The Names of Stuff

We’ve recently started noticing the horrifying sorts of brand and product names involved in the baby products market.

Let’s set products aimed at older children aside for a bit; Destructo-Megalon Pencil Holders and Magical Pony Wonder Companion Backpacks can wait for another post. I’m just thinking here of the products marketed for use with really young kids, where it’s the parents doing the shopping.

If you’ve had kids, just think back across the brand names that’ve sublimated into your subconscious, and scan your mental images of your shelves. The bathroom shelves are an especially good place to check.

If you haven’t had kids, and haven’t paid much attention to what baby products tend to be called, here’s a quick way to work it out: hold your teeth a centimeter apart, and see how many sounds you can make without moving your jaw or opening your lips more than an inch vertically or horizontally at any given time. Do that for ten seconds and you’ve probably generated several new brand names and violated the trademarks of a couple old ones.

Basically, there seems to be some unwritten rule in baby product marketing that they need to be composed mainly of “oo,” “ee” and “shh” sounds and their kindred, with precious few harder consonants rattling around towards the beginning of the words safely removed from the stream of gentle exhalation that follows. They’re the soft sounds we’ve come to associate, at least in consumer terms, with maternal comfort and shelter. The sort of sounds you can make without exposing too many scary teeth.

The thing is, I don’t think these product names are aimed at kids, because kids this young aren’t yet reliable targets for marketing and don’t yet participate in purchasing decisions. They can recognize and start preferring brands pretty early (around 8 months, I’ve read), but it takes a bit longer to play a meaningful role in spending money, and they’re hard to reach via media and advertising that early. Which means that however fiercely the brands will be competing with you for your child’s love later on, at the beginning they seem to be aimed at adults. Adults who, at least prior to having kids, responded primarily to brands with a respectable number of consonants, an interplay in phonemes across words in a phrase, or clever puns.

This came to mind because we were shopping for diapering products today, and looking down the lists of product names was basically like sliding around between a pair of infinitely large breasts while being serenaded by a cavalcade of cherubs whose repertoire consistent entirely of cooing. “Bumkins.” “Bummis.” “Tushies.” “Fuzzies.” “Noodle and Boo.” And so forth. I’m not making any of those names up, BTW. Sometimes the word is followed by a slightly more ordinary word like “wipe” or “wrap” or “liner,” but that doesn’t really change anything. If humans were born sexually mature, parents would be standing at the store shelf trying to decide between “Booshy Fuckables” and “Spumkin’s Extra Sensation.”

Either the marketing industry is under a colossal misconception that parents of preverbal children regress into some sort of preverbal state themselves and need to be cooed at from store shelves and catalogs, or there’s some sort of horrible moment coming where due to hormones or whatever else I’m supposed to be attracted to such sounds — or face ostracism by all the parents when I don’t. Unfortunately, the marketers have both the psychologists and the statisticians working for them and billions of dollars on the line, which suggests they’re probably right.

I heard somewhere that babies genuinely do respond somewhat more strongly to baby talk from their parents than to ordinary adult speech patterns. On the other hand, I’m having trouble imagining how you’d effectively get a control group on that study.

The diaper products are especially bad, I suppose because the parental consumers of these products are simultaneously swerving around in some sort of hormonally-induced subverbal fugue and at an only marginally more rational level dealing with the sort of fear brought on by the prospect of a two year-long geyser of unguided feces with your adorable bundle of love at the tip of it. So we’re well primed to swerve for the rounded letters and pursed-lip brand names on the shelves. Further, there aren’t really any alternatives — most of the time, there is no rational, mature-sounding brand option. And when there is, I’ll probably ignore it like all the other parents, because first priority is more likely to be my fuzzy notion of what will ensure my child’s contentment, closely followed by the desire to not have excrement leaking out all over everything. Penalizing the makers of dumb-sounding brands is, unfortunately, going to wind up further down the list, somewhere after washability, hypoallergenicity and non-toxicity.

Oh well. Maybe the pencil holders and backpacks phase will be easier.

