Raising A Baby In The Olden Days

Susan Page
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Wednesday - November 16, 2011
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If you had your children before 1980, this will come as no shock: I did not put my young children in seat belts.

If you’re a modern parent, you’re likely choking on your quinoa salad at the notion of toddlers rambling unrestrained around the backseat of a car. You, whose little ones are legally mandated to be tightly bound into a seat designed for astronauts and 14th century French torture victims. You, who used to own nice cars but can now only afford nice car seats.

To my credit, my un-seatbelted children, while totally unsafe, at least honed balancing skills that prepared them for circus life, though unfortunately neither joined.

Mind you, I don’t defend our generation’s dearth of parental judgment in this regard (Baby Boomers are unfairly accused of abject recklessness in all things).

Truth is, we just didn’t know better. As children, we rode in the backs of pickup trucks and ran around neighborhoods till dark (without cell phones!) much as our own parents did.

Another shocker: Until 1984, no major seat belt law existed in the US.

At this moment, I’m at my daughter’s home in Virginia.

She just gave birth to her second daughter, and I’m here to help and also to pass judgment. “Back in my day, we ...” But much as I try to prize our old ways as better, I actually strain to remember those distant baby years.

I do know, though, that we owned no major equipment. Let’s compare:

Stroller: Today it’s a transformer-type vehicle (too complex for grandma to unlock the brakes, for example). It accommodates a baby car seat and another front jump seat for another child with space below for grandma’s six pack, I mean bottles of Evian. Price: $500 to $600. Prices for car seats range from basic model for $50 to $1,000 or more for a Baby Jogger that Hollywood movie stars buy for their Shih Tzus. Before 1980, baby was carried in parent’s arms. Toddler walked. Price: free.

Note: We owned a rarely used, heavy baby carriage with wheels that didn’t “do” stairs. It also had a flimsy, totally unsafe “umbrella stroller,” which thankfully my son doesn’t remember falling out of on his head.

Car seats: Today they differ according to a child’s size/age. It includes straps over the shoulders and up around the crotch and locks into a unit that has forced grandma to the nail salon twice in one week. Price: $100 to $250. Before 1980, parents used discipline: “Sit down or when we get home you’ll have to go to your room!” Options: spanking or cookie bribe. These work when consistency is applied. Price: free, except for potential hospital visit.

Calming devices: Today, kids have baby swing, baby bouncer, Exersaucer. Price: $25 to $200 with hundreds of choices. Before 1980: parent or grandparent rocking baby in rocking chair. Priceless.

Travel: Today, there’s Pack n Play, travel crib. Pre-1980: Blanket on the floor. Price: cheap.

Slings and packs: Today, Baby Bjorn pack carriers go for $50 to $150. Then: Daddy’s shoulders. Free.

*Note: Slings, or long fabric wraps to tuck baby into, have been around for centuries and are still used in most Asian, African and European nations because they’re cheap and practical. In the early 1990s, the modern pouch carrier was created in Hawaii. (Yay for us!). Pre-1980: Wish I’d had sense enough to use this simple invention.

Here in the living room of my daughter’s house sit four baby devices. The expensive converti-stroller is locked in the baby garage in back. I will say that most of these pieces of “essential” equipment were designed by former children who played with Transformers. (One can change into a coffee table, another a full kitchen. No, not really).

Despite being official “judger-in-chief,” I must confess if I were a 2011 mother, I’d have all these things and probably more, succumbing to the modern marketing lie that more technology makes life easier. Then I’d forget to use them and sit in the rocking chair cradling the baby and my yet-to-be-used ipad wondering how “progress” has made us this dependent ... and broke.

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