Friday, January 16, 2009

The Crap vs the Heirloomery

A silver porringer. A silver cup. A bright yellow sweater. Velour overalls. These are relics of my own babyhood that have an active place in Ben's.

I fed him baby cereal from the porringer at every meal for a while there, until the charm faded a bit when his menu expanded and created even more dishes and I didn't feel like hand-washing the bowl three times a day. The silver cup is in the box of toys next to his green chair in the kitchen. It gets pulled out and handled and chewed on many times every day. Every so often I put a splash of water in it and hold it to his lips, tip it back, and see what happens. When he's ready to use a cup, it will be his first.

The sweater is getting lots of use lately in the wicked cold snap we're having. My mother made it for me. I'm doing some knitting myself now for Ben, and I tend towards chunky yarn and big needles for fast knitting, but Mom's project was way more ambitious: it's minutely knit of fine wool, but sturdy, and it's held up marvelously and is as useful an object as it is nostalgic and charming. The overalls, too. Mom ordered them from Switzerland, which, back in the 70s with no Internet (and did they even have phones?), what a project! They're great stretchy, soft, super-sturdy little numbers, though, and they, too, are employed for use as much as memory.

There are some other objects, though, of which I've also taken custody, that don't translate into use. There's the fine cotton bib with delicate embroidery, which I'm sure I'd have to hand-wash, and which might not stand up to it. This is a relic of Mom's babyhood which was pressed into service again for mine. There's the little silver chain with two clips shaped like duckies; one is supposed to clip a washcloth and use it as a bib, and back in the days before Velcro, I'm sure it represented a convenience. Now it seems fiddly and precious and time-wasting.

There are things from Ben's babyhood I'll pack away, hoping he or a subsequent kid will someday provide me with grandchildren and want to use. The silver cup and porringer, certainly, and the clothes, providing they make it through my kids' use. Sweaters I'll knit myself, and well made baby clothes I've come to love. Maybe one or two of the nicer wood baby toys, to which I've grown unaccountably attached. But none of the useful objects of babyrearing: not the spoons or bowls or cups, not the bibs, not the chairs (though I'm thisclose to buying the kid a Svan). So many of these things of daily use are well made for their purposes, which means easy to sponge off or machine wash, or thoroughly disposable, and therefore in no way candidates for heirloomery. Which is fine. I'm enough of a packrat without falling in love with every bit of baby gear. And if I'm tempted to bewail our culture's sad tendency towards the plastic, the crappy, the disposable, I just think about the entire day every week my grandmothers had to devote to nothing but washing clothes, and how much cleaning a baby created back before all these crappy but convenient products, and I thank my lucky stars.

1 comment:

Jennifer Larson said...

I remember feeling guilty when I tossed a couple of sippy cups that had gotten just plain nasty. Now I'm not nearly as sentimental! I'm holding onto clothes, books and toys for a hypothetical second child, but stuff like the stained changing table cover, the bibs that will never come clean again and plastic bowls? Not so much.