Columns Archive, Towards Liberation

Before Baby, Purchasing Motherhood

The best thing about Babies ‘R’ Us, when it still existed, was the expecting mothers’ parking spaces, which I suddenly realized that I could use after my husband parked the car there.  I screamed out, “This isn’t for us!”, but with one look from him and a questioning, “Raina?”, I realized we could with a following shout of glee.  I’m very expressive when it comes to emotions.  

The worst thing about Babies ‘R’ Us?  The sheer amount of choices and things to try.  It was like a playground with torture devices where you couldn’t leave but you were expected to play.  Lift that heavy-ass stroller!  Fold it in without losing a finger (if you can figure out which button to press at what frequency)!  Why are these things so complex?!!  Being at the baby store I felt that I might have more success flying an alien spaceship than actually placing a child in a stroller, taking him out, and effectively folding the stroller to go someplace.

I just wanted a checklist to fill out, an app even, that allowed me to click some buttons and then it told me the top three for me to check out.  Then, I wanted to go to a store, find an attendant waiting, who would give me information about the strollers, show me how they work with all their best features, maybe with some good conversation in there, and then we would walk out with a stroller to glory.  Instead, I got my hilariously sarcastic husband and I using Youtube to figure out how strollers work (and he has multiple engineering degrees), no helper, and an achy arm that made me think I need to lift strollers instead of weights in preparation for this baby.

We looked at cribs, too, the majority of which are these heavy-duty pieces of pretty conservative looking furniture.  Modern, eclectic style with streamlined structure and cool colors?  My people obviously do not have babies, or, when we do, we suddenly return to this longing to fulfill a big-furniture-in-suburbia-type dream.  Nope.  I’m not interested in cribs that are bigger than my house nor the façade of a particular Cleavers black-and-white (really, white is right) non-reality. 

Most of my purchases, in the end, were through The-Store-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named for convenience sake.  Of course, this was before the KKK onesies started being a popular item offered there.  Easy is never politic free.  Before that recent study, The-Store-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named was not only my bookseller, and books are totally a part of my maternity journey; it was my baby stuff dealer.  After reading all the random “best-of” lists available on Google for the best carrier, best pacifier, best bottle, best snot remover, etc, I would go to The-Store-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, price it out by brands, and add whatever item to my baby registry list on in the hope that one of my amazing friends and family would have pity on my purchasing insanity and buy it for me.  Come to my house, and you might think I run a day care for all of the preparation that I have done in the stuff department.  In bottles alone, we have the Avent, Comotomo, Medela, Dr. Brown’s, Lifesaver, and Kiinde just based on a short-term babysitting experience I had with a little girl who would take one bottle most of the time, but only a particular Medela when she was having a meltdown.  

I am trying to avoid baby meltdowns by having a personal financial meltdown in purchasing motherhood. That’s what I admit is happening.  If I find just the right items, then this mothering thing will be easy.  Pop, and the baby is out.  He will be the calmest baby ever with just the right sound machine, and he will sleep through the night in the perfect, premiere swiveling bassinet in a room with lovely chevron-printed grey blackout curtains that blend into the walls.  I won’t have any soreness on my breasts from breastfeeding if I get that organic nipple cream that was on so many lists with the backup of sheep lanolin for the just in case, because I, in my capitulation to capitalism, am a sheep.  And baby will never have diaper rash if I get the toilet sprayer to spray his shit off the cloth diapers that I will use expertly from the first night. Even if he does get diaper rash, I have zinc oxide and butt paste to spread with a baby butt spatula (they exist) so that he will not be uncomfortable for long and can again, return to the busy work of sleeping and growing his properly financially cushioned brain.  

I realize that all of this makes me a commercial robot who uses her limited buying power to the detriment of future wealth accumulation and that this behavior undermines my future ability to retire as well as the ability to establish and pass on generational wealth.  It is also totally antithetical to liberation praxis and humanization work that must push me to ask who makes these items and at what cost and how am I losing my own humanity in my capitalization to product propaganda. I realize this because I am an academic, whose wallet is an extension of her brain and that part is brainwashed by the capitalist machine.  

So surrounded by stuff, I ask myself, will this make me a better mother?  No.  It won’t.  If the Big One, the earthquake that all Californians and transplants fear and know is coming, arrives and much of this stuff is swept away, will I still attempt to nurture and bathe and feed and play with my son?  Of course.  The stuff doesn’t make mother love so.  The stuff is easy, and politically entrenched, and conflicted, and it is just stuff.  I still have to figure out how to mother.  I’m waiting on a baby to teach me.

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Filed under: Columns Archive, Towards Liberation


Raina J. León, PhD, is from Philly and loves to travel.  She is a CantoMundo fellow, Cave Canem graduate fellow (2006) and member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and has been published in numerous journals as a writer of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and scholarly work.