2008.04.02 New generation of couch sitters

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

This morning I read an interview in the on-line magazine Salon with Pamela Paul, the author of “Parenting, Inc.,” a book critical of the growth industry of modern parenting.

The introduction to the article says the market for baby products and services “has ballooned like a giant inflatable bounce house” in recent years.

There’s the amazing Miracle Blanket and the Kiddopotamus SwaddleMe for squirmy infants. There’s the Halo SleepSack Wearable Blanket to prevent inadvertent suffocation, showing that something as simple as the baby blanket is no longer sufficient.

There’s a large array of infant sleep symmetry systems to prevent baby from slumbering in any position but its back. One of these comes with a complimentary “Sounds of the Womb” CD.

Baby monitors costing well over $100 now feature zero-interference technology, taking the fun out of listening to neighbors on their CB radios. CB radios? They’re still around?

A link in the article took me to Amazon.com where page after page after page of baby products are listed. I noticed that diapers are among the leading sellers—this from what was once a book-selling company—and I wonder about the future of America when small-town stores are no longer needed.

Comments about the article are numerous. I suppose the overall tone is one of agreement, but.… In other words, yes, so many of these products are unnecessary, but the baby sign language really helped us, or the fancy swaddling blanket really worked like a charm or the Bugaboo stroller was essential for living in the city where we had to walk everywhere, up and down curbs, into the subway, off to the laundry, etc.

The $800 Bugaboo stroller. Now there’s a hot topic of discussion. It’s not even top of the line anymore. Thousand dollar models are available and, according to the author, the cheaper brands have seen the light and raised their prices.

There’s a lot of discussion about items that are new since I had babies around, such as the Baby Einstein device which I’m still trying to figure out. Baby’s own DVD player? I’ve seen it described as the hottest toy ever to feed off “the status anxiety of neurotic parents.”

The timeline of success on the company website starts off with a child contently playing with colored rings, then moves forward into the story of the multi-million dollar business acquired by Disney. What a sad progression from baby playing with toys to baby watching its own mini-television.

But wait. Other mothers chime in saying not to look at it as producing a young Einstein. It simply fits in perfectly with the essential needs of the day—mother has to take a shower, make dinner, etc. And baby is entertained. Ah, there’s the difference—entertained rather than playing and exploring.

Pamela Paul says that honest marketing would have named Baby Einstein “Couch Potato Kiddie” and urged parents to “Get your child started on the joys of watching television as early as possible.”

Paul comes up with a statistic that says the average child acquires 70 new toys a year. She would like to see more reusing.

One reader jokes about marketing “The REAL Baby Einstein.” She would package wooden spoons, a few pot lids, some yarn, wooden blocks, etc. The stuff that Einstein probably played with, she says.

Another suggests putting away the high-tech toys and just getting down on the floor and playing with baby. Crawl around, play peek-a-boo, read a book—and don’t worry about the mess.

It takes a strong stomach to step off the must-have merry-go-round, says one mother, because other parents will be watching and criticizing.

I think about the cardboard boxes, the red wagon, the colored blocks, crayons and paints—all those simple toys that my kids enjoyed in their younger years—and I wonder what will happen when they have their own kids.

Will they make up for their “deprived” childhood and load up on what the marketers are pushing, or will they think back to their simpler toddler days and choose to repeat it?

I like what this one mother wrote: “Finally we realized that all our kids really needed was us. You are the best thing your kids can have.”

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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