I Am My Own Child (Aesthetically Speaking)

THE EAST VILLAGE MAMELE

By Marjorie Ingall

Published May 20, 2005, issue of May 20, 2005.

In the not-a-news-flash department: We live in an era in which children are accessories. They are like fabulous Birkin bags, only stickier. Now more than ever before, you can express your aesthetic, whatever it may be, through your child’s clothing and gear. Are you a nasal Juicy Couture-clad label whore? A hip-hop hoodio who covets an invitation to Puffy’s or Diddy’s or Doody’s or whatever he’s calling himself these days’s White Party? An aggressively punk-rock individualist who enjoys ostentatious public beer-drinking while visibly pregnant? No worries — you can outfit your progeny in your own image!

But excuse me if I must ask a question. Or four. Are you your child? Are you, in actual fact, aware that you are two separate individuals? Do you enjoy treating a poor defenseless human like a show pony? How porous is that membrane between you and your spawn?

Let’s start with this whole high design/modernism movement for kids. Oh-so-clean. Oh-so-streamlined. You do know that your child prefers hideous plastic crap, right? Oui, that mono-stripe, brown-and-pale-blue Oeuf bouncy seat with satin chrome frame ($110) is minimalist and gorgeous. But have you signed up for the fact that without the tiny bridge of hideosity known as a “toy bar” and its dangling ornaments of clanging, beeping primary-colored bug-eyed fugliness, your bouncy seat will not entertain your child long enough to allow you to take a shower? Which is, as far as I am concerned, the whole point of a bouncy seat? Oh, that Blu Dot modular furniture is surely snazzy, but the open, airy design does not actually hide toys. Not so useful for real-world children, unless you have your own little set of Oompah Loompahs constantly straightening the nursery, lining up the vintage copies of the Oz books, making sure the Steiff bunny flops just so, purging the home of anything aesthetically objectionable even if it is pure crack to children (Thomas trains; Chicken Dance Elmo; anything from those tacky, tacky people at Fisher-Price). Yes, the chic Eames-y Netto Collection stained-ash-and-white lacquer crib with its three linen-and-leather storage boxes that slide underneath, for $1,685, is ravishing, no doubt. But can you pull out and open one of those linen boxes with one hand while stooping — and holding a puke-covered baby — to pull out a new set of coolly minimalist Dwell crib sheets? Can you put those sheets on the crib even though the side doesn’t drop down? (Apparently having crib sides that drop, while eminently practical, nay, one might say, essential, would ruin the fabulous lines of the furniture.) Can you do all this while still holding the effluvia-covered muffin? How do you get vomit stains out of a linen box? Or does your household staff just take care of that for you?

Do you dream of outfitting your wee person in Burberry jumpers and twee, wee cashmere Lucien Pellat-Finet sweaters adorned with knitted-in marijuana leaves? Have you more money than sense? Do your infant’s levels of comfort and itch interest you? (Wool and fragile new skin go together like chalk and cheese.) Far be it from me to concern myself with your dry-cleaning bills, but on a related note, if the National Institutes of Health consider perchloroethylene unhealthy for adults, do you think that it and other dry-cleaning chemical residues are better for itty-bitty babies and their still-developing nervous systems?

And oh, the stroller wars. Between the Bugaboos and the Stokkes, some evil marketing genius cleverly figured out how to get men involved in the shopping frenzy by turning strollers into gotta-have-it technology. Which is the subject for a whole other column.

See, now it sounds like I’m anti-consumerist. (Okay, I sort of am. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Except for the fetching gazillion-dollar Oilily booties I rilly, rilly want — and it’s not that I’m incredibly bitter that I can’t afford them, it’s that I have better values than rich people. Ah, yes. That’s it.) My larger point here is not that spending vast sums of money on something that will be outgrown in a few months is bad. (It is. But that is not my point.) It’s that my generation seems largely unable to separate self from child. Parents have always seen their kids as a reflection of themselves and of their values… but perhaps not quite so much as a reflection of their aesthetic sense. Maybe because many of us waited so long to have kids, we’ve had the time to stew about what we want them to look like and who we want them to be. Because these days, aesthetics and values seem more tied together than ever before. Tell me what you wear (and sit on), and I will tell you who you are, to paraphrase Brillat-Savarin.

And I’m as guilty as the next person who’s spent far too much time in thrift stores. Taking my kid to Jane’s Exchange (my fave junior-level consignment shop), forcing her to watch Pee-wee Herman’s old TV show instead of “The Wiggles,” claiming the TiVo “doesn’t get” “Barney.” You don’t have to be all about stuff and acquisition to want your kid to look… well, like you. I beam when I see Josie in her Converse high tops. I was secretly pleased when she came up with the notion of wearing pants under dresses, so she looked like a groovy little Japanese student at New York University.

But pride in your kid’s ability to look like a homeless person can also go too far. If you tell everyone that the first album you bought was Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” or that you almost saw the Ramones at CB’s when you were still in high school but you couldn’t get a ride in from the Island, you can now shop at mypunkbaby.com for black crib sheets covered in skulls, or feel oh-so-edgy when you dress your spawn in a “They Shake Me” onesie from T-Shirt Hell. Sites like thecradlerocks.com and nippazwithattitude.com let you buy tattoo-print diaper bags and baby tees adorned with slogans like “I’m just here for the welfare checks.” Hey, turn your kid into a desperate badge of your own coolness long after you’ve removed the safety pin from your own ear! (And put it into a diaper! That is, if you’re a total hippie parent using way-old-school cloth diapers! Which lets you ostentatiously display your save-the-earth values while explaining that your kid’s diaper rash isn’t usually this bad, and that disposable diapers are both dangerous and environmentally unsound — despite the energy expended to heat the water to wash the cloth, and the fossil fuels burned through picking up and delivering the new diapers to your door! Hey, you’re still more moral than babymamas who use disposables! Rock on!) Of course, by buying products for your baby that assert said baby’s punk rockness, you prove that he is not punk rock. Can he name all of The Clash’s albums? I think not. And the fact that you bought this stuff proves that you are not punk rock. You are a person with a straight job and inchoate yearnings who wishes she were punk rock.

That said, as we all know, I am full of it. As full as Maxine’s (disposable) diaper. Yes, I lust after the $1,300 Philippe Starck Emeco aluminum rocker and admire vintage kiddie-sized white Bertoia wire chairs on eBay. (Fortunately, you can’t be too acquisitive in an East Village two-bedroom.) Rolling my eyes at the “Anarchy in the Pre-K” onesie while cooing over the Manischewitz onesie from jewcy.com and the “pisher” tee from Rabbi’s Daughters does not make me a better person. (But who, exactly, is the audience for the “no blood for mohel” onesie, I’d like to know?) Our tastes may differ, but we’re still expressing ourselves through our kids. Big whoop. Pretty soon Josie and Max will be dressing like hoochies or Republicans just to annoy me. They’ll demand Barbie sheets. They’ll make their own friends. And I, like other healthy parents, will simply have to learn to separate, to see them as individuals. Please, just not before they outgrow their fetching little Indian tunics.

Write to Marjorie at mamele@forward.com.



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