Thursday, March 6, 2008

Can We Talk?

WARNING: The following post contains the ravings of an old fuddy-duddy. Please read it anyway.

My kids were born back in the dark ages. The neighbor's children drove five miles to school through the snow in a sedan, not an SUV. There was no such thing as TiVo. The Internet was that thing in a man's bathing suit.

Moms of my generation had to muddle our way through on our own, without the aid of technology. Oh sure, we had baby monitors, and a few people I knew actually sprang for that thermometer you stick in your kid's ear, but by and large we were on our own, stumbling alone in the dark through a pre-wired world.

Somehow, we survived, as did our children. Mine are teenagers now, which means I can once again read the newspaper. And that's how I happened upon Brad Stone's recent article in The New York Times. Headlined "The Modern Nursery, Batteries Required," this piece told me some of what I am now missing, having gotten out of the infant-raising game.

My, how things have changed! Some of the new gizmos sound fabulous. Did you know, for example, that there is now a pacifier that keeps itself clean? Aptly named the AlwaysClean Pacifier, this "na-na" (that's what Billy called his, and it stuck) "reliably falls backward, onto its handle, which activates a plastic shield that snaps closed over the nipple, so parents do not have to clean the thing repeatedly," according to Stone. That sounds so terrific that I almost want to have a third baby just to try it. (Almost. Not quite. Hear that, uterus?)

But some of the new technology sounds ... mmm, let's see ... how do I say this? ... well, stupid.

Take, for example, the Angel Care Movement Sensor, which Stone describes as a product "for parents who can and do imagine the absolute worst."

Those words got my attention, as I am a card-carrying member of the "if you can imagine it, it can happen" club. I am therefore not unsympathetic to parents who freak out on a regular basis. It comes with the territory, and I have indisputably done my share of it.

In my case, however, a genetic component clearly is involved. My sister became an absolute whirling dervish of anxiety during her second pregnancy when her husband, who was painting their kitchen, accidentally sanded a dime-sized spot on a cabinet that my sister feared was coated with lead-based paint. Now they weren't certain the paint was lead-based, mind you, and the spot was smaller than a thumbnail, and my sister herself hadn't been doing the sanding, but really, did any of that matter? Jennifer was absolutely. dead. certain. that she had inhaled enough paint dust to maim her six-month-old fetus, and she was even more convinced that her three-year-old's IQ had just dropped by about 40 points. Jennifer sat herself down in front of the computer and spent the next few months reading Internet horror stories about the dangers of lead poisoning. On the phone, she sounded like a woman who saw a tornado on the horizon and couldn't find the key to the storm cellar. Then she got up out of the chair, went to the hospital, and delivered a baby who has turned out to be so smart it's kind of scary. (That three-year-old is now in first grade, and I knew exactly what Jennifer was thinking when the girl's teacher told Jennifer last fall she was only reading at grade level. Since then, however, she's caught on, and now she beds down with a book and a flashlight each night. Stay tuned, however: I fear we are not out of the woods yet. Precalculus awaits.)

Anyway, here's the idea behind the Angel Care Movement Sensor. If you are terrified that your child might, as Stone puts it, expire in the crib, for $130 you can buy a pad that you put under the crib mattress. This pad, according to Stone's article, has "highly refined sensors that measure pressure and the slightest baby movements. If the sensors detect no movement for 20 seconds, an urgent alarm sounds on a receiver unit in the parent's room."

Now let me quickly say I can't imagine anything in the world worse than losing a child. Nothing. So if an expectant parent out there wants to buy an Angel Care Movement Sensor, I think she should go right ahead and do it. But, as a long-time parent, I would like to gently suggest she first consider the following.

It has been my experience that babies wake up. A lot. Especially at night, the only time, sadly, when our society dicates that it's okay for adults to try to sleep. Now I'm sure the creators of the Angel Care Movement Sensor know more about baby's sleep patterns than I do, but I am positive I've seen sleeping babies lie completely still for more than 20 seconds at a time. And that would seem to suggest that several times a night, the owners of the Angel Care Movement Sensor are going to awake to the sound of an alarm going off in their room.

I don't know about you, but if alarms had repeatedly gone off in my room at night when my kids were babies, I would have been even more nervous than I was just lying there worrying about them in the quiet. In fact, if I were going to design something to drive a parent absolutely freaking bananas, this might be it.

And it wouldn't be just the parents who were disturbed by the Angel Care sensor. If the crib is in the parents' room, as they so often are in the early days, the baby is also going to wake up and quite possibly act altogether un-angelic.