– Devin

Sort-of-last Visits

We’re freshly returned from a round of family visits, as tends to happen this time of year to couples in our position. It was a good holiday, with everyone in a good mood, an abundance of tasty and largely Beth-compatible food, etc. For those that don’t know this already, both our families live in Sonoma County, about 70 miles north of our place in San Francisco. It’s about a 2 hour drive sans traffic. We generally go up to see one or both families on most holidays and birthdays, plus a few extra times each year without a specific occasion.

Usually with my family at least, there’s a moment at these get-togethers where we try to work out when we’ll do it again — some mental calendar-flipping until we find the next birthday. This time, at least a few of us flipped forward a few months and realized we’d gone past the Seed’s due date without hitting anything. Without any specific deviation, the next time we all got together, “we” would be one more person than before. Or, looking at it differently, at least some members of our families might not see us again before the birth. That brought a particular kind of immediacy to it we hadn’t faced before.

I was going to say something to analogize it to the moment when you do something for the last time before an event changes you, but we’re already changing. As big and transformative as birth is, we’ve been changing for months already. I suppose our families can already see that.

Ours isn’t the only baby in the family, either. Beth’s step-niece Zoe has gone both ambulatory and verbal when I wasn’t looking. My own step-nephew Max has done likewise, besides learning to manipulate his mother.

At any rate, our families were splendid. We received a few presents for the baby, too. Not the practical but proletarian “here’s six shirts and a set of hand-me-down jumpers from your second cousin Debra” variety, but rather a handful of heartfelt gifts for a person that (like Beth and I) they’ve never met, but (also like Beth and I) they’re preparing an emotional place for. Here in December, early March seems like a good time for the Seed to be born. Close enough to be real, but just far enough for such emotional preparations, without the tension and/or panic that’ll come later.

And so we headed home, to work on the nest a bit more.

– Devin

A Rhogam fairytale

I may have previously mentioned this, but I discovered reasonably early in pregnancy that my blood type is O-, and not long after that, we learned Devin is A+. Since that means there’s a good chance the baby has an Rh+ blood type, and that I could therefore develop antibodies to its blood if I am sensitized to it, I got a Rhogam shot in my 29th week of pregnancy. That will last me until the birth, at which time we’ll test the baby’s blood type, and if it is Rh+, I will likely get another shot — on the off chance we want more babies.

Of course, no pharmaceutical product comes without a pamphlet, but both we and the midwives particularly liked the illustrations on the Rhogam pamphlet. So, here are most of them, in a slightly different order and with much different text than is included in the directions:

Once upon a time, a man with bad sideburns and a first-aid kit for a torso met a woman with impossibly spherical breasts who had a gaping sideways wound in her belly. Somehow, the two of them managed to conceive a child; the baby was in breech presentation, but because it had no legs the doctors weren’t worried.

Somehow, along with the baby, the man’s first-aid kit got into the woman’s belly, and a bunch of Pac-Men who ate plus signs instead of ghosts went berserk, chomping away at the thing until there was nothing left but the little hungry dudes and the woman’s gaping wound, which had moved further south so as not to interfere with the feasting.

If only the woman had known to store the man’s first-aid kit inside the baby, the Pac-men would have stayed away. Not only that, but the baby would have lined up with the hole in her belly so it could come out more easily.

The end.

— Beth

In which I get a little bit spiritual

Remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving, too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah?

— Leonard Cohen

I posted a while back about how some love songs have taken on a whole new light now that I’m pregnant; all those romantic words seem to mean something different now. An acquaintance of mine posted a link this morning to Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” in honor of the Christmas season, and the song — even Christmas itself — seems to mean something else to me just now.

The stories of the annunciation, Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus have been favorites of mine for a while, not in a religious context necessarily but as a myth that exists as a very deep part of our culture and shared psyche. Even if you don’t believe in it as part of your spiritual practice, you know the story. I’ve often wondered what it was like for Mary, being told that she would conceive a baby who would become this very important child in the grand scheme of the world, and that she needed to get ready.

In fact, I think in Mary’s shoes I’d be freaked out by that message. At the same time, I wonder if all gestating women couldn’t use the reminder that their child has the potential to be a major player on earth, that their child, as any child, is a miracle of biology, a mystery waiting to happen.

So it feels pretty special to be pregnant at Christmas, to be able to reflect on my own journey in light of this worldwide story about the return of the light and warmth of the sun, about the specialness of birth, to have this life moving inside me.

