One important thing to keep in mind about having babies is that you will need a lot more stuff. I know what you're thinking--you're thinking, ``I've been collecting stuff for twenty or thirty years. I've got plenty of stuff.'' You're wrong. What you don't understand is that you've been collecting kid stuff and grown-up stuff--but babies need baby stuff. And lots of it. Your stuff simply will not do.
  Dawn began our quest for stuff early on by collecting catalogs which fairly quickly used to wind up lining our paper recycling bin. Suddenly this former garbage was lying on the kitchen table, coffee table, computer desk, drafting table, couch, nightstand, bed, and the floor--mostly on the floor after any time I needed to use the kitchen table, coffee table, computer desk, drafting table, couch, nightstand or bed. And when the catalogs weren't turning my living room into a glossy-coated skating rink Dawn was calling me over or sticking them under my nose pointing to one piece of stuff or another:
  ``Look at this, isn't it great?''
  ``Honey,'' I'd answer, ``we don't need a screen tent.''
  ``It's not a screen tent, it's a playpen.''
  Most of these things are, of course, not for men. It's clear from the design that whoever made them wasn't thinking of men at the time. These things are all cutesy-wootsy and pastel. I'm not interested in cutesy-wootsy. And pastels make my head hurt. Frills and lace make me think of Victorian petticoats and stern headmistresses, not kids. In fact, Victorian petticoats and stern headmistresses are about as far from babies as I think you can get, which means frills and lace are only just a couple of steps closer.
  Perhaps I was brought up in an odd manner--scratch that, I know my parents and I was certainly brought up in an odd manner--but when I think of kids I don't think of sweetness and light and ruffles and bows. I think of dirt. I think of mud and diapers and dustbunnies from under the bed and crawling through the dirty clothes hamper and playing with bugs and spit-up and skinned knees and elbows. I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, not Mister Rogers and certainly not Little Bo Peep.
  But most of these things Dawn has shown me are flawlessly clean and clearly impossible to maintain so. They're all white and light blue and light pink and maybe lemon meringue. Even Little Bo Peep would be appalled at the cute quotient on these things--she was a shepherdess, after all. I doubt she even wore all those lacy bloomers she's always got on in those childrens' books illustrations. She probably got them as gifts from her well-meaning mother who was browsing through catalogs and thought, ``Oh, how perfect for my little girl.''
  Let's face it: Even adorable little girls are going to vomit and they're not concerned about whether their Christian Dior bibs are dry-clean only. Ralph Lauren sheets will not prevent overnight diaper leaks. And no matter how awesome a pair of Nike Air Jordan Juniors you get your one-month old, they are not going to be playing basketball any time soon--those sneakers are food catchers and not much else.
  In fact, it's my opinion that all of these things are designed with what I call the Squeak Reflex in mind. Otherwise sober and stolid women have even been known to succumb to the Squeak Reflex, which is what happens when they see something that looks just like it usually does only much smaller and they squeak, ``Oh, how cute!'' Little overalls: ``Oh, how cute!'' Little shoes: ``Oh, how cute!'' Little mittens with kittens sewn on them: ``Oh, oh, how cute!'' Of course, all I see: Big prices. Oh, here we go again.

But I'm the dad and it says right here I'm supposed to be supportive, even if that means smiling and nodding at stuff I wouldn't use to clean my car's dipstick and agreeing heartily, ``That's great, honey, when can we get it?'' And it was exactly this kind of hearty agreement that led to my bearding the lion in his own den--that led me into the belly of the beast--that brought me to the brink of the abyss--and remember, if you gaze into the big stuffed giraffe, the big stuffed giraffe gazes also into you.
  Dawn convinced me, I know not how, that the first item on our list should be a crib. Cribs are big stuff and the stuff to start with, it seems.
  ``Let's go look at cribs,'' she suggested. ``We need to go look at cribs.''
  ``That's great honey,'' I replied, ``when can we go?''
