And yet we still had no more stuff. People were starting to look at us funny. ``What have you got for the baby?'' people asked, and we were forced to admit, ``Nothing.'' We had no baby stuff. But it wasn't our fault. The main problem was we were waiting for the baby shower.
In case you're from another country or planet where they don't have baby showers, let me explain my conception of this event. The baby shower is a party given by the female friends of the woman who is expecting. In this case, she is both expecting a baby and a baby shower, because while the baby shower is traditionally a surprise party, the women planning it are traditionally ninnies who can't keep a secret. That is, they can't seem to keep a secret from themselves or my wife, but they've done a good job of keeping a secret from me since I have no idea of when the baby shower is. And this is fine with me, as the main purpose of baby showers is for the female friends of the pregnant woman to give as many gifts as possible evoking the Squeak Reflex in as many of the women guests as possible. Although I have never personally attended a baby shower, I can give you a verbatim transcript of any arbitrary shower:
``Oh, little booties! Oh, how cute! Oh, awww, a little hat! Oh, look, this outfit all goes together! Awww! Is this tea decaf?''
Repeat as necessary.
Anyway, the theory is that by the end of the baby shower we will have enough cute widdle outfits--about a hundred--and cute widdle baby things--an arbitrarily large number--to last us at least a week after the baby arrives. After that we're on our own. But until the shower we won't know what we'll be getting, so we can't buy anything because we don't want doubles. Two strollers might be overkill, two cribs certainly is. While my wife and I are not small people, I doubt that our baby will be that fat. At least at first.
Now, there's a system for making sure you don't end up with two people bringing the same gift to the baby shower. It's called registering. Registering means going to some store which is near everyone you know or might have known who might try and buy you a gift and writing down everything you want from it. Then the store places this information into their computer and every time one of your friends or relatives comes to buy you a gift for your shower they give your name and find a gift from your list. Then that gift is removed from the list so the next person won't buy the same thing.
That's the theory. The reality is more like this: You pick a store which has a register for this sort of thing. You go there and are confused by the plethora of choices that don't matter one whit to you. For example, do you know what kind of comb you want for your baby? How about what kind of cotton swabs? They're on the list. So are some logical impossibilities: A Stationary Walker, for example. In case you were wondering how you could walk and yet not get anywhere, now you know what you need. Have you given thought to a nasal aspirator? And I'm sure you've picked out a kimono or two for the baby already. All these things and more are on the registry list. Quick, pick out a good one.
After wandering around in confusion trying to decide on cotton swabs for a few hours, you simply scribble in the most expensive brand of everything because you figure if anyone's dumb enough to buy it for you you're dumb enough to use it. Then your list gets entered into the computer where it is quickly correlated with your entire financial history and sold on the open market so companies with Satanic pacts ensuring profitability can combine your personal information with detailed market-savvy profiles describing your every nuance of taste so you can get enough glossy free advertisements for things you never even considered wanting in the mail to level the entire Brazilian rainforest which you might use to clean up after your dog but more likely will simply throw away immediately and biweekly lug to the curb in twenty-pound bushels. Somehow amidst all of this your register itself will be lost. This is okay, though, because no one you know is going to buy your gift where you registered anyway--that store is too expensive and nowhere near anyone and they support the destruction of the rainforest. Everyone will find some excuse to shop where they damn well please and they will all buy pretty much the same stuff, which is cute widdle outfits that make everyone say ``Awww.''
Nevertheless, Dawn insisted that we go out and register. Not too many stores around where we live have registers for baby showers, though, so we were forced to choose between Toys 'R' Us and a place called the Baby Superstore. I decreed that, after my experiences with them, we would register at Toys 'R' Us only over my feeling-under-the-weather body (there are few things I feel so strongly about that they require my death). Therefore we were left with making a trip all the way south to the closest Baby Superstore, which is about an hour away.
Up to this point I thought the Baby Superstore was where one went to buy babies. In fact, back when we were having trouble getting pregnant I thought we'd solve all our problems by just dropping in to the Baby Superstore and picking up a good baby--nothing too expensive, but something dependable and maybe a little sporty. But it turns out that once again I was wrong. The one thing the Baby Superstore does not sell is babies. So much for truth in advertising.
