Thanks — But No Thanks: A Public-Service Message


By Marjorie Ingall

Published November 07, 2003, issue of November 07, 2003.
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Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so my thoughts turn to things I am grateful for, before I begin obsessing almost immediately about things I resent and loathe. Because I am just that kind of person.

Last year I wrote a story about great gifts for new moms. This year, as a public service, I offer a list of gifts that, if you’re choosing between them and a root canal, well, you’ve got yourself a toss-up.

* A lovely baby book or journal.

It will reproach the new mom every time she looks at it. She will fill out three pages, then get angsty because she’s forgotten when Eliezer cut his first tooth. She will get performance anxiety about crafting the perfect essay about Ariella’s birth. She’ll make a spelling error in the family tree and realize she doesn’t have any Wite-Out. And the book will sit there, gathering dust, right under the post-natal yoga video.

* A walker

You plop the kid into this wheeled contraption, allowing her to scoot all over the house and allowing you to enjoy a succession of Scotches. Nu? Forget the fact that in 1999, more than 8,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for walker-related incidents. Leave aside the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages their use. Dismiss the fact that even though newer walkers are wider than their predecessors, they may still fit through a wide door or down a staircase. (Whee! Baby luge!) The important issue is that experts agree they may actually delay walking! If you’re a competitive parent, how could you live with yourself? Instead, encourage Bubbe and Zeyde to get little Izzie an “activity center,” aka an Exersaucer, the stationary spinning device that is so covered with toys, bells and whistles that it could cause epileptic seizures. But it will stimulate your child’s neurons right into Harvard, I’m sure.

* A device that lets you listen to a baby’s heartbeat at home

When I was a child, I sometimes tried to take my own pulse. When I pressed my fingers to my own wrist and failed to detect anything, I simply had to assume I was the walking dead. The natural extension of this tendency: the at-home fetal monitor! What a fun way to foster neuroticism! Can you hear the baby’s heartbeat? How about now? How about now? How about I continue until I cannot hear anything, then call my husband, sobbing in terror? For the advanced version of this exercise, buy a “prenatal sound system.” This $50 device — which comes with a headset, belt, cables and Mozart CD — lets you listen to the baby and communicate with him via microphone. I imagine thousands of Jewish parents leaning down and shrieking, “Jacob, promise us you’ll become a gastroenterologist!”

* Flash cards

Fine as a teething device, but if you want to encourage verbal development, try reading to your kid. Incidentally, despite my loathing of flash cards, I have no words of mockery for the “Baby Einstein” video/DVD series. Josie never got into Baby Einstein, just as my cat Sebastian never enjoyed the “Kitty Safari” videos other cats plotz over. Still, many infants and toddlers find these videos as hypnotic and delightful as a Pink Floyd light show at the planetarium. (Presumably this explains the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study saying that 32% of American kids under 2 have a Baby Einstein tape or DVD in their homes.) And I say if they make your baby silent and happy, so you can do the dishes in peace, God bless them.

* A wipes warmer

If little Chaya-Rivka cannot stand the sensation of a room-temperature wipe on her tukhes, she needs to butch up. It’s a cold, cold world.

* A nannycam

If you want to be sure you’ve hired a trustworthy person, there are cheaper options. They are known as “references.” Call them.

* A jumper thingie that hangs in the doorway

Does your new-mom friend’s house have moldings? It better, or she can’t hang the thing up. Our cruddily remodeled East Village tenement has no moldings. I’m only saying.

* An adorable hooded baby bathrobe

Not the hooded bath towel, which is useful. The bathrobe. Too thick, too hard to keep belted, too useless. Where is baby going after his bath? The sauna?

* An expensive baby monitor

Baby monitors can suffer from interference with cordless phones, cell phones, pagers, airplanes, radio stations and other baby monitors — in your neighbors’ houses, as well as your own. And many of the expensive monitors actually experience more squawking and static than the cheapo ones! So get a cheap monitor. That way you can enjoy bursts of feedback and listening in on neighbors’ conversations, as we did with our monitor on numerous occasions, without freaking out about how much you’ve paid for the privilege.

* Spoons that change color when food is “too hot,” and rubber duckies that change color when the bath water could supposedly scald

Parents everywhere agree: These items are about as reliable as a vintage mood ring.

* Newborn baby clothes that fasten up the back

Pull shirt over baby’s head. Tilt baby forward, balancing her in one hand while buttoning with the other. Gasp as baby suddenly lists. Gently push her back to center. Watch head plop forward like a bobble-head doll on the dashboard of a taxicab. Sweat. Curse. (Also: Know that every time you put baby down, baby is lying on buttons. Ow.)

* Fetching leather booties with Velcro closures

So cute, with the little appliquéd doggies and sailboats! So certain to be lost after five minutes of wear on an actual baby foot! (If you like leather booties — and I do — get the ones from Robeez or Bobux, with elastic around the ankle. They stay on.)

* Matching comforter and pillow for crib

The jury’s still out on whether crib bumpers are safe, but everyone agrees, comforters and pillows are not! Whoo! But be sure to spend the money on these suffocation-risks, because baby things must all be matchy-matchy!

* Dubious safety devices

Like “pacifier rinsers,” those portable plastic tubing systems you fill with mouthwash and water and leave in your purse for on-the-go spraying of dropped pacifiers. Of course, you could just fill a spray bottle with Scope and use that, but then you’d have to admit you were insane. And don’t forget the “choke tube tester,” the little doohickey in which you put toys to see if they are a choking hazard. Um, how about using your eyeballs and judgment? Or the “bumper bonnet,” a thick helmet-cum-turban the baby can wear while learning to crawl or walk, thereby earning the ridicule of all the cool toddlers, who are naked-headed and bonking their foreheads on furniture as God intended? These products remind me of the episode of “The Simpsons” in which Marge gasps, “According to Fretful Mother magazine, if Maggie doesn’t talk by the time she’s 1, we should consider a corrective tongue extender!”

* * *

Seriously, all gifts are nice gifts when they’re given in a loving and generous spirit. But let’s be honest: Some are nicer than others.

E-mail Marjorie at

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