A Bunch of Annoying Stipulations

Careful examination of our blog, combined with an equally careful study of the weather, might indicate two things to our astute readers. First, we’re having a baby. Second, it’s almost christmastime. What with the holiday(s), and the whole first-baby thing, and our families and friends being generous people, some of you are probably going to end up getting us gifts for the baby somewhere along in here. It’s been very gratifying how enthusiastic many of you are, and the little ways in which this has felt like a group experience, or at least like a spectator sport with a generous bunch of fans for home games. We hate to temper the pleasure of your generosity by putting up a bunch of greedy terms and conditions, or trying to ringlead the whole thing. But it’ll probably come out better for all concerned if we make a few requests, at least.

  1. Beth’s allergic to a bunch of things (yes, even some things that aren’t wheat derivatives.) That includes clothing made with acrylic fibers, and wool from sheep, goats and rabbits at least (for safety, just assume all animal hair.) Unfortunately, that means two things:
    1. First, there’s some chance that the baby will have those allergies too; we won’t know until after it’s born, either because it’s been itching and crying for days, or because it’s been suffering stoically but has swollen up to a large red sphere.
    2. Second, even if the baby isn’t allergic, Beth still is, which would give her trouble handling the baby when it’s happily swathed in clothing/blankets/etc made of them. Beth’s inability to handle the baby would thus leave me in charge of our child’s first few years, with Beth attempting to be loving and nurturing from across the room (which in the case of breastfeeding would be a fine spectator event in itself, but would be costly in terms of laundry soap and carpet cleaning.)

    For what it’s worth, we’re not aware of other textile allergies anywhere in the mix. Cotton is a safe choice, as are polyester, rayon, nylon, bamboo fiber and so forth. The polyester-derived “fleece” used as an insulating layer in most clothing is fine too (fortunately, because it turns up in everything). Our strenuous apologies to anyone who was trying to knit us something — we meant to write this a month ago. Hopefully any knitters have been procrastinating at least as much as we have, and have ready access to cotton/bamboo/soy/whatever yarn.

  2. Excepting the allergy issue above, used and hand-me-down stuff is perfectly fine, and indeed preferable. Kids outgrow clothing awfully fast, and we’ve got a delightful period at the onset where they haven’t learned to reject all our tastes in clothing, when we can pretty much dress the Seed in most anything. Yes, baby clothing is adorable (at least when it’s got your baby in it.) We don’t want to dissuade you if you see something you’d really like to see the Seed wearing, but other factors being equal, please help us stick it to the petroleum giants and retail magnates by favoring used things when they’re available. The ecological impact of raising kids is already bad enough.
  3. Speaking of petroleum giants, we’re trying to avoid the worst of the chemical exposures, and brominated flame retardants are high on the list. Given the choice, please opt for stuff that doesn’t claim to be flame retardant. Flame retardants are mostly found in normally flammable plastic derivatives (such as acrylics), many of which Beth is allergic to anyway — so it’s not all bad.
  4. We’re planning to use cloth diapers and a diaper service here in the city — if you’d like to get us a gift certificate towards those costs, this is the service we plan to use (the gift option is a little buried, but it’s in there.)
  5. We don’t know the gender of the baby, nor are we planning to find out before it arrives. Even if we did, though, we’d probably tend towards gender-neutral stuff — the whole pink and blue thing is kind of silly. We’re planning on using mostly green for the baby’s room, but clothing could be most any color. Bright colors are good — this business with the pastel shades seems to be a contrivance more for the benefit of adults than children, especially since infants can’t see color very clearly anyway.
  6. No slings/carriers, please — we’d like to buy these ourselves. It’s like buying shoes — very body (and baby) specific, and anyway our local retailers already earned some business.
  7. We made an Amazon wishlist of some things we figured we’d need. It’s incomplete — Amazon turns out to be a lousy place to shop for baby stuff when you don’t know exactly what you’re after. And we’re still adding to it. But help yourselves if it’s helpful to you.

