The baby industrial complex and the pink bathtub

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Pink baby bathtubSince we live in a very small urban home, we’ve had to be super selective with baby crap. Most of our baby supplies have been hand-me-downs, but I’m even picky about those: if it can’t collapse and slide under a couch, tuck into the closet, or fit on a shelf in Tavi’s mini-nursery, we probably don’t need it. Vibrating baby recliner? Don’t need it! Motorized swing? Don’t need it! Baby stimulation station with dangling toys, which we call The Neglector 1000? Ok, but only because it folds up for easy storage.

Other than one horrific trip to Babies R Us to get a breast pump and a couple sleep sacks, our very few baby supplies have all been hand-me-downs, gifts, or Craigslisted. As we ran screaming from Babies R Us, filled with pink and blue plastic crap we didn’t need, Dre said to me, “I never want to go there ever again.”

I nodded. All that molded plastic made me feel panicky, and most of it you don’t even need! The baby industrial complex tries to convince you to buy everything, but really all you need is blankets and burp rags.

One of the things I decided early on that we absolutely did NOT need was a baby bathtub. When Dre brought up the idea before Tavi was born, I poo-pooed him…

“We have sinks!” I said. “We don’t need some special molded plastic baby bucket to wash him in. If the sinks don’t work, we’ll just use that old dishtub with a towel on the side. We totally do NOT need a baby bathtub.”

We gave Tavi little washcloth baths for the first week of his life, since we’d been advised not to give him full baths until after his umbilical stump fell off.

His first real bath came at about 10 days old. Deciding the bathroom sink would feel too crowded, we opted for the kitchen sink with its spray faucet. It’s a deep stainless steel thing surrounded by granite counter tops, and it was immediately clear that the situation sucked.

Tavi screamed and screamed as we shuffled him around, Dre supporting his slippery body in the suddenly ENORMOUS sink while I juggled the faucet and the soap and the little tiny hand-me-down baby washcloth. Dre fretted about how insecure his grasp was on the baby (“He’s all soapy! I’m worried he’s going to slip out of my hands!”) as I tried to navigate Tavi’s flailing arms and beet-red screaming bobble-head.

“Next time we use the bathroom sink,” I said, as we dried Tavi off with a hand-me-down hooded baby towel.

Two days later, we repeated the trauma in the bathroom. Tavi fit a bit better in the sink, but the faucet didn’t detach and Tavi screamed and screamed as we used a little cup to pour warm water over his tiny angry fists and tried to clean out his milk-soaked double chin creases.

“Someday this will be really fun,” I tried to reassure the baby, chatting amiably with him as he screamed until he ran out of breath. “Bath time is going to be fun with rubber duckies and bubbles and toys!”

The baby was unconvinced. Dre looked like he needed PTSD therapy afterwards, moaning, “I’m sorry, Mr. Beebs” over and over again as he toweled off a still-miserable Tavi.

We spend Christmas in Portland with Dre’s family, including his brother and his wife who had a baby girl six weeks before Tavi was born. (Yes, there are going to be some crazy cousin times in the future!) My sister-in-law Sacha casually mentioned how much her daughter loves bath time, and I asked her about how they did it.

“Oh, we got this baby bathtub,” she said, taking me into the bathroom and showing me a molded plastic baby tub, complete with a little suspended baby hammock.

“Daniella loooves it,” she told me. “She dangles her little feet over the edge of the sling into the water and just smiles and smiles. Seriously, I think it’s the best part of her day.”

I thought of Tavi and his screaming and Dre’s white-knuckled hands trying to support him as he slipped around in the sink. Bathing was not the best part of Tavi’s day. Or our day. It was awful, and the plastic baby bathtub would make it not awful.

And so when we got home, I got on Craigslist and looked up baby bathtubs. There were a million of them, because of course the upside of the baby industrial complex is that everyone’s constantly shedding their crap. The most recent listing was a $10 tub just like the one my sister-in-law had. I sent and email and made arrangements to go pick it up.

The seller, a young Russian mom with a toddler, came to the door of her home with the tub.

“How old is your baby?” she asked me, making small talk as I dug into my wallet for cash.

“Oh, he’s just about a month old,” I said.

She looked at me with horror, and held up the tub. “But this tub — IT IS PINK!”

I waved my hand in the air. “Oh, HE doesn’t care,” I said. She still looked aghast, holding the pink tub limply like she expected me not to take it.

“Plus,” I reassured her, “pink matches my hair.”

