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.”

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