There are worse things than having to put your baby to sleep in a cardboard box.
In times of poverty, desperation, or sheer practicality, women used to put their newborns to sleep in drawers. In fact, in Finland, many babies still sleep in cardboard boxes, which the government actually pays for. To modern American ears, this may sound perverse. Until, perhaps, we realize that a drawer or box on the floor with a few blankets is little different than a Moses basket.
The grunge factor, however, is almost insurmountable to those of us who have spent the last decade grooming our tastes on Pinterest and Instagram. As the new Miss Manners, we take pins as rules of thumb for everything from our kitchen backsplash to birthday party napkin arrangements. We can even find ideas for snazzy funeral parties.
While I’m not an avid pinner, I found Pinterest to be a supreme help for sorting out my wedding decor. And with baby now on the way, I turned to it once again for aide. One search for “nursery” sorts pin after pin of billowy rose rooms, neutral displays like the inside of tiramasu, and lists I could never dream up, like “23 Glamorous Lighting Ideas for Baby.”
It was this last pin that gave me pause. Does my baby need glamour? Beauty and magic, yes. But glamour? It’s not the first word that comes to mind when someone says baby. Then I remembered that, while soft colors might make adults doe-eyed and in the mood for cuddles, most babes are more stimulated and happy looking at bright, contrasting colors, not the fashionable newborn pales and mutes.
|Re-painting is not a prerequisite for giving birth, and spending $500 on assorted frames to make a collage above the crib contributes little to overall flourishing.|
Moreover, my husband and I just moved from our one bedroom apartment into my parents’ second master. An extra room, named “the baby’s room,” doubles right now as a guest room, triples as my niece’s regular play and sleepover room, and quadruples (in both my husband’s and my imagination) as a prime sunspot for a desk or reading chair. Our new bedroom has just enough floor space for a bassinet (or drawer on the floor), even if the rest of baby’s gadgets and clothes would be a tight squeeze. Nevertheless, we’ve decided that we would rather sleep with, or right next to, our baby rather than sequester him or her down the hall.
I don’t seem to find a pin for the particulars of our arrangement, although searching “small space nursery” yields gorgeous, if not glamorous, ideas. Parenthood is altogether messier than these pins would have me believe. Yet I can’t bring myself to denounce Pinterest as a complete idol of aesthetics. Space and beauty have a profound impact on people, even the tiniest ones.
In the claymation movie Creature Comforts, zoo animals give interviews on what it’s like to live in a confined space away from their natural habitats. A Brazilian lion philosophizes, “Here, you live in a veeery smaaall place . . . In Brazil, you have eh-space, although you don’t have all these technologicals, you know, double glaze and things like that . . . We need eh-space to live. We need eh-space to feel that we are part of the world and not a kind of piece of object in a box.” The controlled temperature and wall paint at the zoo are a comfort, but they are not conducive to the lion’s natural flourishing.
The lion’s personal plight sheds light on my aspirations for a beautiful nursery, and on my baby’s needs. It’s all too easy to make myself or my baby into a “kind of piece of object in a box” by hankering to replicate an aesthetic found online or in someone else’s home. Our lives require more flexibility than that. Re-painting is not a prerequisite for giving birth, and spending $500 on assorted frames to make a collage above the crib contributes little to overall flourishing.
Unlike the grown beast who has moved from the wild to a veritable box, a newborn transitions from a small womb to the spacious world. It’s a frightening move! Like the lion, most “technologicals” are extraneous the first few months, when a baby’s vision is limited to the range between a mother’s arms and her eyes, and only a mother’s milk and a mother and father’s warmth keep him or her alive. The focus of this period should be bonding with the baby.
|I would consider my current living situation an unnatural habitat, more cramped, more people, and less tidy than I imagined bringing my firstborn into.|
So how much space does the baby need when his or her sight expands? What should he or she be looking at then? And how much space do parents need to stay sane?
There are no ready answers to these questions. We know that babies map their environments early on, creating a mental picture of what surrounds them—how each space and object is used and where things are in relation to each other. Therefore, they benefit from clean, ordered homes that change little or not at all, as well as some level of daily and night time routine. We know as parents that clutter, dirt, and those well-meaning decorative gifts we’ve kept out of guilt can affect our sanity, which, in turn, affects our children. We know that beautiful art moves the soul and that tasteful interior decoration is on the level of art. Yet the small baby may not need his or her own studio just yet.
In my girlish dreams of old, I would consider my current living situation an unnatural habitat, more cramped, more people, and less tidy than I imagined bringing my firstborn into. The resourceful women who settled infants to sleep into what means they had—like drawers—might laugh or shake their heads at me. We can only make the best of what we’re given. Though we can gather ideas here or there from those who’ve documented their artistic parental triumphs, we shouldn’t feel the need to replicate them.
What my immediate, growing family may be missing in space and privacy, we make up for in the company of loved ones. Most likely, my baby will first map a room that is decorated for adults, our bedroom. But he or she will also map, as a daily presence, the faces of her grandparents and older cousin, who I’m expecting to be a great help at getting diapers. Such treasures cannot be gotten from a place like Pinterest.
When the nesting impulse comes, as I’m told it will in a couple of months, I plan to channel it into making the most of what we have, finding a place for everything, ditching what we won’t use, and cleaning all the cracks and corners. I’ll prioritize crafting a simple black and white mobile and hanging a crucifix in a place the baby will see. What happens beyond that is up in the air. Whatever billows and drapes we may or may not have, we still get a baby. And a baby crying in a multi-purpose room may not be glamorous, but she will be ours.
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