Finally, Beth put together a list of some secondhand baby stores (after the cut), since many of you are either as new of this as we are, or else haven’t done it in a while.

Thanks for your forbearance. And your generosity. :)

Read the rest of this entry »

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The Sacred and the Mundane

Lately I keep coming back to this mental image: Devin and I are in a boat. It’s a little boat, like a canoe but a little more rounded. We are both rowing. Sometimes it’s hard work and sometimes we just clip along. All around is open water. We can’t see any land — we can only see each other, the boat, and the water. When we departed the far shore, our families and friends were there waving us goodbye, and we know when we reach the other side, most of those same people will be there to see us ashore.

(Of course, this is an illusion. There are lots and lots of people rowing with us, shuttling our little boat forward.)

The trouble is, we don’t know exactly who we will be when we get to the other side, and we don’t know yet the identity of the third person who will be in the boat with us when we arrive.

It’s the best metaphor I have so far for how this long, steady, progressive transition feels. It reminds me a little of the Buddhist concept of the hinayana, the small boat, the one that takes you on your journey to nirvana. Admittedly, it’s a concept I understand very badly — mostly based on a Joseph Campbell story in which a ferry boat from Manhattan to New Jersey stands in for crossing from samsara to nirvana. It’s hard to quote just a tiny bit of the story, but I’ll try:

“And then [the ferryman] says, ‘Now listen, there’s a point here, namely, you can’t come back. This is a one way trip. You’re giving up your family, your ideals, your money, your future. Are you ready to quit?’

“And you say, ‘I am fed up.’

“And he says, ‘Get aboard.’

“This is the little ferryboat — hinayana. Only those who are ready and willing to quit the whole show can go across. And we read in the texts, unless you are as eager for nirvanic release as a man whose hair is on fire would be for a pond in which to dive, don’t start. It’s too difficult…

“You get aboard. You do the boat, and you think, ‘Mother,’ but it’s too late, you’re in the boat. It’s ship ahoy. You learn to love the splash of the water. You begin to speak in a new language: port and starboard instead of left and right, fore and aft instead of in front and behind. You don’t know any more about Jersey than you did when you left. But you’ve begun to think about the people in Manhattan as fools.”

“You’re in Jersey, you turn around to see Manhattan. You’re in the realm of non-duality. You’re in the realm of transcendance of all pairs of opposites. There’s no Manhattan over there. There’s no Hudson River between. There’s no ferryboat. There’s no man in the boat. This is it. That’s all it is. You’re going past the duality and the realization is: I was there all the time.”

In more mundane thoughts, I wonder if I am just having a bad couple of days or whether this is really the beginning of the super-uncomfortable part of pregnancy. My mid-back is killing me, I’ve had heartburn after every meal for two days, I’m cranky and fussy, and my one luxury, laying on my back, makes me light-headed. And those are just the discomforts I feel like talking about in front of an audience.

Some days the baby kicking is still the best thing in the world, but on other days it’s become part of the mental furniture. Today was one of those days — I was too busy at work to pause and enjoy those movements, which are becoming more powerful all the time. The birth seems months away and dreadfully close. There seems so much to do, and it seems so impossible that it took us something like three months to properly empty half a room. (Granted, a lot of time was spent poring over pieces of our personal history that happened to be in that half of the room.)

Because I am too Type-A to wait until the last minute to start sorting out our birth supplies, I asked our midwife for a list of what she’ll want us to have by the 36-week mark (which is now 10 weeks away). Fortunately, our midwife has her act together and most of it can be ordered in a single kit that includes everything from the massive chux pads I’ll wear until afterbirth stops oozing out of me to the finer things, such as “4 packets lubricating gel,” “3 pairs sterile gloves, size 7,” a cotton baby hat and a bottle of arnica. The rest of the supplies sound like a cross between a dinner mise-en-scene and a disaster-preparedness hoard: small bottle of olive oil, gallon-sized ziploc bags, flashlight, tarp, salad bowl, more hats. (How many heads is this kid going to have?)