  It turned out to be later that week. We hopped into the family wagon and drove to the den, the belly, the abyss: The Toys 'R' Us Kids World. The Toys 'R' Us Kids World is just down the highway from where we live and it squats, immense and foreboding, off the side of the road. We'd driven past it several times before on our way to one place or another and each time I felt a chill knowing that before long there would be a confrontation: Me against this personification of the Juggernaut of American Consumerism.
  Left to my own devices I probably would never have gone there for anything. Growing up I never went to any Toys 'R' Us. My parents never brought me there so I could drag them through aisle after aisle of towering stacks of toys wailing and whining that I wanted this one or that one. Not even around Christmas time did I ever express a desire to go to Toys 'R' Us. It just wasn't part of my childhood landscape. All of my toy needs were filled by Smiling Sunny's, the little toy store up the street from home. It was small and crowded with toys and boxes and games and when I wanted something, I could save up and make a special trip and brave the cranky old man who maybe owned the place and buy whatever it was I wanted. Smiling Sunny's wasn't big on newfangled toys: It was a place for action figures and dolls and model cars and board games and bicycles. And it was a place that was easy to get lost in, with its nether regions dim and dusty and maze-like. It was a Twilight Zone waiting to happen. And I was depressed to see, when visiting home just a few weeks ago, that it had been replaced by a vegetable store.
  So I was never a big fan of Toys 'R' Us, although I suppose it's hardly to blame for the demise of Smiling Sunny's. Nevertheless, I always felt that Toys 'R' Us was too big, too orderly, and too clean. But our friends Mike and Dyan recommended Toys 'R' Us to us as the place to get all the necessary baby stuff. I thought Toys 'R' Us just sold toys, but I was disabused of this notion when, during our visit to Florida, Mike and Dyan brought us and their daughter out to the store. Toys 'R' Us sells baby furniture and clothes, too, as well as diapers, formula and food. No function of any person under the age of eighteen cannot be equipped during one visit to any given Toys 'R' Us.
  Thus I found myself being dragged, although not literally, to the nearby Toys 'R' Us Kids World in search of a crib and anything else that Dawn could think of while we were there. As we turned into the immense parking lot we were confronted by approximately half of the working-age adolescents of the county in Toys 'R' Us outdoor uniforms directing us to our parking spot. After we parked, we had a short walk during which to appreciate the enormity of the building housing the Toys 'R' Us Kids World. From the highway, with little else around it to give it scale, the building looks merely large. Standing in front of it one realizes that it is, in fact, somewhat larger than your average airplane hangar, which is itself larger than many countries.
  Inside the automatic doors we were dwarfed in the center of a huge vinyl tile mosaic of Geoffrey the Giraffe, the Toys 'R' Us corporate symbol. The roof--well, I'm going to run out of synonyms for ``big'' really quickly. Let me get my thesaurus--okay, here are a bunch of words you can sprinkle liberally around my descriptions of this place: considerable, extensive, hefty, large, major, sizable, hulking, whopping, ample, capacious, roomy, spacious, voluminous. If you can think of any more--or happen to have a better thesaurus handy--feel free to use those too. They all apply. This place was so big, it had its own restaurant inside. And arcade, and photo studio, and hairdressers and even amusement rides. Big ones. And the noise was every bit as tremendous as the building. The air was filled with shouting and crying and clanging and music and cheesy digitized sounds and ringing and thumping, as if we were in the midst of a convention of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades Past that had collided with a Japanese microelectronics exposition.
  We worked our way over to the relative quiet of the furniture area. I say ``area'' because, unlike a traditional department store, nothing in this open space was broken up except by shelves--there were no walls or partitions of any kind. Luckily, children are largely uninterested in furniture, so the furniture area was an island of quietude in an ocean of chaos. The area was arranged as a number of ``bedrooms'', each one a small space defined by a dresser, a crib, and perhaps a changing table and a rocking chair. Each little room was put together from matching furniture with some particular motif based on some set of sheets.
