, a friend called around with a bit of kit she thought I might find helpful on the plane. It was a harness, like you'd find on a buggy or a car seat, designed to securely hold in place my then two-year-old younger daughter, who was going to be sitting in her own seat for the first time.
I marvelled at this offering, but not because of its ingenuity. Instead, I simply could not believe I didn't own it already. Worse, my husband passed the very same comment when he came home.
A sleep positioner to keep baby from wriggling down the cot and under potentially smothering bedclothes. A rubber duck for the bath with a built-in thermometer. A nursing chair. Socks that go over baby's socks to stop baby taking off aforementioned socks.
A monochrome mobile. A white-noiseproducing bear. A white-noise-producing app. A giraffe that helps with teething. An amber necklace that helps with teething. Miniature tents to stop baby weeing in your face. A summer-specific buggy hood to let the warm summer breeze waft through. A selection of winter foot muffs. A buggy mosquito net. Several varieties of bottles to help colic.
Many shapes of freezer-friendly weaning containers. A mushed-food Thermos flask. A bucket-shaped baby bath that is much more expensive than a bucket. A sleep positioner to stop baby rolling over. An extra-light, baggageallowance-friendly — for which read ‘expensive’ — travel cot. A nappy bin that absorbs the smell of poo through plastic bags and nappies, against all assurances to the contrary and regardless of how many times you wash it. And, of course, a buggy that comes in several parts.
I did not buy all of these items, but I bought enough of them to feel like a fool now. But I bought none of them for my second child. Every last daft item was for the first-born, and every last item was bought in the belief that this was it, the Holy Grail item that would make sense and make a breeze out of motherhood.
Some of them were good, some of them weren't bad, some of them were rubbish. None of them really made a blind bit of difference to the sense of first-time parent panic and cluelessness. There are moments in first-time motherhood when you just want to run away. It can be bath time, bedtime, middle-of-the-night time, or first-time-on-a-plane time. The moment comes to all of us, and it's into that moment of pure, naked vulnerability that these products creep. “Hold that thought,” a little voice says, as you google and log on to parenting websites. “There is just the thing for your terror. In fact, there are millions of them. Take that money you used to spend on shoes and nights out, and spend it on this, this and these — the gizmos that just might make you feel in control again.”
Except you don't. And you blame yourself. And you buy again, from the local baby shop, from the specialist baby shop on another continent, from the parent flogging a terrifying volume of allegedly essential stuff on a website.
Many decades ago, the critic and journalist Cyril Connolly wrote that “the pram in the hallway” was the greatest enemy of good art. Were he around today, Cyril might find the pram in the hallway wasn't just an impediment to creativity, however, but also of free movement through that hallway.
The two-parts-plus prams are bulky enough, but once you add on the cup-holder, shopping-bag clip, parasol, nappy bag and various detachable developmental toys and books, then there's nothing short of an infant encampment in the entry to your house. It will block the way, snag your clothes and bruise your shins, but, for the most part, you won't mind. Because every bit of this buggy, along with all the effort it takes to collapse the blasted thing, reassures you that you're a good parent. And informs everyone else that you are, without doubt, a fear-filled first-timer.
Parents of subsequent children tend to have smaller prams and buggies. These parents have learned the hard way, and, possibly after buying a car with a bigger boot, they understand that parental love is not in proportion to how many pieces make up your pushchair.
I'll take this opportunity to apologise to the parents to whom I flogged my gigantic, used-once buggy travel bag. I know, it didn't help, any more than the plane harness stopped my two-year-old's painful ears or refusal to conk out.
But it reassured me for a few minutes, so maybe that's something in itself.