Monday, November 28, 2011

The Registration Experience

There's something strange about registering for gifts for your baby. I've heard people debate which is worse - registering for wedding gifts or registering for baby gifts - and I think there are strong arguments for each side.

With wedding gifts, the difficulty is that both people involved have a strong opinion. You end up having ridiculous arguments about what forks "feel right". After spending the previous ten years of your life using hand-me-down plates and the cheapest towels they sell at Target, you suddenly find yourself debating between the most expensive and second-most-expensive set of fancy knives. I can't even begin to imagine how many physical altercations have occurred within the walls of Bed, Bath and Beyond between couples registering for their wedding. It's a painful process - but it's one that you can feel confident about at the end of the day. You are forced to compromise and pick your battles - good life lessons and the foundation of a strong future marriage. So while it's painful going through the process, the outcome is usually that you're pretty happy with the things that you get - you realize that it turns out you end up using the boring white dishes way more than the fun colorful ones that you fought so hard for. You realize that it is nice to have fancy towels, and that a second set of sheets actually is useful.

Then there's registering for baby things.

With baby gifts, the difficulty is that both people involved really have no clue what they are doing. Instead of being able to look at two different items and form an opinion based on life experiences, you find yourself staring blankly at two different types of baby strollers - seemingly the same in every way to the naked eye, yet usually dramatically different in price. With nowhere to turn for help, out come the baby books. You hope that these books are written by some trustworthy government regulated source... but somehow they always seem to recommend the most expensive items, which makes you wonder if their opinions aren't just bought by whatever company slips them the most money under the table.

The bad thing is - they've got you, and they know you've got you. For one, you don't know any better. Two, baby item manufacturers have cleverly devised a way to ensure that you can't even rely on the experience of your family and friends who have already gone through this endeavor before... by telling you that the items that were perfectly fine for babies as recently as five years ago, are suddenly death traps waiting to pounce upon your poor unsuspecting child at any moment.

It really is genius. What parent is going to pick up the "cheap" version of a product when a book tells them that it's putting their unborn bundle of joy in harm's way? The logical side of your brain rationalizes "there's no way they'd sell crib bumpers if they really were dangerous... and they look so cute!", but then the other side of your brain chimes in, reminding you "you didn't even know what a crib bumper was two weeks ago... maybe we should trust this book instead."

So there you stand. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that our baby registering experience involved me carrying two different baby books, the store issued item scanner, and my trusty iPhone (which annoyingly reminds you that most items you registering for can be found cheaper on

After spending way too long reviewing the different options available for item #1 on a list of 100 things, you pull the trigger on the scanner and move three feet to your left to repeat the process with the item #2.

The other thing that's weird? You have absolutely no idea what your child is going to like. Registering for many baby items is like buying a present for someone who you have never met and have no idea of their taste... and someone who won't like a token gift of money in a card. Some babies like to be rocked. Some like to be rolled. Some like to be shaken. Some like to be stirred. But you have no idea which one you're going to end up with... and making a wrong decision here could make your life a living hell for the next three to six months. Pressure!

The rule of thumb seems to be "buy one of everything and try it out, as money is no object when it comes to getting a crying baby to go to sleep." I've seen new parents walking around in a zombie-like state, offering up their cars in exchange for a good night's sleep, so I'm inclined to think that there is some nugget of truth to this rule. But what this means is that there's a really good chance that your child isn't going to use or enjoy a good portion of the items that you just spent hours of your life researching and debating... so that's a little frustrating too.

The one saving grace in this whole process? I've found that baby stores usually are playing surprisingly decent music over their speakers. We've probably made at least ten trips to baby stores over the past few months, and nearly every time I've heard some decent tunes. Stuff that they seems inappropriate at times (Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run"). Songs that they shouldn't know since they weren't on the radio (Jack Johnson's "Constellations"). Bands that they shouldn't know exist since they're not carried by major labels (Guster). It's all very strange. But all I know is, if they got rid of all the baby stuff, put in a bar, and added some TVs playing sports, baby stores would be an okay place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon and get drunk.

In the end, after finally making all your decisions, you come to a realization - that your unborn child is going to have nicer things in their bedroom than you currently have in your bedroom. I bought my dresser from Ikea. It came in a flat box that fit in the back of my Camry and took three hours, five Allen wrenches, and a lot of swearing to assemble. My baby has a dresser that cost twice as much, required borrowing my parents van to transport to the house, and is made of real wood. It's slightly nicer - but that' a good thing, since the baby is probably going to spend the next year crapping and peeing on it since it doubles as a changing table.

Is this a sign of things to come? Are we already spoiling our child with fancy furniture and the softest of all baby blankets? Wouldn't they be just as happy sleeping on the carpet and playing with bubble wrap? I have no idea... so for now, I'm putting my faith in the baby books. There's probably a pretty good chance I'll do enough stupid things to put my child's life in danger over the next year that it's smart to pay a few extra bucks to keep the material objects in the house from doing the same.

Parents always say that they want to give their kids a better life than they had. If we judge that expression solely on material objects, I'd say we're well on our way to giving our child the best life ever.