She seemed unconvinced, but sold me the tub for 10 bucks.

The first bath with the ridiculously pink molded plastic bathtub was that night. We filled it up with water, stripped Tavi down, and prepared for the worst.

Reclined on the baby hammock dangling in the warm water, he looked up at us with a surprised face … and then kicked his legs and made his happy snuffle. As we cleaned out the crease under his third chin, he waved his Michelin Man arms at us and cooed.

In other words, Tavi loves his bright pink bathtub.

And I had to admit that sometimes, JUST SOMETIMES, every once in a great while … certain molded plastic baby industrial complex supplies are actually useful. I reassure myself that I bought it used and that it thankfully hangs out of the way in a hidden corner of the bathroom.

So now I must know: what ONE stupid piece of kid crap has actually turned out to be mission critical for you?

Comments on The baby industrial complex and the pink bathtub

  1. Does no one else just hop into the tub with their babies? My husband and I have done this with both of ours, they really like ma or dad there for reassurance and entertainment. Best of all, there's no back breaking, kneel-at-tubside chub-scrubbing.
    And I have to say, the first kid I was a die-hard baby wearer, but five years and a few extra pounds and I am SOLD on strollers post-20lbs. I used to cuss those things as useless and a nuisance, but man alive do I love them now!

  2. Oh man…for us it's the baby bath bucket. I gleefully told my husband we were going to get the bucket just because I wanted a baby in a bucket. I imagined the cute pictures of naked baby in the transparent bucket and insisted. We did the sink thing until his head was a little stable and since the, the bucket. The baby LOVES it. He would wiggle around and sway and looked like he was dancing, and now that he is bigger (almost 6 months) he loves to sit in it and pull his feet up so he can play with his toes in the bath. I think they need to make a bigger bucket though, he is soon going to out grow it and there will be sadness all around.

  3. my must have was a baby backpack carrier when Mimi got too big for the front sling, but wasn't walking yet! now she's walking we don't use it (plus she's too heavy for my back now!) but it was great for camping all last summer 🙂 My other must (current and continuing!) is my toddler seat on my bike, we cycle nearly everywhere outside Mimi's walking distance now 🙂

  4. we needed the baby swing for the first few months, but it was a pain always having to have D cells on hand. We ended up buying rechargables that we won't use again till we have another munchkin. Swaddle blankets were pretty needful, too, the ones with velcro tabs were so much easier. But what we still use and wouldn't give up for ANYTHING is our tummy tub. Check it out at

  5. I know you said that you hate the vibrating bouncy chairs, but in all honesty, I think it saved my life! When my son was born, I couldn't wait to spend all day holding and loving him. Unfortunatly, he had other plans. From the instant he came home from the hospital, he hated being held more than 5 mintues (I cried and cried for about 2 weeks over this). He didn't like to be swaddled like they showed me how to do. At first it was so frustrating. He would cry and cry as I was holding him, then he would have a scream fest after I would swaddle him, thinking it would make things better. Finally one day, I was just exhausted. I couldn't take the feeling that my child didn't want a bond with me. So (and this probably makes a few mom's shudder) I stuck him in the vibrating bouncy chair. I though that maybe it would lull him to sleep like I couldn't. Well, it worked. From that moment on (until he could crawl anyways) he was in that damn chair. It was nice though, when I was baking or making a meal (which was a lot) he would sit, strapped into his bouncy chair on the table, and babble back and forth with me. In my opionion, this thing actually improved the relationship with my son!

  6. Man, I was totally against baby clutter, and so wanted to be a minimalist momma, but there’s a reason why the baby industry is so lucrative.

    The one item we could not live without is our Rock and Play ( I was totally against a bouncer/swing until I realized that Liam hated being in another room when we were doing anything, and lugging the PnP between rooms (not to mention to grandparents’) was a pain. Oh my gosh, eating dinner is so much easier without holding a squirmy little thing. Plus, this is tons more stable than a bouncer and folds up smaller than a swing. He naps in it, too, and many a late night we were saved by having him sleep at our bedside where we could rock him.

  7. I got an excersaucer handed down to me. I first thought it was a monstrosity that barely fit in my apartment, much less through a doorway. But from the time that my son could sit up I could pop him in it, drag him to the door of the bathroom (so I could smile at him if he started to fuss), and actually get a shower longer than two minutes! I could even use it to get the dishes and laundry done!

