When I was pregnant with my first child, my mailbox swelled with unsolicited parenting magazines, ads and baby life insurance offers. Just open your pocketbook, the ads implied, and you can procure all the items your unborn baby needs to get ahead in the word she hasn't even seen yet. You can teach her to read, or better yet, put her in front of the television and she'll morph into Einstein himself. There are contraptions that claim to teach your baby to crawl, walk, grasp and roll-over. And, many more that seek to provide parents with the ultimate sense of security. The car seats that transform into strollers, chair and rockers assure that your baby will be safe as long as he is securely harnessed into his little, plastic cocoon. Baby video monitors, kid leashes, toilet seat locks, wipes warmers, lullaby CD's, walkers, bouncers, vibrating chairs, swings and toys that “stimulate” your baby's mind with bright lights and loud “music” are marketed as necessities. Parenting magazines offer checklists of must have items that expecting parents need to prepare for their new baby. Yet, most of the recommendations are for luxurious clutter that offer little for the new family.
It seems to me that newborns really do not need much stuff. Warmth, love, nourishment, a nurturing environment to explore are the essentials to foster healthy development. Babies learn on their own and do not need corporate stimulation. Experiential learning through their budding senses comes naturally. It is what they were born to do. Baby's own fingers and toes, mom's hair and dad's mustache are the perfect toys for a little one discovering the world. The leaves dancing in the treetops make a fine mobile. The arms of a loving caregiver are the greatest carrier - the car seat belongs in the car. A cozy spot on the floor or in the yard gives the baby plenty of freedom to move (a real necessity!) and watching parents work around the house or siblings play is much more interesting and stimulating than a disco-like baby gym. The natural, unpolished, live and loving song that a mother shares with her child nurtures, comforts, enfolds and educates in a wholesome, tangible way that digital media could never match.
Watching our youngest, Mira, gain control of her body has been fascinating. For some babies it is such a gradual unfolding that you just might miss it. But, for Mira each development seemed like a momentous occasion, and no one was more aware and proud of her accomplishment than Mira herself. After much striving, she gracefully sat up on her own using tufts of grass to aid her ascent. Eventually, she crawled and pulled up to a stand with natural confidence and ease. How would these experiences been different for her if she had been propped in a baby seat or stood up in a walker before she did it herself? She has recently taken to walking along furniture or moving the furniture herself to travel throughout the house. Would her eventual first steps be as meaningful if she had been tearing through the house is a saucer all along? How do these devices impact the physical organism by artificially putting an infant in a position their limbs cannot yet themselves achieve? Could she possibly still be so confident, determined and secure if she wasn't allowed to master her budding skills naturally and independently?
Of course my little ones, like most American kids, have plenty of stuff. The pram, the sling, woolen caps and underclothes, are all luxuries that I enjoy. Some of the “things” do make parenting and care-giving easier for me. The pram, for example, is great for strolling through the neighborhood and seeing baby's face. I love that the baby lies flat and is not contorted and restrained in an unnatural position for an extended period of time. The pram also serves as a lovely portable, crib allowing the baby to sleep outdoors or be rolled into a quieter space as needed. I love to put babies in the sling if they are fussy or just want to be held while I serve the older children their snack, or take a hike or go to the co-op. And my own children are blessed with a bounty of lovely organic and hand-made toys. But, I can't help but smile when our baby abandons her fancy, organic playthings in favor of magazines and junk mail.