Pur­chas­ing point­less baby gizmos, says Sarah Caden, can only tem­po­rar­ily ease the fears of first-time par­ent­hood

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - SHUTTERBUG -

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.

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