Friday, December 30, 2005

Ode To Parents Of Old

I was speaking to someone recently and he was discussing his family's consideration of getting rid of their cell phones, multiple computers, cable, and other luxuries. His wife and children are balking, but they need to make some changes. Then he said, "my parents got by with none of that."

I think that is the key. Our parents did not have those luxury items. They did not have 24 hour access to information about our health, our development, and our insatiable need for consumer items. Our parents did not need these items, and neither do we - not really.

When I think about some of the things our parents - or more likely our grandparents and great-grandparents did, I cannot imagine what they went through with far more children on average than we have. Instead of one child, they had five.

They did not have jarred baby food, disposable diapers, or disposable wipes. Instead of having those items, they were left to fend for themselves and figure out how to get everything done.

I had not realized until my son was born exactly what our parents and grandparents were missing. My mother-in-law, for example, talks of making homemade wipes. First of all, I think homemade wipes are gross. Second of all, wipes are not that expensive. We pay $2 for a container of them that lasts for two or three weeks. I am willing to spend $1 a week to avoid dipping paper towels into a homemade solution.

My grandmother often expresses amazement at what we have now. Although jar food has been around since the 1930s, my grandparents could not afford to buy it. Plus they lived on a farm, and it was just easier - and oh so much cheaper - to make their own baby food. I find, though, that my grandmother revels in the luxuries of modern parenting.

Sometimes, though, she will say, "well, we never had that." She never expresses disapproval, but I know she is thinking that my baby does not need the latest Leap Frog toy or a perfect changing table. It is in those moments that I am thankful for where we are. I am thankful to the parents in years past who have sacrificed so much to give to their babies. And most of all I am thankful that they continued to work hard for their babies and to push the envelope so that now we have people and companies who recognize that babies do need some of the baby care items that we have - and that they and their parents want a whole host of others.

Older parents seem to have made more of a sacrifice to have their babies than we make today. My son is not the best of sleepers, and he has not been since we brought him home. Our pediatrician says that it is perfectly normal and that we should be thankful he so exploratory.

More than that I am thankful that we have cribs. It was not so long ago that parents did not put their babies to bed in cribs. They fashioned sleeping areas out of furniture they had lying around or dresser drawers. My son, then, would be in a heap a trouble, and I would get less sleep if we were living 100 years ago. Plus, I have discovered the beauty of nature sounds. My son sleeps very well to the sounds of the ocean or a mountain stream or spring rain. Fortunately for us, we do not have to wait for that spring rain. I play it from a machine on nights when he needs it.

In the moments when I am turning on the sound machine when my son cannot sleep or the washing machine when his clothes are dirty or the dishwasher when his bottles need to be sterilized, I remember my grandmother and smile. Women like her and the way they raised their babies makes it so much easier for us. I wonder if even older generations of babies were coddled by mothers who would now look down on us and be proud. Would they be happy that we have so many conveniences? Or would mothers of old be sad that we use so many devices to care for our babies?

By Julia Mercer

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