I’m also starting to be really eager to have the baby, to stop having to row the boat and stare at all that open water, but on the other hand I feel like I can more or less keep the baby safe inside me now, and once it comes out there are all these dangerous things that can happen to it that wouldn’t happen were it in my belly. Or that can happen to me or Devin that could harm its life somehow. Part of being in the little boat together lately has required a lot of conversations about really difficult things, a much higher concentration of difficult “what ifs” than we’ve ever examined in one place before, and it’s oddly not so much scary as just indescribably heavy.

It’s probably for this reason that I’ve also started re-reading Anne Lamott’s “Operating Instructions,” which I was trying to save for the week or two before the birth. She says:

“Before I got pregnant with Sam, I felt there wasn’t anything that could happen that would utterly destroy me … Now there is something that could happen that I could not survive: I could lose Sam. I look down into his staggeringly lovely little face, and I can hardly breathe sometimes. He is all I have ever wanted, and my heart is so huge with love that I feel like it is about to go off. At the same time, I feel that he has completely ruined my life, because I just didn’t used to care all that much.”

— Beth

Bytes of Summer

You can see patches of floor in what will be the baby’s room now. We gave away the futon that had followed us since college, moved a worktable out to the living room, shoved the curbside-scavenged cat tree to a corner. There’s still too much there that needs not to be, but suddenly one can see what’s supposed to happen to everything. Our current plan is to cede half of a room we use as an office to the baby, and let it push us out the rest of the way according to its own needs and our own changing priorities. We’re planning to attempt to co-sleep for as long as seems appropriate, but that won’t last forever, and anyway it’ll be marginally easier to identify how clean the house is by the fraction of our child’s things currently in that room or not. Just think of it as entropy — the more evenly distributed the baby stuff is throughout the house, the higher the entropy level and the less tidy the house is. You can fight entropy for a while, by tidying, but you expend more energy than you recover in entropy, and eventually you’ve reproduced the heat death of the universe in the space of a single San Francisco flat. The real thing should take about a googol years. Based on the parents I’ve known, the parental heat death takes about three weeks.

The last couple of room-excavating projects have dealt with accumulated data, in the form of a shelf full of CDROMs and a large box full of floppy disks. Most of the floppies were left over from the early 1990s, when I was a young geekling with a whole life full of data generation and consumption still ahead. That was a transitional period in personal data history — hard drives were finally cheap enough to be widespread, but networks weren’t; meanwhile, floppies were plentiful and cheap, albeit slow and small. Hence they acted much like a packet-switched network; you might overwrite one many times over, so labeling became pointless, and a floppy you hadn’t touched in a month was probably one you wouldn’t touch again except to write over it again. You could still take backups on floppies, but it was a huge pain in the ass, an exercise in multiplicative failure probabilities, and so it was only done for the more important stuff.

This was probably something I should have dealt with a long time ago, but didn’t, so now floppies are obsolete and CDROMs aren’t far behind. Floppy drives are getting scarce. Fortunately, despite past attempts at house-emptying, I found four of the things, one of which worked. Scripted together a recovery process which required one keystroke plus the physical floppy swap, and on to a fun afternoon being reminded of long-lost data, in amongst all the I/O errors.

As it turned out, about a third of the data was beyond readability. Another third was on old 800K mac floppies, which the PC floppy drives I had on hand couldn’t read anyway. The remainder held a few good bits in amongst the random bits of elderly DOS software, install disks for ancient Linux versions, etc. There were bits of my old BBS in there (even USER.LST, which kept Beth occupied for a good while). Solutions to assignments in my early CS classes. Captures from chat systems that no longer exist. My registered copy of {COMMO}. It was all very entertaining.

