Long gone are the days when parents hired any ol' teenage stoner to watch their kids.
LAVISH AND LACK
I feel embarrassed to be here, I often think. Because I know I'm part of the problem. I didn't come to San Francisco for the money I was born here and spent most of my childhood in that new epicenter of ultraparenting, Noe Valley and I don't have a nursery, a full-size kitchen, or even a hallway in my shared one-bedroom Sunset apartment. (This is not a "poor me" moment; my lifestyle is a choice.) But I did spend $300 on a labor and newborn preparation course, during which I suffered video after video of goopy babies cannonballing forth from untamed bush. I paid a woman $200 to teach me how to breast-feed and another $50 to join a local e-mail list through which upper-crust women seek help in finding dinner party entertainment for hire and live-in au pairs. I can cite Halle Berry's prenatal test results but no statistics from the war in Iraq. I have secretly chuckled at ugly babies. I have wanted to know if your baby can stand alone yet and why she's so much smaller than mine. I've purchased nearly 20 books on pregnancy, breast-feeding, natural birth, cosleeping, infant health, starting solids, potty training, how to stay hot, and how to fix my gut.
Pediatric records indicate I was not reared by wild dogs, yet I can't figure out how to assume the most primal of all roles motherhood without hitting the ATM.
In her 2007 manifesto against the $20 billion baby-to-toddler industry and the disastrous effects it has on our children, Buy, Buy Baby (Houghton Mifflin) author Susan Gregory Thomas credits Gen X's overspending and unhealthy micromanaging to the way in which we, the products of broken homes and TVs as babysitters, were raised: "The commercialization and neglect of young people results not only in fears of abandonment and bank-breaking shopping habits in adulthood to fill the void but also in a deep, neurotic sense of attachment to, and protection of, one's own children and home."
Gregory Thomas's assessment strikes me as painfully true and spurs the question: what kind of people will our babies become? Will they, as older children and adults, invariably expect and demand the best, no matter the appropriateness of the circumstance? Will they be terrified of public schools and public transportation and worse people with a different color skin? How will they ever travel abroad, and will they condescend to people who have less? Surely the parents who buy their baby the $1,700 Moderne crib intend only to give their child the finest they can offer. Every child is worthy of that grand intention. Yet, as my friend and mother-mentor Billee Sharp pointed out, the more extravagant the gifts, the harder the parents must work to provide them, resulting in less time spent with their kids. Lavishness, in this sense, becomes empty compensation for a shortage of available love.
IT TAKES AN INTERNET?
Being a new parent is much harder than it seems. If we're overcompensating, it's largely because we don't know what else to do. If it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when all you have is DSL? During my pregnancy and the first three months of my daughter's life, my husband and I lived in relative isolation in Brooklyn, away from family and a network of close friends that could offer knowledge and day-to-day help. The books, the classes, and the breast-feeding consultant filled the gaps that real support would have provided. (I certainly had two boobs but no idea where to put them: In the baby's mouth? Are you serious?) In the absence of genuine community, we follow the only guidelines available to us and do the best we can manage.