  8. the little plastic tub was HELL for Joel. I would get in the bath with him and lay him in my lap while i sat indian style. But the best thing for us gadget wise was those little vibrating chairs. He had thrush the first 2 months of his life as well as bad gas, and the vibrations seemed to help him feel better about all of it.

  9. I thought the Itzbeen we were given was an extravagant uni-tasker, but when DD showed up after five days of labour and an unplanned c-section? I have never been so grateful for a gift in my life. Not only did it allow me and the hubby to keep track of feedings, diapers, naps, etc., it had an unlabelled extra timer button that I used to keep track of my pain pill schedule.

  10. Ours was a stroller! We have friends who bought three of everything for their baby and he never used any of it, including an expensive stroller! So we weren’t going to get one but my in-laws bought us one, and we use it all the time, even when babywearing to carry her and our stuff.

  11. I think the best thing we bought for our son was a bumbo seat. We used it for everything, feeding, playtime and even when we were sitting and teaching him sign language. Even now at 20 months old, he still tries to sit in it, of course getting his butt stuck in it!!!

  12. Vibrating bouncy seat. Best. Gift. Ever.

    With my first son, a friend of mine gave me her bouncy seat that her son had outgrown. Man, oh man, it was a lifesaver! He would bounce and kick and bounce some more in it! When he was too big for it, I had to retire it. I didn’t plan on having any more kids after him, so I had gotten rid of every single piece of baby mess I had…..except that seat. I don’t know why I held on to it.

    Expect now. With my 2nd son, he is a cuddler. He HAS to be in the room with me. I can’t use the bathroom, or go to the kitchen, or breathe unless I’m in the same room with him. Enter…..the bouncy seat. He fell in love. He was quite colicky, then he got sick, colicky showed up again, trouble sleeping….that seat was a sanity saver in this house! It has been carted all over this house, upstairs, downstairs. I’m typing this now while he’s in his seat, my foot bouncing it gently while he sleeps.

  13. This post made me laugh so hard I cried! This is why I love Offbeat Mama so much! REAL stories not like the poo in those magazines! Thank you so much Ariel for the amazing community you have created! I think you are changing the way women communicate with each other!

  14. This is really a good post.All I have to say is…. I love this post! I know you’re very selective about what personal experiences you share here, but whenever we get one, it’s SO GOOD.

  15. I had two things I actually really wanted but was unsure about forking over the cash – a moby wrap and a nice breastfeeding pillow. My girl did not like being put down and left (can’t say I blame her) and she really didn’t enjoy her small swing for long either. I had a second hand snuggli but found I didn’t really like it. Since the name brand moby wraps sell for 50 bucks I decided to make my own and all I needed was 6 yards of jersey knit fabric! It was great and although she would slip in it after awhile I just would readjust and was able to have hands again!

    The other item – the My Brestfriend. We had a second hand boppy but I’m apparently too big for that and could never get it to be right – it would slip out and also didn’t fit with me and her in our “mommy chair” (which I also insisted on but was given one for christmas and love it). The Brestfriend looked funny to me and I hate the name but went ahead and used a Walmart gift card I had been saving to get it. Completely worth the 20 bucks for me as it actually adjusts around the waist, and has much more support. It’s like a little padded table! I was actually able to doze off many times while feeding overnight. I know with my second one coming in less than 30 days now I’m not gonna have quite so many issues with the breast feeding.

    Also – I love the comments about what babies REALLY need: food, clothes, a place to sleep and love. Pretty simple. It’s not until they start begging you for new toys that they get “high maintenance” LOL.

  16. honestly, my stroller is my life saver! I am all for carrying your babe with you wherever you go…but as a petite lady with carpol tunnel syndrome in both wrists (they think anyways?) and a crazy toddler, this just wasn’t feasible. The dam stroller allows me to go everywhere with my kids! Plus I can carry the bags and stuff, and put Herb’s tricycle on top to ride the bus! (it folds up) And I never have to worry about dropping something–especially my baby!

  17. The baby industy is worse than the wedding industry!

    I will say i ended up buying two strollers…and two slings. A big stoller that matches the carseat and a little umbrella one. I use them often, sometimes both in one day.

    And, like a lot of other moms, the swing saved my sanity so many times.

    oh and the Baby Einstein DVDs. she LOVES those…and I always thought they were a gimick.

  18. Stuffy-nosed kids can sleep in a vibrating lil recliner and you don’t have to prop them up with your boob all night while they sneeze over you, Woohoo! But my daughter was bathed in sinks and shower stalls-I think it may have helped her balance actually, what with washing her in my arms and her having to conterweight herself xD

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