Expectant parents, take my word for it: this will not a happy family make. Nor will all be sweetness and light when, as Stone has apparently learned firsthand, a parent (probably the dad) removes a completely healthy baby from the crib in the middle of the night for a bottle or a fresh diaper and forgets to turn off the alarm, thus abruptly awakening the other parent (probably the mom), whom in all likelihood the hapless dad was just trying to let grab a little more sleep because the sleeping parent had lately become the teensiest bit bitchy, because after all she hasn't had more than two hours of sleep at a stretch for three months and none of this baby weight is coming off even though she's nursing every 25 minutes the entire day and she realized she never even buttoned her shirt yesterday and her brain has turned to complete mush but you wouldn't understand because you, you, get to go out every day and talk to adults and have a life and--

Sorry -- flashback there. Anyway, were this to happen, the parent who allowed the alarm to go off would likely find the parent who was awakened by the alarm someone forgot to turn off had become even bitchier than she was when she went to sleep and frankly a hell of a lot less attractive than she was back when they were dating.

Suffice it to say that I believe the expectant couple's $130 is better spent elsewhere than on the Angel Care Movement Sensor.

But you could buy three of those for the price of one LENA System, which is quite frankly the most ridiculous product I've come across since those $399 talking Elvis heads that department stores stocked up on this past Christmas. (If you missed them, I suggest you keep an eye out at Big Lots. The last I saw of them they were marked 75% off.)

Here's how the LENA System, which coincidentally is also priced at $399, works. A parent, having read there's a connection between how much you talk to a baby and that baby's chance of making the Forbes 400 later in life, dresses his or her child in a special outfit with a pocket on the front. (The pocket on the blue outfit is adorned with a truck, which doesn't make any sense, because as any blue-collar worker will tell you, trucks won't get you on the Forbes 400 unless you own entire fleets of them.) The parent sticks something akin to a credit card in the pocket, where it records the "conversation" between the baby and the adult. The parent then takes the credit card, sticks it into a computer equipped with special software, and looks at the resulting analysis of how much the adult talked, how often the baby gurgled, and -- this being America -- how these stats compare to the rest of the population.

Now, not to brag, but I am an EXPERT at raising children who talk. If there's one thing the Bird boys are good at, it's talking. All the time. Everyday. About everything.

My mother used to tell me the reason I was so exhausted was that raising two of my children was like raising four of someone else's. Not only did they run around and make messes and drop toys and wake up at night: they also talked the entire time they were doing it. To me. And they expected a response. I'm certain that I will someday have to have a jaw replacement because mine will simply give out.

And this hasn't stopped with adolescence. "You should be so proud of Billy," a teacher will tell me. "He really knows how to talk to adults." Yes, I tell her. I know. "I love it when Ben's in my carpool," mothers will tell me. "That's the only way I ever find out what's going on at school." Me too.

Yes folks, talking is the Bird boys' sport. And I'm grateful, to a point: talking does not require expensive equipment, it does not require Bob and me to sit on bleachers till our butts bruise, and there's not much chance Billy or Ben will ever break a bone doing it. Unfortunately, however, I have not yet found a college that awards talking scholarships.

So I know how to raise talkers. And believe me, it does NOT require technology. Here is Betsy Bird's three-step plan for raising children who talk.

Step 1: Talk to your children. Any little thought that comes into your head, say it. Until they hit about 18 months, you can even say bad words.
Step 2: Listen.
Step 3: If in Step 2 you determine that you have stopped talking, start again. (See Step 1.)

It's really that simple. Better yet, the Bird system is free, does not require electricity, and is completely portable.

And believe me, when that baby gets to be a junior or senior in high school and you see just how expensive college is, that $399 the LENA system costs will really come in handy.


MommyTime said...

I love this post for so many reasons. First, your little flashback about lack of sleep and nursing was my first three months with my son -- and it was so bad that the thing I became seethingly jealous over was that my husband, when he was FREE to go to work every single day NEVER had ANYONE sit on his lap when he had to pee. And that. was. not. fair.

Also, I think you should patent your Bird Plan to Produce Eloquent Children and charge $399 for it. You might have to add a few words to the explanation, a few spiffy graphics, and print it on high-quality paper. But I'm guessing that would set you back about 3 hours of work and $5 per copy, netting you a tidy profit...

Thanks for coming over to Mommy's Martini today. My sister's bathtub post shouldn't make you too sad: just recall that if you are no longer in this stage of child-rearing, you are no longer (as I still am) occasionally scooping wayward poops out of the bath water!

I can't wait to read more in Bird-Land.

jennifer h said...

This was so much fun. I love the paragraph about the dad not turning off the alarm. Seriously, I'm pretty sure babies don't move every 20 seconds. Can you imagine that alarm going off?

I would have paid a lot of money for those pacifiers, though. But maybe my kids' immune systems are stronger for not having it. :-)

(the Internet? Hilarious)

Thanks for making me laugh.

All Adither said...

Oh, how I love this post.

Mr Lady said...

I think I love you.

I had a kid back in the Stone Ages, too. And then I had one in 2005. I almost died when I hit Babies R Us. I had no idea what had happened to the world. I couldn't find just a BOTTLE. A plain old breast pump? Please. Don't even get me started on the strollers.

I might have to link this. :)