Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Parent talk

I never get a sense of solidarity when I venture to talk with other parents about parent stuff or kid stuff. I get a sense of separateness. Oddballness. Alienation, even.

Today, in the waning minutes of my workday, a co-worker brought up that this Saturday would be her baby's first birthday. She has three children, the most of anyone in the digital department. Then she made some remark I didn't quite hear about formula. Then I heard her say, "Formula is expensive!" and laugh.

"Formula?" I asked.

"It's expensive!" she said.

"You're not nursing?" I said. I suppose I shouldn't have said that. But I did.

"No," she replied. "I tried to." Then she added, "Not very hard!" and laughed again. Or did she say, "I tried hard" and laugh?

I was completely at a loss. What on earth could I say to that? How do parents talk to one another? It's as if other parents live in a completely different world of parenting than I do. I tried another tack. "So now he's eating food?"

"Oh, yes, we give him Gerber's. Sometimes he wants our food," she said, and laughed again. "But he eats Gerber's, yes."

Again I was confused. If you're looking forward to ending the necessary expense of formula, why take up the new, unecessary expense of baby food?

In my estimation, jarred baby food is one of the biggest rackets I've ever seen. It's little more than junk food for babies. It's got hardly any protein and even less fat. You can't live off it. It's just pureed vegetables with occasional hints of superprocessed meat byproducts. Even the organic stuff uses mechanically separated chicken for its meat products -- one of the foulest innovations of the industrial food age. A jar costs more than half a dollar, even though all it contains is four tablespoons of watery, stewed goo. A few penny's worth -- maybe -- of cooked fruit or veg. And beyond the money, there's so much packaging. All that glass, all that shipping, all that processing, for such a tiny amount of food. A brazen misuse of the earth's resources. It's just a really bad deal from every possible angle.

When I pass by the baby food section of the supermarket, I marvel that the industry manages to find enough idiots to buy enough of its stuff to keep the product lines going. Cooking and freezing little ice cubes of mashed veggies for Ulysses had been so easy and cheap. I'd only done it two or three times, because it was so easy to make so much, relative to the portion size.

I did enjoy shopping for baby food a few times, though. I'm not a fanatic. It was a lot of fun to shop in a completely new food section of the supermarket, to check out a new range of items. It's like getting takeout food once or twice a month, for the fun of it. The food's not as healthful, economical or low-carbon-footprint as what you can make at home -- but there are other reasons to choose one meal or another.

"I think we only ever bought about five jars of baby food," I said. "Mostly for the novelty." I turned to another co-worker, an earthy-seeming kinda guy whose third child is due to arrive in about a month. "How about you, did you buy baby food?"

"Sure!" he said. "We still have baby food. We buy it."

"But it's so expensive to buy, and it's so easy and cheap to make," I said.

"Yes," he said. And he laughed. "That's true!" He shrugged.

I turned back to my computer. I was silent for a moment. "Well, I got nothin'," I said. The two parents laughed, and so did the co-worker who sits next to me. He's expecting his first child in April. "The only thing I would know to say now," I added after another pause, "is: 'But you're playing right into the hands of The Man!'"

More laughter, to my relief. "Oh, I'm not going down that slippery slope!" said the father.

"There's no "slippery," I said. "I jumped directly to the bottom of the slope."

I finished up my work for the day, feeling tongue-tied and separate in a room full of parents.

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