Now this time we were better prepared. We'd already seen quite a few cribs and spoken to a number of people about their babies and their babies' baby stuff. We were advised to bang around anything we might want to buy and make certain it didn't feel in the least bit shaky--anything less than rock-solid was bound to disintegrate under the full baby assault no doubt arriving soon. For example, our friends Adam and Christy warned us to shake every crib we considered because their baby daughter Rebecca--whom we fondly refer to as the Baby That Ate Tokyo--shook her crib to pieces one day. She was less than five months old at the time.
Thus bolstered with further knowledge of baby stuff we set off for the Baby Superstore. Somehow we timed our visit perfectly so that there were almost no other customers in the store besides us. Aside from its size--the Baby Superstore was big but not anywhere near the size of the Toys 'R' Us Kids World--and its peacefulness this store wasn't much different from the last one. We dutifully picked up a clipboard and registry sheet and pencil and proceeded to work our way through the store.
Once again we started with cribs. And once again the cribs were set up in little ``bedrooms'' with motifs and once again they were all crap. Just to make sure they were crap we gave a bunch of them a good shake. After that I would be afraid to put a baby with gas in one of those cribs--one good fart and you'd have a baby sitting in a pile of kindling.
We spent a lot of time on the cribs, wandering around dejectedly, hoping against all hope that there really was some choice in the crib world. We nattered around, poking here and there, looking for some small sign that set one crib however slightly apart from the others so we could justify buying it, but we could find nothing. Then, we saw it.
It looked nothing like the others. It stood, apart yet not aloof, alone yet inviting. Even from a distance it was clearly made of actual wood, not wood byproducts. Dawn and I approached it cautiously, slowly, carefully, afraid that we might frighten it. When we were close enough, we reached out tentatively and pet it. Its varnish was smooth, its wood light. As we gained its trust we explored it more completely: This crib had an attached dresser and some drawers underneath it. It could convert into a small bed and then into a regular bed as our baby grew up. The side mechanism was revolutionary--it could be operated with only one hand, unlike the others which required two or more. It was fantastically expensive.
It was love at first sight. Dawn and I immediately put it down on our registry list: One KinderKraft crib. Not far away was a KinderKraft changing table which could convert into an art desk. How ingenious! We put that down too.
We felt we were on a roll. The next item on the list was a crib mattress. I checked the price of the crib again. Sure enough, the price did not include a mattress. Dawn and I moved on the mattress section with the careful specifications of our chosen crib in hand: 27 1/4'' by 51 5/8'' no thicker than 6''.
Our roll was halted at the mattresses. Given the precise specifications of our crib, you'd think the mattresses would have a label with that information on them. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. I consider length, width, and height to be pretty important dimensions on a mattress--possibly the only important dimensions on a mattress. The mattress companies disagree. They think the most important dimension is the number of coils. Unfortunately, nowhere do they give the size of a coil, so I couldn't even convert from coils to inches. And I forgot my tape measure at home.
We agonized over mattresses for a few minutes. I was particularly upset by the fact that these baby mattresses cost almost as much as the adult one my wife and I sleep on. But then Dawn and I remembered something important: We weren't buying any of this stuff. This was just for the registry. We scribbled in the most expensive mattress we could find and moved on to the next item on our list: the bedding set.
Now we were braving the world of the motifs. What motif would work for our baby? What precise color scheme will cause him to grow up to be Albert Einstein or Jonas Salk and which one will make him a psychopathic mass-murderer or a lawyer? What patterns will soothe him and what patterns will annoy him or give him nightmares? Most importantly, what can we buy that he won't look back on when he's grown up and say, ``Mom, Dad, what were you thinking?''
The answer is, of course, nothing. He's going to say that no matter what we buy him. So I figured we might as well go with the ugliest bedding set we could find. And I found an ugly one. It was fish. Loud, tropically colored fish. There wasn't a pastel within three miles of this design. Blue, orange, yellow, green, all in profusion. This bedding set clashed with itself like a pair of day-glo cymbals at an all-day performance of the 1812 Overture. This bedding set was just about the least baby-like bedding set I have ever seen. I thought it was great. Dawn thought it was great. It cost more than the mattress. Realizing that there are limits even on imaginary spending, we went back and reviewed our bedding set decision.
