My students have such a case of spring fever these days. My 9:00 class was almost giddy with excitement when I reminded them that we are two weeks away from midterm exams, and three weeks away from Spring Break. Maybe on some college campuses across the country Spring Break means crazy road trips to sunny, beachy places, but my students are endearingly so happy at the thought of just going home--home to their families, to the people they love, home to be a kid again. One student's grand plans for Spring Break: to lie on the couch in her mom's living room and watch her little brothers playing on the carpet.
I'm excited for the break, too. We're planning a trip home to have a small family baby shower for my sister and her husband, who are expecting their first child. I haven't seen my sister and brother, and my nephew and neice since Christmas, and while I've seen my sister over Skype a few times since then, I can't wait to see her in person, and to see how much her belly has grown--my new nephew-to-be getting bigger and stronger with each passing week. When I think about becoming an aunt again my heart does a little dance, and when I think about my sister becoming a mama it melts around the edges, and I feel teary--in all the good ways--at the thought.
When I was pregnant with L. one of my favorite things to do was to go to the mega baby-supply super store near us. I was superstitious during the early months of my pregnancy and I refused to step foot in the place, for fear I'd jinix it all. But when I reached that comfortable point, and the pregnancy felt real, and L. would kick and stretch and push against me with his strong but still growing limbs, I'd drive over to the mega store and wander through the aisles, and let the enormity of it all settle around me. I couldn't believe that so much stuff existed for someone who would be so tiny.
When I asked people what we should register for, given that we were first-time parents, I'd get such conflicted replies.
"Oh, you MUST have a baby swing," one mother would gush. "I couldn't have survived without one!"
Yet, as it turned out, L. despised the thing, and T. wasn't too fond of it, either.
"A wipe warmer!" Someone else told me and I thought about the cold, cold New York winters. We didn't end up buying one, but I did spend too much time wondering if we should.
"A diaper genie!"
"A bottle warmer!"
The choices were staggering: bouncy seats that did a million different things, mechanical swings, strollers like mini SUV's (one cup holder, or two?), play mats, cribs, cradles, co-sleepers, pack and plays, ExerSaucers, slings, Baby Bjorns, bottle warmers with nightlights, bottle warmers without, breast feeding paraphenalia that boggled the mind, monitors...the list could go on and on.
When you're a first-time parent you just can't help but be swayed by the stuff--the shelves and shelves of baby gear designed to make life easier (or survivable). Our crib was beautiful, yet L. wouldn't sleep in it. As it turned out, the best investment we EVER made was the king-size bed we bought the year we were first married. We didn't know then that it would become so much more than just a bed for us: that it would be the safe harbor in the dark for both our children; that we would come to love and treasure the notion of a family bed, and the warm weight of one of our children between us, their tousled hair on our pillows, their arms reaching for one of us, even in their sleep.
I guess my point is that what works for one child, may not work for your own; what you think you might need, at the start of this big journey, might not end up being what you really truly use in the end. You can buy all the gadgets and baby gear in the world and still you will find yourself rocking your child to sleep, while you cue up Enya's Shepherd Moons to play on endless repeat in your bedroom.
Here though, is my list--for what it's worth--of what were baby essentials for us:
A baby sling. We had the NoJo baby sling, which I don't think is available anymore. I can safely say we might not have survived L.'s early infancy without one. He had a super-sensitive startle reflex and even the act of trying to lower him onto the bed while he was sleeping would set off the reflex and he'd awaken instantly. But he would settle once I slid him into the sling. When Iw alked around he'd sleep, making the most adorable chirping sounds while he sucked on his fingers. Not only did the sling help L. feel safe, but it gave me a "window" into what life inside the womb must have been like for L. all those months. I'm sure he made those same chirping sounds inside of me!
The Baby Bjorn baby carrier. This worked great for Scott to use, since he always had trouble figuring out the sling, and it was more practical for brisk walks outside or errand-running. I tended to wear the sling more in the house, or on short errands, and we used the Baby Bjorn a lot when we were out for awhile. When L. was four weeks old we went hiking in the Adirondacks and carried him in the Baby Bjorn the whole time. I will say thought that it won't work well for very small babies or very floppy babies. T. actually did not like the Baby Bjorn until she was big enough to face front and I was really scared one morning when she was a small infant and we put her in it to go for a walk. Somehow her body slipped down into it and if we hadn't been vigilant I think it's possible she might have suffocated.
Lots of baby/swaddling blankets. You can never ever have too many of these, in my opinion. we used blankets for everything--wiping up the inevitable minute-by-minute messes, for a quick cover while nursing, or to make a clean place for a diaper change while in public or at someone's house.
Baby care/hygiene products. Things like a bulb syringe to help those stuffy, teeny tiny noses, nail clippers (who would have though a baby's naiils could grow so quickly!), lots of diaper rash lotion (we went through tubes so quickly), a baby-safe, good quality thermometer, washcloths (good for cleaning baby's ears, gums, and nooks and crannies).
When baby is old enough to hold his/her head up straight, we got lots of use out of an ExerSaucer. Once your baby is out of the floppy infant stage, but can't quite sit up yet, and is too wriggly for a sling or carrier around the house, it's so helpful to have somewhere to put him while you work, cook dinner, use the bathroom, etc. L. loved his exersaucer and would happily bounce and play there while I was able to get some work done (very quickly), or cook in the kitchen.
In the end, though, the things that will prove most valuable for first-time parents are the things you can't put a price tag on. You won't find them on the shelves of the mega baby store. The things that will see you through those early months are intangible, but critical: a sense of humor, patience, and your family and friends. Accept their offers of help, listen to the advice, don't feel you have to "do it all" the way I so often did. Realize, too, that that the early weeks of parenthood are difficult emotionally and physically and that hormonal mood swings are very real. Don't forget to take care of yourself, and to laugh as often as you can. I wish I'd had more of a sense of humor when my kids were tiny (although it IS hard to find the humor in colic--except maybe the dark kind of funny). I wish I hadn't worried as much about the "little" things. I was lucky to have family who were always there for me--if not physically, then emotionally. I was also lucky to have a partner who was able to see the humor in most things, and who taught me, slowly but surely, that it was okay to laugh--at the situation, at myself, and at each other.
What are your baby-gear or surviving-infancy must haves?