Buy Buy Baby
by Jessica Dur
January 20, 2012
When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to leave my native Lafayette, in Louisiana, for any place that didn’t reek of fried fish and angry protests against Martin Luther King Jr Day. My extended family, none of whom has ventured further than Dallas or Orlando, were both baffled and charmed by my decision to go to college in the snowy pines of Vermont. Surely, they assumed, I’d miss our community of cousins and aunts, and move back home some day. But when the time came to thaw out, I headed even further away — to Sonoma County, California, the racy edge of the continent where people support abortion rights and smoke marijuana. I return home to Louisiana every year, an anomaly amidst a tight-knit family that shares political parties and Catholic ideology as much as Sunday dinners and crawfish boils. As long as no one talks about Obama, health care, or priests molesting little boys, we all get along great. My aunts are fascinated by the things I do, like sprouting my own mung beans and riding my bike to the grocery store.
I was 18 weeks pregnant on my most recent trip home, for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. Nothing makes the women of my family happier than good old-fashioned in-wedlock breeding. Suddenly I was one of them, the sisterhood of the noble Mother — traditional, sober, aglow with good intentions. My aunts nodded solemnly when I told them I’d chosen to labor in a birth center instead of a hospital, and even took in stride talk about mid-wives, birthing tubs and squatting. But what they couldn’t quite understand was our decision to be surprised. “If you don’t find out the sex of your baby,” Aunt Pippa exclaimed, “then how are you gonna shop for it?”
The short answer is, we’re not.
Unlike those people who wait until they have enough money saved to plant the seed of life, my husband and I did just the opposite: after both quitting our teaching jobs at a small alternative school (another story altogether) and cashing those final paychecks, we found out I was pregnant.
“Have you thought about how you’re going to design the nursery?” another well-meaning aunt asks, and I feel a stab of guilt. Shouldn’t I want to sacrifice my sweet little office, with its old wooden desk and retro filing cabinet, for the benefit of my darling baby? And Michael—surely he should have no qualms about ridding the room (which also doubles as his music studio) of its rickety drum kit and stray bass guitars, right?
Except that neither of us wants to imagine our lives without that sacred space where we can be alone to unleash the hovering dragon of creative impulse. After all, resentful parents suck. Surely my dad wouldn’t have been such a grump had he spent more time nourishing his spirit instead of earning tons of money that could never quite buy him enough time apart from us. Besides, why design a nursery when we can share our own room?
I expected my conservative southern family to categorize co-sleeping with other questionable hippie practices, right up there with continuing to breast-feed after the baby can walk and cooking up the placenta after the birth. What I didn’t expect were the raised eyebrows at the mention of hand-me-downs and thrift stores. To them, the idea of trying to spend as little money as possible on our newborn seems somehow sinful, a crime against capitalism.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy cooing over the various infant accoutrements — tiny ballerina outfits and palm-sized sneakers are high on the list — it’s just that we’ve got better things to do with our time (and Benjamins) than shop for things we can virtually find for free. We spend an inordinate amount of time, for example, laying around and fantasizing about how great it’ll be to add an eight-pound critter to our cuddle puddle. We’re constantly marveling at how much bigger my breasts can possibly get before sending me into unknown alphabet territory. And we sure do love voicing what we imagine the baby is thinking at any given moment: Woah, Mama, what was that loud scary noise?; Woah there Daddy, what are you doing to Mama?, and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.
But even more than our desire to save money is the fact that there’s little we actually need to buy. Since both my husband and I live far from our families, we’ve re-created a vast network of extended family here in the sweet Santa Rosa valley. And we’re finding that the antidote to consumption is community. Perhaps this is why people tend to love libraries, because they are one of the surviving examples of true communion, where people are invited to temporarily own and cherish something that others have also savored.
After teaching for six years at the very tight-knit, family-like Nonesuch School, we’ve got a whole community of former students (and their parents) who are delighting in our new pregnant lives. One student combed through her sustainable community’s free barn to procure a bag-ful of gently worn bibs, burping cloths, and BPA-free feeding utensils. The mother of another student, one of those people who maps out yard sales and gets turned on by good bargains, is currently scouring people’s front yards for a combination car-seat/stroller. Another set of parents is hosting a Nonesuch baby shower, so that students from years past can celebrate with us and marvel at their former English teacher’s round belly. And then there are the serendipitous gifts that we didn’t even know we might need: a breast pump and milk freezer bags, a hand-held blender to make baby food, a nifty bra-extending gadget.
Even my aunts have found “gender neutral” (read: yellow and green and orange) baby clothes for us. They might not agree with our decision to raise an unbaptized (perhaps even uncircumcised) baby, but they sure can’t wait to dote over the newest addition to the family. And no matter what zip code beckons us next, we know that we’ll create a community of people with which to share, life, love, and our gently-used natal goodies.
This fall marked the first time in 27 years that Jessica Dur did not return to the classroom as either student or teacher. She lives, writes, and watches her belly grow in Santa Rosa, California, to the tune of her husband’s piano playing and their neighborhood crows. Her writing has appeared in The Sun, Hipmama.com, Fractured West, The North Bay Bohemian, Shareable.net, and others. She blogs at www.gyrlwryter.blogspot.com.