I’ve quoted Joseph Campbell here before, but another of his quotes is in my mind today:

According to legend, Buddha was born from the right side of his mother. Immediately upon his birth, he stood up and took seven steps, and wherever his feet touched the earth lotuses sprang up. Raising his hand he said: “Worlds above, worlds below, there’s no one in the world like me.”

Finally, Suzuki elaborated. “They tell me that when a baby is born, it cries. What does the baby say when it cries? The baby says ‘Worlds above, worlds below, there’s no one in the world like me!’ All babies are Buddha babies.” So what was the distinguishing characteristic of Queen Maya’s baby? He knew that he was a Buddha baby. According to Joseph Campbell, “The whole thing of Buddha consciousness means getting to know you are it. That takes a lot of work, principally because society keeps telling you that you are not it.”

Our friends Dave and Penny had a baby girl this morning, two days before her due date. Happy congratulations to them — and a good holiday to everyone else.
— Beth

And you shall know me by my trail of string-cheese wrappers

If there’s one thing I’ve been worried about constantly in pregnancy (and this has mostly been a very low-level worry as these things go), it’s been getting enough nutrients. The three you allegedly need most in pregnancy is calcium, iron and folate. Folate’s been easy — take an extra supplement. But most iron supplements cause godawful constipation and most calcium supplements leave me feeling ready to toss my cookies, so I’ve tried to get those through diet.

Iron? Maybe I’ll come back to iron. But after I heard of at least one friend whose teeth started crumbling in her second pregnancy due to calcium deficiency, I knew I was going to have to basically make this baby by eating dairy several times a day.

I’m a reporter, which means I need to be on the go at a moment’s notice. But I’m also pregnant, allergic to gluten and have blood-sugar issues. This not only means I have to have portable snacks with me, it means they can’t be a cookie or even a granola bar. My solution has been string cheese — it’s filling, can sit in your purse for several hours without getting too gross, and has lots of calcium. Also, in early pregnancy it was one of the few things that made me feel less nauseated rather than more.

However, because I’m pregnant I’ve also been leaving things in strange places only to find them later, and this includes the empty string-cheese wrappers that I’ve stuffed somewhere after I finish the cheese and go back to dashing for a Muni bus or getting a behind-the-scenes zoo tour. Weeks or sometimes months later, I find these wrappers and try to remember how they got there. I find them in my pockets, in my purse, in my shopping bags, even in my desk drawers.

I realize this is probably par for the course for some people, but as someone who in pre-pregnancy NEVER put something in a location and then forgot about it, it’s still a bit bizarre and alien. Like: Who put this here?! And then the lightbulb comes on: Oh. *I* put this here. It’s a little like meeting the alternate version of you that comes out of the time-machine in one of those confusing low-budget science-fiction movies. I don’t recognize the me that leaves food-wrappers in random places.

But I guess it’s probably good practice for the rest of my life, which I anticipate will involve finding a lot of random things in places I never expected. At least most of those will probably belong to the baby.

— Beth

Welcome to the third trimester

I’ve kind of been in denial about entering my third trimester of pregnancy. I mean, it’s the long, dark tea-time of backaches, sore belly, heartburn, shortness of breath and swollen ankles, right?

At 27 weeks I could argue that no, it was still the second trimester. By 28, I was convinced I was just barely on the cusp. But last Friday, at 28 and a half weeks, while my midwife and I were waiting for my high-carb meal to digest so she could test my blood-sugar level and tell whether or not I had gestational diabetes, she said, “If you’re having this test and getting your Rhogam shot, you’re in your third trimester.” I’ll be 29 weeks tomorrow.

For what it’s worth, I’m not gestationally diabetic and I’m getting my Rhogam shot on Tuesday.

I keep having this sensation of time speeding up as my due date draws closer, which explains why I’m stressing out about getting everything ready while Devin keeps reminding me that we still have nearly three months to go. I’ve busied myself with getting the components of our home-birth kit together, which is almost complete now. This weekend I started worrying about what kinds of thermometers and baby shampoo we’re going to need. We already have a crib, along with some bedding and an adorable fleece snowsuit thing that I can’t wait to put the baby in.