On the other hand, between the floppy box and the CD shelf, it took about six hours to clear perhaps a cubic meter of space. That’s probably the worst ratio so far in this effort. I suppose it follows, since the complexity of the contents of that cubic meter was so much higher than on the other shelves — pick up a tripod or a rubber ball, by comparison, and you know quickly what you’re dealing with. At a rough estimate, a single unskilled person-hour is currently worth about ten gigabytes of storage, if it’s empty, but valuing nonentropic data is trickier. Was it worth six hours to save perhaps a quarter terabyte? Probably not — like physical possessions, most data depreciates. OS/2 drivers for a PCMCIA ethernet card? They probably took man-years to produce, but now their value is zero. There again, like physical possessions, a few kilobytes here and there will turn out to be genuinely valuable, either as antiques or as useful expressions of facts. It’s hard to know in advance.

Anyway, I saved what I could. And then I broke them down to their constituent parts — piles of steel and plastic, gauze liners, and a mound of ferrite-coated plastic film. A little degaussing on the latter, and now it’s just material scrap for the recyclers. And a bit more shelf space for the baby, who will at least have more mobile forms of storage for the data it’ll produce.

– Devin

Belly At 25 Weeks

(This was shortly after Mouse had gotten into my lap and tried to get comfortable and looked at my belly like, “Whoa, where did this come from?” She finally wrapped her arms around it and settled in, started purring, and got the baby excited. It kicked her in the head. I don’t think she noticed, but I started laughing so hard my whole body was moving, and that made her grumpy.)

Demon Pregnancies, Pregnancy Demons

By late October I had gotten really sick of reading pregnancy books (despite which I’ve still got a large stack of them left to go) and did a total 180, picking up a couple of Cormac McCarthy books to take my brain completely somewhere else. It wasn’t a bad idea; only one out of the three involved a pregnancy or baby. Then Sara loaned me Stephenie Meyers’ “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth book in her vampire/human romance series, and guess what? The vampire gets the human pregnant — something they didn’t realize could happen — and things get out of control very quickly.

It had all the hallmarks of a demon pregnancy: hyperfast gestation, the mother getting really pale and hollow (and, later on, craving blood), superstrong fetus that was predicted to kill its mother during birth. And, of course, the mom-to-be becomes so protective of her unborn that she won’t let anyone end the pregnancy, despite that the ominous music practically guarantees she won’t survive it.

I was re-watching “Angel,” Joss Whedon’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” spinoff, just before and just after I got pregnant. There are two such “demon pregnancies” in that show — both featuring Cordelia. In the first one, she comes to full term in a matter of days, and discovers during a sonogram that she’s having more babies than she would have anticipated (this happens to lots of normal pregnancies, too, though it’s usually not a litter of 7). In the second instance, the gestation is longer but it makes Cordelia evil and then, when the “baby” comes out, it turns out to be a horrible tentacled demon that disguises itself as a wonder-goddess and enslaves the human race.

It’s easy to see how pregnancy could be turned, by changing a few key details, into horror-film fodder. Even the most natural and healthy pregnancy resembles the plot of many such films: Body going through strange and shocking changes, woman suddenly not acting like herself, unseen alien life growing inside the belly, and of course the unavoidably gooey and gory birth.

When I got pregnant, I intentionally avoided reading the “classic” “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” which many consider overly alarmist (I just found it badly structured). I have, however, been reading a lot of online pregnancy forums and it’s amazing how much women worry during pregnancy. The thing about pregnancy is, there’s a lot of “normal.” Bleeding some during the first trimester is normal; not bleeding is also normal. Some abdominal pain is normal; some means ectopic pregnancy; it’s also within the realm of reason to have no pain. Weeks of nausea — including several bouts of projectile-vomiting a day — is normal; so is feeling just fine in the tummy. So a lot of potentially scary stuff can also mean things are just fine. If you haven’t been through this, trust me; it’s surreal.