  I'd been expecting this motif of motifs. Motifs are apparently important. They allow people with no idea of what things to buy or what sorts of things match simply to buy one big set of everything and know it will be okay. For example, you may decide to do your baby's decor in Sports Paddington Bear. Then you just buy Sports Paddington Bear sheets, Sports Paddington Bear pillow cases, a Sports Paddington Bear canopy, a Sports Paddington Bear comforter, a Sports Paddington Bear lamp, Sports Paddington Bear wallpaper, and, I guess, Sports Paddington Bear pajamas and carpeting and toilet paper. After all of this you might wonder, ``What does Paddington Bear have to do with sports?'' I'm still wondering the same thing.
  The motif does not, however, necessarily extend to the furniture itself. Of course, the furniture comes in sets also, but it's up to you to put together a set of furniture and a motif. This is pretty easy because all the furniture looks pretty much the same.
  ``Which crib do you like?'' Dawn asked.
  Here I was clearly evaluating cribs with entirely the wrong criteria. ``They're all pretty much the same,'' I said, because they were--to me.
  ``No they're not,'' Dawn countered. ``Do you want one with a back like this or like this? I want one that isn't like this.''
  I looked. As near as I could tell, all of the cribs were different only in superficial ways. I was interested in what the cribs were made out of, and also in the technology behind the mechanism that drops the side. All cribs have a side that drops so you can put the baby in and then pull it back up again to lock them in. The baby can then rattle their cup along the bars and plan their escape like a good prisoner. As carefully as I examined them, I couldn't see any difference in any of the mechanisms and all the cribs appeared to be made out of the same material--a kind of sort of wood. And none of them struck me as very well-made or possessed of particularly elegant solutions to the side-drop mechanism. In fact, all of their mechanisms and materials were identical. The only difference between any two cribs was the shape into which the sort of wood was molded.
  ``Who cares what it looks like?'' I asked, and explained what I was looking for.
  ``But they're all the same,'' she said.
  ``Exactly,'' I replied.
  Dawn found that she had trouble working up a lot of enthusiasm for these cribs as well. She wasn't very impressed with how well-made they were either, which says something, because she's not very particular. If I'm going to pay four hundred dollars for a piece of furniture, I want it to last a couple of generations at least. Dawn's happy if it makes it two years. If that doesn't give you an idea of how shoddy these cribs were, nothing will.
  On our way out we decided to stop and get something to eat in the restaurant. Even the restaurant was aimed at attention-span deficient kids. The sign on the wall read ``Jeepers! Jr.: Food, Fun and a Monkey!'' Somehow, a monkey and food don't strike me as a harmonious juxtaposition. Perhaps for some people in some countries monkeys and food go together, but not for me. As we found a relatively calm corner in which to eat, every television screen in the place--and there were quite a few--blared to life with tootling music, showing a little show that was going on just across the restaurant. Some performers had taken young kids from the audience and dressed them up as various animals and were herding these silent and seemingly sullen children around pretending it was a circus. More noise came from the recorded music and performers than from either the audience or the kids in the costumes, who looked quite perturbed to be dressed as lions and zebras and whatnot and pushed around by grinning adults in heavy makeup. Were these people really children so long ago that they've forgotten what fun is?
  We quickly wrestled down what had been given to us when we asked for pizza, escaped across the mammoth parking lot to our perfectly small car, and drove home to our happily small house where we enjoyed the silence and, well, smallness.

That was not to be my last encounter with the Toys 'R' Us Kids World, either. I had to punish myself at least one more time--martyrdom has always had its appeal for me. In this case, I was going to sacrifice myself for a rocking chair. But not just any rocking chair--no, for a gliding rocking chair. Who wants to rock when they can glide?
  Rocking chairs used to be simple technology. They aren't any more. Then again, just about everything used to be simple technology, and look at the mess we're in now. I have to interact with about eighty electronic appliances which know more about my life then I do before I can even get out the door in the morning. It's no longer enough to simply rock back and forth--now you must glide smoothly forward and back. Rocking, apparently, is just too violent. Gliding is clearly superior. Our first encounter with the superiority of the gliding rocking chair came, once again, while we were in Florida visiting Dyan and Mike. They bought a gliding rocking chair so Dyan or Mike could sit with the baby and glidingly rock, or glide rockingly, or whatever, and thus soothe little Chelsea to sleep. Dawn sat in it once, babyless even, and declared that she had to have one.