Yesterday was my first real day of extended physical discomfort — the baby had crammed itself into my right side for some reason, pulling the front ligaments on one side and my sciatic nerve on the other, plus I was just feeling worn down and moody. Overnight, I was woken at one point by the tapping of small but insistent hands, letting me know I’d rolled over onto my belly in my sleep and telling me to knock it off already. This afternoon, while attempting to write a news story, a series of sharp kicks were delivered to my right side that left me gasping. It’s tough not to feel how present and imminent this baby really is.

(As an aside, I had an amusing experience at a press conference last week, which I attended to gather some comments from the San Francisco mayor for a story I was working on. Standing with the other reporters, waiting for my turn to interrogate him, the baby started kicking forcefully against the top of my belly. I wanted to focus on it, but I didn’t want to miss my shot at the mayor. There are so many ways in which pregnancy could be subtitled “10 months of divided consciousness,” and this is just one of them. However, I’m pleased to report that when it came my turn to talk to him, he turned out not to be one of those people who randomly touches pregnant women’s bellies.)

Devin and I have already taken the first of our baby-prep classes. Last weekend we did a two-hour workshop on cloth diapering, where we learned about the environmental benefits and drawbacks of cloth (home washing or paid service) compared to disposables. Disposables are shockingly bad, in more ways than I imagined. I already knew about the landfill issue (apparently we toss something like 450 billion disposable diapers per year), and the dioxins used to bleach them. I didn’t know about the chemicals used to absorb wetness, which not only heat up and could cause testicular damage to baby boys, but also absorb groundwater once they make it to the landfill.

To my relief, a diapering service is more efficient water-wise by about 40% than washing at home, which is good because I could have nightmares about my life turning into nothing more than the endless washing of poopy diapers. Also to my relief, when it came time to practice actually diapering a baby (OK, a plastic baby-shaped doll), folding and wrapping the diaper around the baby came pretty easily for me. Plus, instead of safety pins we now have these little clip things that are easier to fasten on with one hand, plus diaper covers are much cuter and easier since the invention of velcro (no more horrid elastic-leg rubber pants!). I say “to my relief,” because — in addition to not wanting to buy a new car or contribute to the purchase of brand-new baby clothes and linens — we are trying to be environmentally conscious about the whole diaper thing, too, and having it be easy(ish) really helps.

In the coming months, we’ll also have classes in infant/child CPR and first aid, newborn care and parenting, and of course the obligatory six weeks of birth-prep lessons. In the meantime, we’re having a series of group visits with our midwives where we hang out in a room with a bunch of other expectant parents due between late January and early March. Because it’s a small world, one of the couples includes a man I’ve written news articles about and his wife, who does something related to affordable housing in the city, which means it’s only a matter of coincidence that I haven’t interviewed her yet.

And then there’s everything we haven’t figured out yet, such as who will be our pediatrician, when my last week of work will be, and, oh, what we’re going to name the baby. For starters.

— Beth

In a thrift store

Beth: “Everything is funnier when you’re imagining putting a placenta in it.”

Things we considered:

  • Polished wooden bowl
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Jello mold
  • Bento tray
  • Tall, thin-necked brandy decanter
  • Bowling bag
  • Outboard motor


One of the things I’m really looking forward to in fatherhood is the part where you know everything.

Not the teenage variant, I mean. That’s when the Seed will know everything, and Beth’s and my main purposes in life will be finding new and exciting ways to embarrass it. Those years might be a lot of fun too, if we’ve loosened up enough to enjoy them by that point.

But, no. I’m thinking here of the period many children seem to go through where they start asking the reasons for things. How things work, why they’re that way. What other alternatives are available. Either they ask, or they just get interested, thus providing a wonderful opportunity for Parental Involvement, which I’m told is important if you want to keep your children from simply turning into teenage drunk driving statistics or Blink 182 fans.

Some combination of genetics and my upbringing made me a person who gets into how things work, what’s inside them, and a bit later in life, the underlying principles governing their operation, and the reasons for their existence. It helped a lot later in life and it makes the world more interesting. The Seed might not turn out like that, but I’m really hoping that it does take an analogous interest in the world, and that our child will be the sort of person who isn’t satisfied with the basic facts of the world without also knowing the reasons.