Of course, it doesn’t help that if you’re a member of Babycenter, which I am, you get weekly memos and many of them are alarmist, too. “17 Dangerous Infections in Pregnancy,” proclaimed one email. “Get To Know The Signs of Preterm Labor,” said another. Important information, sure, but it seriously makes me want to go back and read more McCarthy novels, ones in which a bunch of Indians get scalped in the Wild West but nobody has a scary pregnancy episode.

It would be easy to say that tales like “Breaking Dawn” and “Angel” are toying with women’s fears, but I think it’s much more about exploring (and exaggerating) them in a healthy and fictional setting so you can sit back and think, “Wow, at least my pregnancy isn’t that bad.” I guess it depends on your fear thresholds, though. I’ve been afraid of or worried about very little, except getting the house ready in time, and I’m one of those weirdos who isn’t really scared of labor or birth. Other mothers and mothers-to-be may want to skip certain genres of fiction until well after their babies are born, just to be on the safe side.

The next escapist-fiction book in my list? It involves zombie children. I’m sure that’ll put my mind at ease. :)

— Beth

For Science, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I did the second half of the UCSF study I mentioned in July, the one about choices in genetic testing. It was a quick phone interview where they asked me a bunch of true/false questions about different chromosomal abnormalities to test what I’d learned, a bunch of values questions (“My culture tells me that life won’t give me anything I can’t handle,” etc.), and then some questions about whether I thought I had made the right choices. On those, I told them it was probably a little too soon to tell, since we won’t know for sure whether our tests accurately described the baby’s health until it’s born.

At the end of it, the woman asked me if I wanted to participate in another study, this one about “delivery choices.” I thought about it for a while, but decided sure, why not.

Yesterday I did the first third of that study, and it was totally different. They start out asking you whether you’re aiming for a vaginal birth or a caesarian section and give you a set of scenarios to work through based on your choice. (A little like a choose-your-own-adventure, in a way.) Since I chose vaginal birth, they had me weigh a variety of vaginal birth scenarios (ranging from one intervention — pitocin — and no other complications to a cascade of interventions ending with the baby on a respirator and me unpredictably pooping myself for years to come) against a pie chart that had x percent chance of vaginal birth with no problems and y percent chance of caesarian. If you picked the pie chart, which started out at 100% vaginal birth with no problems, then the pie chart split 50/50. If you then picked the intervention scenario on the other side, your chances of a c-section went down slightly. Click on the pie chart and it goes back up. You could have gone back and forth all day. It was frustrating.

Although the study wasn’t attempting to imply that choosing the one made the other outcome change, it had the effect of implying that, and it was really uncomfortable. They were testing how committed you are to your delivery method of choice, but putting some pretty artificial boundaries on things. I complained about a few things, one being that the study put “women who want an intervention-free vaginal birth” and “women who want a vaginal birth at all costs, even with complications” in the same category, and I consider them totally separate categories.

I also asked why it was telling me some of the risks/bad outcomes of the interventions, but none of the risks on the c-section side. She said they do that if women choose c-section as their preference.

Anyhow, then it got worse. Box 1 had the same list of various scenarios, from pitocin-only to baby-on-a-respirator, while Box 2 had the dreamy natural-birth (and yet still in a hospital) outcome. Only this time, you started out on both sides with a life expectancy of 81 years, and each time you clicked on your preferred outcome, your lifespan would shorten. Um. I asked whether this implied that choosing that outcome would result in your life being shorter, and she said no, it was meant to test how much of your life you’d give up in order to have the ideal outcome. (She said they tried it with money, but poorer women complained that it was biased against them. Devin asked whether you could have chosen a number of kicks in the shins or something instead.)

The problem with this one for me, aside from the hypotheticals, is that having a child makes me acutely aware of the desire to be alive for them as long as possible — in part because I know what it’s like to lose one of your parents when they and you are still pretty young. So in my case it basically forced me into saying, OK, maybe I’d rather have a c-section than miss 10 years of my child’s life, but I don’t think that really says anything about my feelings about surgery as a method of delivery.

