Yesterday I visited a store that sells Baby Stuff for the first time in 27 years. Our daughter and her husband are expecting a child in November, and we are giving them a stroller as a gift. I came out of the store shell-shocked; I had no idea how much the technology of Baby Stuff has changed since our children were young. The stroller that the lady described as a “good quality basic unit” includes a base that mounts in the car, an infant car seat that snaps securely into either that base or the stroller, and a variety of other features (I counted three cup-holders but saw no holster for the baby’s cell phone). “Deluxe” strollers with even more features sell for as much as $800. I think we paid fifteen bucks for the stroller our kids rode in, an “umbrella stroller” made of some kind of nylon slightly stronger than toilet tissue. When we brought our daughter home from the hospital in 1976, we were given a cardboard box in which to transport her on her mother’s lap. How our kids survived until adulthood is a great mystery.
It seems to me that the Baby Stuff industry preys on young parents’ fears and anxieties: if you don’t buy the very safest and most expensive Stuff for your child (I assume that earthquake-proof cribs are available in California), you are a Bad Parent. Certainly I am in favor of anything that makes children safer, especially car seats. But I believe there is a down side to the notion that parents can build an impregnable bubble of safety around their child by overspending on these products. Unless we are equally invested in building safe, just and healthy communities for our children to grow up in, none of us will know real safety. Even the best parent cannot provide a child with absolute protection—it is a world of joy and beauty, but also a world of risk and danger. I want my grandchild to ride in a safe stroller, but I want even more for him (yes, it will be a boy) to grow up in a world where all children have adequate food, housing, education and medical care. Such a world would be a much safer one for our grandchild, and for everyone else’s grandchildren.
Purchasing a stroller for a child whose birth is still more than three months away is its own kind of act of faith and hope, of course—we are investing ourselves in the joyous expectation that the rest of our daughter’s pregnancy will go well and her son will be born more-or-less on schedule. Of course, every time we buy a gift for a family member or friend several months before their birthday we are engaging in a similar act of faith. Life is uncertain, and we can never know what tomorrow may bring. I remember an interview comedian George Burns gave on his 90th birthday. A reporter teased him by saying “At your age, I guess you aren’t buying any long-term bonds.” Burns answered “Young man, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas!” If we allowed ourselves to be ruled by fear, we would not buy green bananas, birthday gifts, or baby strollers. But faith inspires us to live into the future in hope. I look forward to pushing my grandchild in his fancy stroller. And I look forward to having him grow up and join me in the effort to build a better world for all God’s children.
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