I fantasize about being the fatherly equivalent of Wikipedia — the great informational enabler who, when asked a question, knows the answer, with lots of conversational hypertext to answer all the related questions too. And a bit later, when my educated or eventually wild speculations at the answers no longer satisfy, the father who will take you off to the real Wikipedia or the library or the actual real-life subject to find out the answer. We could spent whole weekends on the real-life equivalent of three hours of fascinated clicking.

I fantasize about being the father who never has to resort to saying “because that’s the way it is.”

– Devin

Wayward nesting

As Devin mentioned, we managed to get half the office pretty much cleared out. It doesn’t really look cleared out at the moment because it’s got a bunch of empty shelves and things, and some random stuff where the crib will go, and a baby swing, and so on. On top of which, we haven’t actually acquired most of our baby furniture yet, though I suspect that’ll happen over the next month or so.

For now, it kind of looks like this:

So there’s the swing (with the hard drives still in it from Devin’s experiments). To the right is a stack of artwork we still need to frame and put on the walls. To the left is the tall bookshelf where we’ve been storing the first baby stuff, including all the adorable things from Devin’s babyhood, a bunch of stuffed animals, and the beginnings of our home birth kit (towels and receiving blankets at this point, mostly).

The second and third trimesters are supposed to be a time of hardcore nesting. Neither of us has ever really enjoyed shopping, or furnishing apartments, or decorating, so it’s a bit haphazard.

In fact, as far as I can tell, about 99% of my “nesting urge” has so far gone toward baking. Perhaps it’s hormones, or perhaps it’s the fact that I stumbled on a really excellent recipe site, but in the past couple of months I’ve made pumpkin bread, chocolate-chip cookies, chocolate-peanut-butter-shortbread bars (I wish I’d gotten photos of those), cheese biscuits, apple-cranberry tarts, and mini cheesecakes, and I’m already planning my next baking foray.

This wouldn’t seem so misguided — in the sense that one day I’m planning to be a mom who bakes with her child — except for the fact that I’m trying not to eat too many sweets in pregnancy (or in general) (and especially not before my gestational diabetes test) (which is this coming Friday). I keep bringing batches of sweets to work — to the point where I’m actually beginning to wonder whether my co-workers find it annoying rather than generous.

Don’t get me wrong. I trust that the baby’s room will come together more or less in time for the little one’s actual arrival, but in the meantime I’m more likely to be found in the kitchen hunched over the stand mixer than in the furniture store, or scouring Craigslist for bargains.

— Beth

The View from in Here

We haven’t got the space for all that much baby apparatus, but Beth had decided that she probably wanted an infant swing, to improve the odds she’d be able to keep the Seed asleep or placid long enough to get little bits of work done. A neighbor was giving one away, so I went and collected it. It’s been sitting in our office/baby’s room for a week now. Periodically I’ve turned it on to watch it for a moment, speculate on how the gearing works, and be amused by the wretched electronic music it can play.

It does swing somewhat energetically, though. Which got me wondering what the experience of being in there was actually like. So I stuck the camera in there to find out.

The tunes it can beep out, incidentally, are: Rock-a-bye baby, Für Elise, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, one I don’t recognize, and Toyland (which I hadn’t realized was a Supremes song, and it lessens my opinion of them). It takes horrible liberties with all of them, and not just in the beeping aspect. Every song has extra little melodic flourishes and fills, particularly Für Elise. Some unsolicited advice to anyone out there who’s being paid to program music into such a device: when you’re adding fill notes to anything that will be played on a piece of baby furniture, you’re lacking appropriate outlets for your creative impulses. Get yourself a cheap MIDI keyboard and a myspace page or something and stop fucking up Beethoven. It may be a bagatelle, but it’s still a song for a woman who’s going to reject you, despite your cheery little trills and knowledge of hexadecimal arithmetic. If you need to victimize a helpless tune, try Toyland — it’s a hundred bytes ahead on the same Flash ROM.

Fortunately, the music is optional, and when loaded down with a cast-iron skillet and ten pounds of hard drives, the swing is a bit more reasonably paced. Though I still may get seasick watching the thing.

– Devin

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