In other words, I’m probably not the ideal candidate for this study because I have a terrible time with hypotheticals. I asked the interviewer if she’d seen “Blade Runner.” She hadn’t. Sigh.

I really hope the outcome of this study is rather different from the input … I am interested in seeing what they do with the data.

At any rate, the interview closed with a series of questions about my decision-making, how informed I am, whose opinions have influenced me the most in terms of delivery methods, and a few other things (they always seem to want to know whether you’ve been depressed or thinking of harming yourself — I wonder if they’ll correlate that to the data, or just throw responses from those women out). They’ll do a follow-up by phone 8-10 weeks after I have the baby, and then another in-person interview 6-8 months later in person. I can’t wait. :-/

— Beth

The mama asana

When it became clear that a) I wasn’t going to be able to go back to martial arts during my pregnancy, b) I wasn’t as comfortable taking long walks after dark while pregnant as I did last year, and c) I was going to need to keep my body in good shape for labor and birth, I started pondering the previously unthinkable: prenatal yoga.

I come at yoga with a variety of (possibly unfair) preconceptions. There are two “yoga types” in San Francisco. The first is people who are really devoted and go to classes more often than they go to work, who talk about it constantly and end every conversation with “namaste,” and who resemble people who think they’ve seen the face of the Virgin Mary in their pancake when the conversation strays into yoga-land. The second is people who wear really expensive yoga pants and tops, who maybe have a mat and bolster stashed away somewhere, but who never actually do any yoga.

On top of that, I have a strong aversion to fitness clubs, or anywhere people are performing some kind of exercise en masse. I’m not that quick to learn physical things, I don’t like people looking at me to begin with, and I especially don’t like them looking at me when I’m sweaty and confused and trying to follow along. I imagined that yoga classes would be pretty much me (with no formal yoga training) thrust into a roomful of beaming mamas-to-be, all of whom fell into category #1 described above.

The other thing is, I sometimes still forget that I’ve lost 75 lbs., so when I looked at pictures of women actually doing the asanas, my first thought was, “They’re all thinner than I am!” It took about 10 seconds of staring to remember that a) I am thin now, b) it doesn’t matter, and c) we’re all going to look like we’re smuggling soccer balls in our yoga tops anyway.

Once I set aside all that mental noise, I discovered with some delight that the birth teacher I’m looking forward to taking classes from in January also teaches yoga three times a week in the Mission, so I figured checking out her Friday class would be a good way to scope her out and also see if I could actually pull off a full yoga routine. She’s really upbeat (but not in a perky annoying way), non-judgmental, and the class is designed for people who don’t know what they’re doing. To my surprise, once I got there and started following along, I found that I actually DID know some of what I was doing, so that was Confidence Booster Number One. She only corrected me on two poses — one of which was laying down at the end, so I don’t think that one counts.

Class kicks off with going around the room, saying your name, how many weeks along you are, and how you’re feeling. Both Fridays so far, we’ve had women there on their due dates, and last week we had a woman who was somewhere in her 41st week of pregnancy. (Admittedly, there is a certain envy that arises when you realize a woman that pregnant can still get into downward dog better than you can. Maybe by then I’ll be that flexible.) I have to say, the prospect of your neighbor going into labor or having her water break while you’re sorting out how to get your arms into eagle pose makes everything a little more lively.

There are several poses in the class that are obviously specifically designed to get your hips/legs/back ready for pushing a large baby out of your pelvis at some point in the near future. Because we’re pregnant and hence can’t lay on our stomachs or our backs, nor can we do any of that inverted stuff, the majority of the class is done either seated or on hands-and-knees. The poses are full of sticking your butt in the air, or squatting, or rolling your hips around a lot, not only to get your muscles limber but I suppose to get you over the possible embarrassment factor of having to do this naked in front of your doctor/midwife while they reach in and help fish the baby out. At one point in last week’s class, the teacher made us do this tiring arm thing, and said, “OK, when you get tired, don’t stop — just breathe into the discomfort and stay with it.” It felt a little like a mental prank, but an important one nonetheless. At the same time, my brain knows the difference between pain it can’t avoid (contraction) and pain it can (ow, my arms), and was a little cranky.