  Now, whenever Dawn declares that she has to have something, I make a mental note and put it in the back of my head for when Christmas or her birthday rolls around. Unfortunately, my head being what it is, when Christmas or her birthday rolls around these notes have invariably become lost amidst all the rest of the detritus at the back of my head and I end up buying her a robe or perfume or something else equally thoughtless.
  But not this time. Whoever the office manager in my head is, they like to make my life more interesting. If they think it will make things more difficult for me, rather than lose things they'll make sure they're on the top of the inbox at all times. Apparently this was one of those times, because I remembered all about the gliding rocking chair and I planned to get it for Dawn for Christmas. Planning, however, is not my strong suit, so it was within a week or so of Christmas before I was able to find time to get the chair without Dawn around. She went by train to visit her mother for the day and I was to follow later with Eric, her brother, and Eric's girlfriend, Christine. I planned to stop at the Toys 'R' Us Kids World on the way there.
  This was to be a quick trip--in armed forces parlance, a surgical strike. We were to rush in, grab the chair and its gliding ottoman--you've got to have a gliding ottoman to go with the gliding chair--pay for them and rush back out again. We each had our parts to play: I was to choose the chair and pay for it; Eric was there for carrying anything heavy; and Christine was to lament the fact that she wasn't in a shoe store. We passed the squadron of uniformed adolescents, parked, and inserted according to plan. The plan degenerated from there.
  The first problem was finding a salesperson. This took some doing as they all appeared to be otherwise occupied with wandering around each other in circles. When we finally flagged one down we found that we couldn't just get a chair and ottoman, all we could get was a piece of paper. This piece of paper cost the same as the chair and ottoman, and what we'd have to do was bring that to the cashier and buy it and then bring it to a counter and trade it for the chair and ottoman. I was willing to go along with this because I'm a naturally trusting person. The salesperson went away for a while to check something on the computer and when she came back she informed us that the ottoman was out of stock. As near as I can figure this means that someone came in a bought a gliding ottoman without a gliding chair. I just don't know why. Maybe they were very short and thought they were buying a gliding rocking stool. Well, it was one week before Christmas so I opted for just the gliding rocking chair.
  I took my piece of paper for the chair no ottoman up to the cashier. Optimistically anticipating that I was about to be the proud owner of a new gliding rocking chair, I had Eric and Christine go and get the car and park it just outside the doors and wait for me. I paid for the piece of paper and brought it to a counter to the side. There I was met with two lines: One for large items and one for small items. I got on the line for large items and waited a bit. Shortly I got to the head of the line and was promptly ignored for several minutes. Then someone looked at my piece of paper and told me it would take a few minutes since the item was so large. I agreed to wait, seeing as how I'd paid for the chair already.
  So I waited. And waited. Over the next hour or so about ten different stock persons came up to me, examined my piece of paper, claimed to be going to get my chair, and vanished into the storeroom never to return. Eric and Christine sat in the car outside. Finally someone more managerial than the previous stock persons came up and actually took my piece of paper away and disappeared into the stock room. A half hour later he returned, handed me back my piece of paper, and apologized.
  ``I'm sorry, we can't find it,'' he told me.
  He dutifully gave me a refund and we were on our way, a mere hour and a half later and gliding rocking chairless.
  That wasn't the last of the gliding rocking chair, though. While I had given up on Toys 'R' Us Kids World--not just for the chair and ottoman but for everything--I had not given up on the chair and ottoman themselves. I found similar chairs in the JCPenney catalog and also the Service Merchandise catalog. The two were priced similarly, but the one from JCPenney was wood veneer while the one from Service Merchandise was solid oak. I showed the two catalogs to Eric and asked him which one he thought was best.
  ``I'm an oak man myself,'' he said. ``You like oak, Jimmy? Oak's nice.'' My brother-in-law watches too many movies.
  I tried ordering the chair and ottoman through Service Merchandise. They didn't come in time for Christmas. In fact, we got the call from the store saying they had arrived in February. Happy Valentine's Day!
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