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Baby, what a difference

A decade later, a lot has changed in the world of motherhood

By Louise Kennedy
Globe Staff / December 5, 2009

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Babies don’t change much from one era to the next, but babyhood sure does.

At least that’s how it feels as I compare the arrivals of my two children, more than a decade apart. I gave birth to our son 12 years ago, and this summer my husband and I met our daughter in China, one week after her first birthday.

OK, so technically that makes her a toddler, not a baby, and certainly there are plenty of differences between preparing for a newborn and bringing home a 1-year-old. But the two of them are so startlingly similar in temperament and habits - both alert, curious, and cheerful (or, as I say in my grumpier moods, lousy sleepers, into everything, and loud) - that it makes it easier to see that, even with only 11 years between their births, they’ve landed in two surprisingly different worlds.

I started noticing the changes even before we flew to China in July. When I was pregnant with C.J., I read a few books, talked to a few friends, and made a list of the items we’d need. A friend supplied the crib, my mother bought a deluxe stroller, and for the car seat we went to Babies R Us, checked out the five or six models on the shelf, and picked the one that looked sturdiest and easiest to clean. Diapers, onesies, board books, done.

For T.T., on the other hand, things seemed much more complex. That was partly because the slowdown in adoptions from China meant that I had more than three years to make my lists. But the real difficulty, I think, was simply that there was so much more information available than before - and instantly, addictively available, too, via our new friend the Internet.

The trouble became most apparent once we’d actually received some basic information about our daughter, so that I finally knew (roughly) how big she was and what kind of car seat she’d need. But why schlep to the store, I thought, if I can just shop from the comfort of home?

And thus began my three days of Car-Seat Craziness. I quickly discovered not just the shopping sites, but also the online reviews and arguments about every imaginable style and brand of car seat. Issues I had never even considered - matching seat precisely to vehicle type, fretting about the compression factor of winter coats, locating an inspection site - soon flooded my brain.

Finally, sated with data and dizzy with ratings, I pointed and clicked on the model that I’d liked at first sight - and then found it for $100 off because I was willing to choose a less popular fabric.

Which brings me to another oddity about Planet Baby 2009: the new obsession with style, not just in all those adorable little outfits (now far cheaper and more accessible than in the dark ages of 1997) but in every accoutrement of infant life. Designer diaper bags? For 200 bucks or even more? When I knew that, no matter how stylish, in a year the thing would sit, beat-up and becrumbed, next to the sippy cups and snack holders in a box headed for Goodwill?

On the other hand, sippy-cup design and snack-holder technology have really come a long way in the past 12 years. That, plus all the cute, cheap clothing, is my happiest discovery in this brave new world. Oh, and baby sign language - something I’d dismissed as a yuppie trend back then, but now fully embrace as a remarkable way to soothe the frustrations of a young person who has plenty to communicate, but just can’t do it with her vocal cords quite yet.

Significant advances, all. They almost make up for the baffling, and dismaying, rise of electronic technology aimed at infants. If there’s one way I’d turn back the clock, it’s by eliminating all the toys that produce nasty flashes and beeps. Of course, that might take us back to 1897, not 1997, so never mind.

So many changes - it’s almost enough to blog about. Except that that remains the single most incomprehensible difference of all between babyhood then and now. I am just as tired, just as busy, and just as besotted with this baby as I was with the last, and I assume that all the other new mothers are, too. So where, how, and when do they find the time to blog?

It’s a mystery, and one I’d be happy to contemplate at length, except that the baby just woke up from her nap.

Some things never change.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at kennedy@globe.com, but not very often until her maternity leave ends next month.

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