The final “exercise” is laying still and centering. Theoretically, after all that rocking around our babies should be fast asleep, but I find that as soon as I lay down the baby is squirming and wrestling around in there, perhaps doing a little workout of his/her own.

Of course, by the end of the 90-minute class I am feeling both deliciously wrung-out and calm, and energized and ready to do it again in a few days. I’m not someone who can meditate or relax just by thinking about it; it takes some measure of hard physical work that consumes all my brainpower just to stay upright — like tree pose — to silence the mental static. One of the thing I’ve missed most about kenjitsu is the fact that it’s tough to focus on day-to-day stressors when someone’s swinging a wooden weapon at you and either you react in time, and with proper form, or you get smacked. So this seems a good substitute.

Another high point is the fact that my class is immediately followed by a mom-and-baby yoga class, so we get to see where we’ll be somewhere in the next 4 to 6 months (and ponder how to do all these poses while the little one is squirming next to us in a carrier).

The only problem is, the instructor’s other classes are at times when I can’t make it, so within two weeks I was already considering a second studio with another class that’s compatible with my schedule. I’ll be checking it out on Wednesday night. This feels a little like two-timing, but I can’t help but look forward to having that calm, energized feeling more often.

I’m just trying to figure out how to go to more classes without becoming one of those fanatical types. Eeep.

— Beth

Shopping for stuff

Even if our child grows up to be a backwoods introvert, a sociopathic killer, a lobbyist or the inventor of a time machine who then uses it to go back to 1997 and invent the PalmOS SSL certificate handling abstraction interface, in the short run I think I might consider myself a success if I can get through the whole experience without buying anything with cup holders.

Beth and I spent the afternoon in a children’s department store on Clement St. We went in with a tape measure and a long list of things to examine. It didn’t begin well, probably because we’d written down “car seat” first and so went to look at those.

Car seats should not be one’s introduction to parenthood. I suppose that’s easily avoided, since in one sense the traditional introduction to parenthood is copulation, which exceeds the fun of car seat shopping by a fair margin. But copulation only covers the first few minutes or hours of the whole affair, and somewhat later on you might find yourself staring at an entire wall of car seats. They stare back at you like a menagerie of plush, injection-molded beasts. The words “danger” and “warning” in peer out in 24-point yellow or red capitals from the stickers that lurk in every crevice. They foretell the many horrors awaiting the slightest misapplication of their various injection-molded features. Most of these use careful line diagrams depicting the hapless offspring of careless parents who attach the wrong strap to the right buckle or vice versa. The children are fine, of course. Their misguided caregivers have only just stepped back from their misdeed for the benefit of the artist. They haven’t yet applied key to ignition, foot to accelerator, cellphone to ear, and evidently most importantly, enormous latte to cup holder.

I don’t understand this cup holder thing. Okay, I grant that on some level American culture is defined by the amount of ingenuity, pluck, determination and can-do spirit we apply to installing cupholders on most every object we design or (until recently) manufacture. Few things say more about us as a society than the convenience and ubiquity of having our beverages always within reach, snug in insulated paper cups proffered by the obsequious mechanical hand of the nearest cup holder. There seem to be entire micro-industries devoted to the things — my former employer will happily sell you over ten thousand of them. But we’re not talking about a pocket to stick the baby’s bottle in or an indentation on a high chair’s tray. Most of these cup holders are there for use by adults. Maybe I’m poorly prepared to understand the need for all this beverage holding because I skipped out on the whole personal water bottle thing. Also I mostly stayed away when coffee shops abruptly surged from sparsely-distributed places where you tended to drink coffee along with your eggs, bacon and toast to a teeming pestilence found on every blasted street corner. Not that I don’t like coffee, or enjoy a coffee shop well enough. It’s just that I’m okay if that isn’t part of the experience of putting my beloved child into a car and then hopefully not maiming them due to inadherence to some DANGER or WARNING or other. The back of a car seat does not need to be a nest of cafe culture. Honestly, I’m fine with it mostly being plastic and probably some dust bunnies.

