25 June 2007

Not Gearheads

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

We live not too far from one of the better baby stores in Manhattan, Albee’s, which is an old standard-bearer in the field of outfitting parents for life with their kids. We also live in a heavily-concentrated nexus, up and down Manhattan, of competitive stroller-buying, of which brands like the Bugaboo, the Stokke, and the Quinny seem to be the pack leaders. Albee’s, like many other such stores, seems to have done a good job of cashing in on all this, selling these Rolls Royce strollers alongside such formerly-esteemed names as Maclaren and Peg Perego.

Not formerly-esteemed to us, however. When we embarked on this project (if I can refer to having a baby as such), my wife and I agreed that the super-pricey world of baby-tastic gear is really over the top here in New York, and we wanted to limit our obeisance to the Gods of Baby Mammon. I don’t begrudge anyone who can spend close to $900 on a stroller their right to do so. Still, in my world $900 remains a large chunk of cash. Could the $900 stroller really do that much more than the $250 stroller?

Mostly, the answer is no.

We have looked. Much credit goes to the same store, Albee’s, for not trying to up-sell: they were perfectly comfortable telling us what the differences were and explaining why, generally, the extra cash isn’t worth it. (No doubt if you walk in wanting the expensive one, they’ll make you feel good about your purchase, too!) It’s certainly true if one is a runner / jogger, that a jogging stroller is a great accessory and probably worth the investment. And yes, some of the high-end strollers come with detachable bassinets that can serve more than one purpose, like for use around the home. Maybe if I felt like these fancy strollers did so much more, I’d reconsider; instead it just seems faddish, one of those “I have got to have a _____” accessories that has a very limited connection to the parenting that goes with it.

So here’s where we wound up on a few things. For a stroller, we bought the Peg Perego “Venezia” model, which has a seat back that goes nearly flat and a wrap-around cover for the front, forming an enclosed, bassinet-like space. With a reversible handle, you can flip things around, to push the baby while keeping her in view, or (longer-term) have a forward facing stroller for an older baby or toddler. Based on how much she’s slept in there on some recent trips, she seems quite comfortable. The stroller also has pop-up clasps onto which almost any modern car seat can attach securely, and plenty of storage underneath for a diaper bag and groceries. Moreover, at $219 plus tax, we saved a lot over the fancier brands. The one area we thought might be a particular concern – the tires and suspension – seem fine; we have wheeled around and through some parts of Central Park, and so far, so good.

Diaper bags are another area of fashionable baby accessorizing. I won’t plug the brand names, I’ll just tell you that there can’t be much they offer that we don’t already have – at prices that start around $60, but seem to go as high as $600 for certain designer names. We re-purposed a relatively-unused WNYC messenger tote bag as a diaper bag. It’s plenty big, waterproof, with some good inside pockets, has both a velcro and click-tab closures, and it generally feels indestructible.

As with a stroller – where something basic will work in most situations – so too with a diaper bag: the bag itself is a lot less important than figuring out what should go in it. We made ourselves a list, but for now, our baby is less than two weeks old – so we tweaked the bag and added a see-through pocket with a list of what we need. That way, we can re-check the bag’s contents before a trip, with confidence about what we’ll need – and easily update the list in the future, as our needs (and the baby’s) change. Moreover, in my limited experiences already, it seems like diaper bags go through a lot, so should anything happen to this one, I won’t suddenly feel like I’m out a few hundred bucks.

Lastly, we have gratefully accepted hand-me-downs of certain things – like an infant car seat – from friends with older kids. At this stage of life, kids move through things rapidly; an infant car seat is used for only a few months, until the baby is big enough for the next size up. So to share these items among friends makes a lot of sense, economically but also psychologically. Together all of us can, in a sense, build a better baby.

I have officially been a parent for all of 11 days today (counting my daughter’s birthday) so if you’re taking advice from me ... perhaps you shouldn’t! I do think, though, that it isn’t the gear that makes the baby or the parent, it’s the parenting itself. The values you establish for yourself and your child early strike me as critical. This isn’t a question of not wanting the best for my child – of course I do! “The best,” however, is not necessarily the most expensive or the most top-of-the-line; it might be the best that a parent can afford, or the best that is really demanded by a particular situation, or the best in the long-term context of the baby’s life. If we can bank the money we didn’t spend on a super-stroller, there are all sorts of other ways we can improve our child’s life more meaningfully than just by buying more gear. And when the need is there, we’re happy to spend the money, and we’ll have it to spend.


Anonymous Ria said...

Congratulations on the success of your "project." I commend you on your honest and down-to-earth attitude towards parenting. It takes a certain mental resilience to shun the well-meaning folks who tell you, "But you just have to have...." I must admit that in the excitement of nesting for the first time, I was sucked into the whirlwind of designer bedding and just the right gear. With the second pregnancy, I like to think I gained wisdom along with the 55 lbs. but truly, I was too exhausted to do more than dust off the old stuff. And my younger child is none the worse for it.

BTW, in my part of the world, Pegs and Maclarens are still quite esteemed! :)

12:01 AM  
Blogger Marie4thtimemom said...

I want to second the congrats on your beautiful little daughter Margot Chloe, however belatedly! I have had your blog bookmarked for a while now, and being snowed in this weekend has reminded me how much I enjoy your writing.

I have to comment on this one, though: when we were expecting our first, we splurged and bought a $100 (more or less) Graco model at Toys R Us. Being first-time parents, we didn't yet know that Toys R Us is expensive; however, the carriage served us well through our first three children.

When our fourth one came around, the first carriage was showing wear and tear so we went with the $75 Walmart model - which is still in great shape two years later. (It also has several cup-holders, a feature my husband found as hilarious as it is typically American.)

Diaper bags start at $60? Oh no. They give you a freebie at the hospital made out of cheap vinyl - it gets you through the first month or so - at least until you feel like shopping again (which, if you're like me, is never.) Walmart has a nice line of diaper bags for non-couture folks like me; I found the $16.99 denim-with-pink-trim Teddy Bear style much to my (and Natalia's) liking. It even has a mesh inset to hold my cellphone, which I never remember to carry with me.

Again, welcome to fatherhood and many good wishes for the holiday season! Enjoy!

7:13 PM  

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