Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Auntie Chronicles – Shower Gifts for the Little Pre-Consumer

Parenting Advice for People Who Aren't Parents

This is a picture of just one-half of one of the baby care aisles at Target:

For a soon-to-be parent, surveying this scene can be daunting. What does a baby really need? Will wipe warmers be necessary? Do you really need special baby laundry detergent? And why the hell, in this day and age, is everything still pink and blue (with a few yellow and green items thrown in as the gender-neutral options, although, as Jason Bateman's character mused in Juno: “Why does everyone think yellow is gender neutral? I never knew a guy with a yellow room.”)

When these soon-to-be-parents get their hands on America’s weapon-of-choice – the gift registration gun – no one is safe. Not knowing what exactly they will need, said parents are likely to pull the trigger and flash that red light across the bar codes of all sorts of items. Bottle washing brush? Check! Black-and-white optically-stimulating mobiles? Check! For the dazed friends and family, choosing a gift from such a registration list might seem nigh impossible. That’s why so many of us revert to buying cute outfits from the clearance rack, and why most babies have so many newborn outfits that they could wear a new one every day and still grow out of them before reaching the end of their wardrobes.

It's a perfect storm of consumerism and parental fear, resulting in a society that has determined good parents must control nearly every aspect of a child's environment (for more on that, read Michael Chabon's
delightful meditation on childhood, cartography, and adventure). Manufacturers are only too happy to give us products that help us keep that illusion of control, and if you are an auntie, uncle or friend, you're probably even more confused than the soon-to-be-parents.

What if you want to give your friends a gift that will be truly useful? That won't cause more waste in the world? That will make life easier for the new parents? What do you get them?

I'll tell you.


OK. You don't have to call them rags. Pre-parents (as many of my friends have pointed out) tend to find the term "rag" a bit uncouth. Washcloths, burp cloths, tiny towels, napkins -- whatever. But the fact is, the one thing that you that I can guarantee will be used - rags.

But ... you might be thinking ... it's such a piddly gift. A package of cotton washcloths costs around $3.99. What will people think of me if that's what I bring to the shower?

Well, at first they might think, Hey, that's a lame gift. I wonder if Suzy's been gambling again, and all she could afford was a bunch of rags, when we asked for a Diaper Genie. But when the kid actually arrives, and is leaking fluids from multiple orifices, the new parents will silently thank God that you got them five packages of towels rather than an embroidered onesie imported from Sweden.

In addition, today's ecologically-minded parents often use such cotton towels as a greener alternative to disposable wipes. Usually, even those who plan ahead don't register for as many as they end up needing. All in all, it's a gift that will be truly useful, help parents be a little greener, and make you look like a smart, prescient cookie.

About the Auntie Chronicles: I have 10 or so nieces and nephews. Only one of them is actually related to me. The rest just know me as Auntie Catfish. As a former live-in auntie and former elementary school teacher, I've acquired a lot of kid-centric knowledge. Some of my friends have said, you should write a book for people who have to deal with kids but don't know how (either new parents or the friends of new parents). I'm too lazy to write that book, but I do have some stuff to share for others who might be entering the years when all of their friends are having babies.

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