All the other choices struck us both as too cute. The unisex bedding sets were in mixed pink and blue pastels with bunnies and teddy bears and fluffy clouds and things on them. And the bedding sets for boys were all full of footballs and baseballs and hockey sticks. Even Snoopy had gotten in to the act: The only Snoopy set was a golfing Snoopy set.
``These are okay,'' Dawn said, ``but I don't want to pressure him.''
``Don't want to pressure him?'' I asked.
``Yeah,'' Dawn said, ``I don't want to make him feel like he's got to be good at sports.''
``I think,'' I said evenly, ``he's going to be a little young for that kind of pressure. I don't think he'll notice. Anyway, my entire bedroom was done in basketball when I was a kid, and I never felt the urge to play well.''
She had to agree. Dawn, after all, is the sportsman in the family. But we finally settled on Paddington Bear. Not Sports Paddington Bear, mind you, but Paddington Bear. I always rather liked Paddington.
That settled, we moved on down the aisles to the strollers. Having watched our friends make use of their technologically advanced strollers, we were certain we wanted one. These new technologically advanced strollers have a detachable baby seat which can be made into a car seat or just a baby carrier. Finally, these are devices that were made for men. They're just like the toys we used to play with when we were kids, the spaceships with the detachable escape pods and docking stations. They're cool.
Unfortunately, after dragging them down from their display positions and playing with them for a while, Dawn and I--with our two science degrees and detailed engineering educations--found that these strollers were too technologically advanced for us. We couldn't get the seats off. We pressed everything we could press, pulled everything we could pull, twisted and turned and cajoled and banged and jumped up and down, all to no avail. Every model was completely different and all of them responded to our attacks in exactly the same way: By stubbornly remaining a whole stroller instead of coming apart into a stroller shell with detachable baby seat. Both Dawn and I took turns manipulating the buttons, tangling our fingers up like guitarists learning inverted chords, tying ourselves up in knots trying to push and pull simultaneously, but, although perhaps amusing, our efforts got us nowhere. Then, as if by magic, through our giggles of frustration and silliness, we suddenly understood how these things worked. It was like a revelation, like some hormone had activated some part of our DNA, some part marked ``Parenting Instinct,'' and this had opened whole new sections of our brains heretofore closed to us. In one bright burst of understanding the two of us began to act in perfect coordination unlocking and lifting the seats out.
``This is awesome,'' I exclaimed, finally getting it. ``Let's do this all day!'' I commenced to re-attach and then remove the seat several times in succession.
Thusly armed with our new comprehension, we went back and re-evaluated the various strollers and picked the one we liked best. Then we moved on, choosing a play pen and a highchair and a swing and a baby backpack and sundry other little items we thought we might want: baby wipes warmer and diaper pail and baby mirror and diaper holder and wipes holder. I found something called a ``doorway jumper'' which looked like a little seat with a long spring attached to the top. You're supposed to clamp the spring onto a door jamb and put your baby in the seat and they bounce themselves up and down until they puke. It struck me as an odd device made all the more odd by the way it was hung for display: They had put it so the clamp hung upside down. It made it look like you clamped the spring onto the baby's head. I demonstrated and clamped it on my own head.
``Now what's the point of this?'' I asked Dawn, bouncing up and down gently.
``You're sick,'' my wife informed me.
It wasn't much longer before we'd listed everything we really cared about. We were getting tired of looking at all this stuff. But our registry list was barely touched. Even all the things we'd found hardly made a dent in all the things we were supposed to buy. We looked down at the list, demoralized and exhausted with an hour-long ride home still ahead of us. It hardly seemed worth the disk space to add our paltry few items to the registry computer. So we surreptitiously folded the list and stuck it in Dawn's purse and walked stealthily out of the store unregistered.
We were still stuffless. But now we had a list.