Some of our audience might remember a post about not owning a car, or at least not buying a bigger one to fit all three of us. This whole thing about looking at car seats doesn’t mean anything changed on that front. We’re still thinking we’ll be fine as-is. However, car shares are part of how we plan to deal with cases where we do all three need to go somewhere, and being cars, if you’re going to put a kid in one they need a car seat. Being a shared car, you’re also going to need to install the car seat, go someplace, come back, remove the car seat, and leave the car the way you found it. Most car seats aren’t designed with that form of portability in mind. The current state of the art in portable convenience seems to be the detachable base, a hulk of plastic and metal latches which you strap semi-permanently to the car, whilst removing the seat portion at will to carry your sleeping child into the house (or coffee shop) without disturbing them. Some of these can also be latched to a stroller, which I have to concede is a decent idea, albeit one whose implementations are all huge and heavy, and not entirely due to all the cup holders. Eventually we found a couple of fairly ordinary seats that looked like they mostly held babies and didn’t transform into strollers or separate into pieces or brew espresso. That seemed like accomplishment enough, so we fled to look at much more restful cribs and rocking chairs for a while.

The high point of the excursion was definitely the baby-carrying device section. We spent quite a while trying on slings, wraps, carriers, etc., aided by the services of a ~10lb fake baby lent to us by a shopkeeper who’d noticed me gathering up heavy objects to stuff in a sling to achieve the same simulation. The fake baby in question was capable of holding its head up unaided, and by way of being a largish doll stuffed partway with ball bearings, its weight was concentrated unrealistically (if forebodingly) in its butt, which was swathed mainly in duct tape and the lower portion of an I <heart> SF jumper. It turns out to be hard to check the fit of most slings when you’re 23 weeks pregnant, so I did a bit more of the sampling — Beth and I are close to the same size anyway under normal circumstances. Much laughter was also had trying to work out ways to fit the fake baby around or atop the real one. A shopkeeper demonstrated how to put on a Moby Wrap (fiddly to put on and undignified, but with good weight distribution) and also how to undo it in a way that makes the baby abruptly fall out the bottom and plummet four feet to the floor. They also had a stock of external-frame backpacks for toddlers, which promise a whole new range of opportunities for smacking the kid’s head into the overhead rails on Muni — to say nothing of how gloriously you could obstruct up a three-foot radius on a 22 Fillmore or 38 Geary with one.

Before they chased us out into the cold and rain and abundant supply of tasty Vietnamese food of Clement St., we played with strollers for a while. Finding small, simple and foldable ones turned out to be hard, not because they don’t exist or the shop didn’t sell them, but because they can be so effectively hidden behind an SUV stroller, of which the shop stocked plenty. Also for some reason strollers all have hollow injection-molded plastic wheels now, which seems like an exercise in planned obsolescence unless sidewalks in other parts of the world are made of something far softer than the concrete I’ve been accustomed to. Eventually I found one that amounted to some canvas and a bit of foam slung between a minimalist aluminum frame, deep enough a child probably wouldn’t flop out of it, and narrow enough to fit easily through a BART fare gate. I wheeled it happily around the aisle for a few minutes, making easy, effortless turns, tilting it backwards to show off hypothetical stars, fireworks or sunsets, and imagining myself the proud, capable parent who knows what’s important and how to avoid saddling my child’s upbringing with pointless and unrewarding extravagances.

“It’s got a cup holder on it,” Beth said, pointing.

– Devin