Saturday, May 07, 2005

How Things Have Changed!

Now that my oldest daughter is nearing her eighteenth birthday, I'm doing a lot of thinking back and reminiscing about her infancy. It seems like just yesterday that we were excitedly awaiting her birth and anticipating what having a new baby in the house would be like. The nursery was freshly painted, and all of the latest baby accessories were waiting patiently in the closets and drawers. My mom was on call, ready to drop what she was doing two states away to try to get here between the start of labor and the actual birth. It surely was an exciting time!

These memories brought back my mom's comment shortly after the young one was born. She commented in an off-hand way how life with baby had changed in the nearly thirty years since I had been born into THEIR household. Something as commonplace as having a baby surely couldn't have changed THAT much, I thought, but as we talked, I marveled. Things really had changed dramatically, and mostly much for the better. Here are just a few of the changes that we laughed over after the birth of my oldest daughter, now eighteen years ago. I'm sure things have changed in several ways since then, but take a glimpse of what baby-raising was like nearly fifty years ago....

One of the biggest changes is car seats. When I came along in 1958, cars didn't even have seatbelts, let alone car seats for babies. Infants were held on a passenger's lap, or, if you were driving alone, they were laid on the seat beside the driver. The driver tried to keep a hand on the baby to prevent it from rolling off of the seat!! Can you even imagine it? This is certainly one change that is dramatically for the better. I have hazy memories of my brother's "car seat" (and I use the term very loosely) in about 1961. It was a plastic and metal affair shaped sort of like a tot lock chair that you fit onto the side of the table today. There was a flimsy plastic seatbelt to keep the baby from climbing out. The seat rested on a sort of rack over the back of the bench seat. It had a plastic steering wheel attached, with a button in the middle that baby could beep like a real horn. There was nothing attaching the seat to the car at all! And my mom commented that this was considered the height of baby safety at the time.

Even eighteen years ago, car seats were monstrous affairs. They were very large and heavy, and not very securely strapped into the car compared to today's models. The one we used for the eldest was about thirty pounds and designed to stay in the car rather than be removed to carry the baby. The seatbelt wrapped around its lower frame, but nothing secured the top of the seat at all. Baby sat in the seat with a lap belt and a crotch strap, in a more or less upright position. I remember having to purchase a special pillow to wedge in around her to keep her from sliding all over like a limp noodle. We used a pillow like that in the stroller, too. Wow, what a difference a few decades have made!

Another major improvement in baby managing that mom commented on was the evolution of baby seats. When I was an infant, babies were either held, put in the crib, or laid down on a blanket. I was blessed with a baby swing that had a removable seat that could be used as an infant carrier/seat. Now, I didn't have to try to figure out how to manage baby in the fast food restaurant or as I worked around the house the way my mom did. I could strap her into her seat and take her nearly anywhere. As baby grew, I remember that we used a tot lock chair quite a bit when we were on the road. Do they still have these? The chair sort of clips onto the side of most tables and provides a safe, portable place for the baby to eat at the table. Ever so much more convenient than hauling the high chair the way my mom had to back in the 1960's. We also had a cloth invention that wrapped around baby's waist once she was holding her head up fairly well. You know, that stage where they can sort of sit by themselves, but after a little bit they kind of slide away. This gizmo supported her and allowed her to sit upright safely in grocery carts and some high chairs. It served as seatbelt and support, and really made her feel a part of the group. I remember it got an awful lot of use.

Two of my babies were born in the early summer, and of course we wanted to resume our outdoor recreation as soon as was practical. Protecting the little ones from the sun and from insects became a priority. I found the perfect solution at one of those mall craft shows. It was a portable "igloo" for baby! The roof was made of cloth on a spring form frame. It opened up to a band shell sort of a shape and folded flat when not in use. It had a thick matching pad for a floor, and a net that could be lowered over the opening to keep the bugs out. It was absolutely perfect for days at the beach, outings to the park, and even relaxing out in the yard while the baby napped. I think the girls used it until they were about three as a nap shelter!

Baby backpacks and tummy packs have been a part of other cultures for generations, but my generation (having our children twenty years ago) discovered them all over again. First the tummy pack and then the backpack allowed us to take the kids with us on hikes, walks in the mall, and even around the neighborhood. Our roads just aren't stroller friendly, and without those packs, I wouldn't have been able to go for walks for several years. I really think the kids enjoyed them too. I remember many days (and nights!) when we packed fussy babies into the packs and walked around the house with them. The little ones felt more loved, I think, and less alone. They also were treated to the changing scenery and the constant chatter that I tended to provide for them whenever they were in earshot.

Umbrella strollers were also a fairly new invention when I had my first baby. They were considered so innovative at the time! Finally parents had an alternative to the big heavy strollers and carriages of yesteryear. The umbrella strollers were lightweight and folded up into a relatively small package. They were certainly much easier for a woman to wrestle in and out of the car and they fit a whole lot better into the back seat of the small vehicles that we had when the kids first came along.

Feeding baby had changed, too, my mom noted. She especially liked the food bowl that we used that was filled with hot water in its base and so kept the baby food at a nice temperature. This dish was also nice because it had a suction cup on the bottom! Baby couldn't toss the dish to the ground because it stuck quite nicely to the highchair tray. Another fairly new invention was the nursing bag that you stuck inside the bottle (Playtex used to be the only one that made them...is that still the case?). You could actually mix formula in them!

One of my personal favorite new-fangled inventions was the alternative playpen that we found for the kids. Instead of being the traditional four-sided affair, this was a lot more like a fence. It was a series of hinged panels that could be configured into many different shapes, and worked very well as a baby corral for the little ones. It even worked for a few years to protect the Christmas trees from curious little ones. There's something a bit comical about a tree inside a playpen, but it was very effective.

Isn't amazing to contemplate how life with baby has changed? People are amazingly innovative, and great strides have been made in safety and convenience. So what's new now that you're having your baby? Leave me a comment with your favorite baby innovation!!

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