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The Ultimate Accessory

My husband and I spent the weekend painting our living room. We’ve lived in the apartment for almost five years now, but just went from renters to owners last summer. As we were in the process of buying the place, we discussed the projects we’d like to undertake once we owned the property; from the relatively small, like painting, to the big dream ones like a bathroom makeover, no idea was too wild. We were giddy at the thought of having no one to tell us “no”, and eager to put our own stamp on the place, to go from transient renters to owners with opinions and taste.

Money, time and a newborn prevented us from taking on any new projects right away. A couple weeks ago, Brian expressed his frustration with our home, saying, “We’ve owned it for almost a year and it looks exactly the same! You can’t tell we own it at all!” So we carved out a weekend and painted the living room while Maddie spent a couple days at Grandma’s house (both of whom were in heaven: talk about a Mutual Admiration Society!). The work was painstaking – our living room has large amounts of intricate molding, and pretty much the whole room had to be hand painted. At the end of the day, though, it looks like a totally different room, one that we’ve truly put our stamp on. As Brian remarked at one point, though, “You know that the next people to buy this will come through and paint it something completely different just so it doesn’t look like us anymore.”

That got me to thinking about our need to make our mark on the world, both in achievement and in what we leave behind. More and more celebrities are having babies and television’s calling it “The Latest Hollywood Accessory”. Being a parent is the new cool thing to do, and with it comes the whole line of baby gear as people line up to find out what type of stroller Chris Rock uses, or which onesies Britney bought last week on Melrose.

I prefer to think Hollywood’s not so shallow that they’re popping out kids like last year’s Fendi bags just because it’s currently “in”, and as soon as it’s “out” the kids get shuttled into a dark room with a nanny; I think at least part of the trend is Hollywod realizing that you can have a baby and it’s not the end of your career or your figure. And famous people certainly don’t have the monopoly on wanting to turn a baby into a fashion accessory; Mommy and Me matching outfits ain’t just for the rich, and I’m pretty sure a newborn never rolled over and asked for a different bow for her (bald) head.

When Brian and I first got married, we had the whole kid talk. My biggest problem was being unable to come up with a reason to have kids that wasn’t inherently selfish; “I want to see what my spouse and I mixed together would look like”, “I just want a baby to cuddle”, “I don’t know what else to do with my life”. None of these things seemed to top the fact in my young mind that the world’s a crowded place and there are millions of unwanted babies here already; why not rescue one of them?

As I got older, though, I realized a couple things: 1) a desire to have a child with a committed spouse usually falls under the “good selfish” category; and 2) (and this goes down the religious path here) we’re made in God’s image, and He’s a relational God as evidenced by the Trinity. Brian and I hit a point in our marriage where we had so much love between us, we wanted to share it with another person. And here’s Maddie.

So I’ve done it – I’ve painted one corner of my world with my genes, a defiant graffiti artist saying, "Jennifer was here!” I believe the world’s a richer place in general for having her in it; I know my world is.

But here’s the slippery slope; having a baby can very easily be the starting point for leaving your mark, making your comment on society. Babies aren’t just a block of marble in which to carve a beautiful, contributing adult; in a much more immediate way, they’re a blank billboard for you to use to advertise your opinions and beliefs, and sometimes people go way overboard.

Tell me you can’t tell a lot about a parent by how their baby is dressed. Is the little girl in frilly bows and pink dresses? Or is she defiantly dressed in jeans and non-girly colors, as if the parents are saying, “Girls can do anything boys can!” with just a little bit of a chip on the shoulder. Is the boy dressed head to toe in Yankees gear? Do you really think he cares that much if they win the pennant this year?

Babies are how we comment, “This is how I think it should be done/said.” Babies are how you recapture what you loved best about your childhood, how you change what you hated, and how you break or reinforce the chain of generational issues like child abuse or emotional unavailability. Babies are the passive-aggressive way you point out to all other parents the right way to do something, the correct amount of clothing to wear, the best time to introduce a foreign language, the optimum way to enjoy the zoo.

I try to look at Madeleine objectively (impossible) and see what I am saying to the world with her. I hope that I’m saying I’m in no hurry for her to grow up (cute baby clothes with, yes, the occasional ruffle), that I revel in her femininity and hope she will too (lots of pink), and that I hope she’s never in doubt about how much she’s loved (Mommy’s Baby Girl). She’s got plenty of onesies with sayings like “Future Ballerina” and while I have a strong desire to have her experience ballet and find the joy in it I do, I remind myself I’m raising an independent person, not a do-over opportunity. She’ll be exposed to ballet, and if she has no interest I’ll try not to take it personally and look forward to seeing what she does fall in love with. And believe me, I’m in heaven every night as I pick out her clothing for the next day; it’s like dressing an adorable little dolly every morning and she looks so cute in everything! I agonize over which dress to put her in for church full well knowing that she’d go in her undies if I’d let her.

My favorite baby accessory action is seeing the babies driven around with political slogans on like, “End War Now!” or “Equal Pay for Equal Work!” Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying these are invalid issues. But do you really think people believe your six-month-old has an opinion on Medicare?

I saw a shirt the other day in Whole Foods Market that I loved; it was a baby onesie that said, “Give Peas a Chance”.

Now that’s a shirt I believe a baby could get behind.


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