I’m guessing that my fellow first-time dads have a lot of epiphanies about kids in the weeks right after their children are born. And I’m guessing that veteran dads who have already experienced the fog of fatherhood find most of these “epiphanies” more akin to tired cliches. Yes, yes, the old-timers sigh, infants love being rocked, they hate being cold, and they occasionally make a diaper-changing session into an exercise in projectile urine. The vets know all this, despite us first-timers and our safari-like wonderment during the early child-rearing experience.
No doubt, this process of discovering what’s already been previously discovered about kids will continue forever. It’s standard old-versus-new, cycle-of-life stuff. But lost in our (understandable) infant obsession is the parenting process’s weird revelations about us adults. Like, for instance, how arbitrarily we define what’s OK and not OK for humans when we all grow up.
I came upon this particular realization just as soon as I brought my son Isaac home from the hospital and snapped him into his first one-piece garment. Having both poor circulation in my always-freezing feet and a home with frigid hardwood floors, I was immediately jealous of my little boy and infants like him. Why are they all but expected to wear these wonderfully warm foot-protecting body suits, but adults would likely be reported to child protective services if they donned the same thing?
This, then, got me thinking: Are there other terrific products we grant our kids but deny for ourselves? And are there any socially acceptable adult alternatives to the wares of our childhood? The answers to both questions is yes, depending on your definition of “socially acceptable.”
Kids Product: The Onesie/Footed Pajamas
The standard dress for most infants, “The Onesie” specifically refers to Gerber’s t-shirt that buttons under the crotch, leaving the legs exposed. However, while the company has a registered trademark on the name, “onesie” now refers in the vernacular to any one-piece body suit for kids, including the more famous zip-up footed pajama.
Designed for utility, these garments allow for far easier access to the excretion organs than, say, zippered pants. That makes good sense for babies, who need regular diaper changes. But it should also make similar – if not more – sense for adults who not only have to regularly go to the bathroom, but who also occasionally engage in reproductive activity with those same bodily regions.
So then why are the onesie and footed pajama socially unacceptable for adults? I’ll proffer two theories: Style and physical hazard.
In a culture facing an obesity epidemic, extremely revealing garb is increasingly limited to runway models, athletes and the relatively few who chisel out a hard body. That makes sense – a fat nation is drawn to clothes that don’t show off blubber. Among the sartorial casualties of that shift is the onesie, which is, after all, just a shirt connected to a crotch-buttoned speedo – one that naturally highlights flabby legs. That’s cute if we’re talking about an infant, but not so much if we’re talking about a middle-aged office-park dad.
At the same time, both the onesie and the footed pajama can inflict real damage to males from self-application. Whereas the parent putting the onsie or the footed pajama on the baby has the necessary third-person perspective to make sure the buttons and zippers don’t perform an accidental circumcision, an adult dressing himself in such clothing could easily end up reenacting the prom-night scene from There’s Something About Mary.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: The Snuggie
Kids Product: The Swaddle
Simulating the womb for newborns is an age-old technique to keep them calm, as it reminds them of a familiar place. One of the best ways to achieve that simulation that is to employ the swaddle – aka a tightly wrapped blanket that immobilizes the child just as an amniotic sac does. For those of us adults who aren’t clausterphobic, the swaddle is likely appealing, even despite its straight-jacket-like qualities. After all, who wouldn’t like to be wrapped in a super-warm blanket burrito on a cold winter’s day?
And yet, unfortunately, the swaddle remains the exclusive domain of infants for no good reason…except, perhaps, that you can’t use your arms when you are in one.
OK, fair point.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: The Mummy Sleeping Bag
Kids Product: The Cradle
When you think baby, you think lullaby and, more important, the cradle (or, as snobs call it, the bassinet). Indeed, a rocking device is such an absolute necessity of child rearing that for a few gripping Lost episodes after Kate kate birthed her baby, John Locke made the building of a cradle his top priority – more important than even fighting off the island’s smoke monster. All-knowing as he was, Locke understood that kids absolutely need to be rocked to sleep – it’s just that simple.
Somehow, though, there aren’t cradles for us adults. Sure, we have all different kinds of sleep platforms, from the Craftmatic adjustable to the Tempur-Pedic mattress to the full-on waterbed. But cradles? No – for some reason, we’re AOK with coin-operated vibrating porn beds being ubiquitous in Vegas’s randy motels. But being gently rocked to sleep in a big cradle? Sorry, that’s only for kids. WTF?
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: The Hammock
Kids Product: The Sippy Cup
How many times have you spilled a drink on yourself only to angrily wonder why the cup has such a wide spill-inducing opening in the first place? Seriously, who really needs all that damn surface area anyway?
This, of course, is why we don’t typically give kids their milk or orange juice in a beer mug or a martini glass – we give ’em the old sippy cup, which delivers the best qualities of a container and a funnel: It both holds a drink’s worth of liquid, but physically concentrates that liquid into a spill-proof spout. Brilliant!
So where are the sippy cups for adults? Nowhere, because we assume clumsiness – and therefore, the penchant for spilling – goes away when kids get older. But anyone who is something of a klutz (ie. most of us) knows that’s not true at all. Especially when we advance into and past middle age, our fine motor skills return to infant levels or worse, bringing on ever more unnecessary spills. It’s time to ask why? Why don’t we see sippy cups at weddings and parties and, hell, presidential state dinners? In tough economic times, if we want to save on laundry bills, it’s time to make the sippy cup as much a part of growing older as it is a part of growing up.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: The nipple-shaped water bottle and/or the Travel Coffee Mug.
Kids Product: The Bib
In the same vein, how many times have you dropped a glob of condiment on your shirt while at a restaurant, only to enviously glance at your little one and his protective bib? Ya, you can admit it – it’s probably more than once. And don’t be ashamed – that makes sense! The bib is perhaps humanity’s single most brilliantly pragmatic piece of prophylactic outerwear north of the snow pant. It involves absolutely no pretense – it’s there to protect underlying clothing, without regard for aesthetics.
That last quality, though, probably explains why most of us are willing to put bibs on children, but not on ourselves. If human nature is inherently self-serving, we don’t mind making our kids look ridiculous, if it means we have to do less laundry and buy less new clothes. At the same time, we mind making ourselves look absurd, even if it means more laundry and more new clothes, because, well, we want to look good. And we can’t look good if we are the only neanderthal in the restaurant tucking the cloth napkin into our collar.
This gets to the maddening arbitrariness of the adult aversion to bibs. Think about it: Because we’ve collectively decided bibs are for kids but not adults, the few adults who nonetheless always wear bibs do indeed look absolutely absurd. But in the few places where every adult is wearing a bib – say, a New England crab house or a Dixie rib joint – the bib suddenly doesn’t look bad. It looks normal. Thus, had we randomly made a different societal decision in favor of the ubiquitous adult bib, the aesthetic problems woulds have been eliminated…as would have large dry cleaning bills.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: Stainguard Shirts
Kids Product: The Mobile
Your entranced infant happily gazing up at a mobile from the bottom of a crib is a rare picture of gauzy bliss in this noisy chaos we call modern life. It’s quite a wonderful sight: As the kid searches for sleep, he’s aided by a psychedelic array of colors and shapes dreamily drifting by overhead. It’s beautiful – and enviable. And yet, even with the scourge of insomnia disorders and desperate Ambien binges, most adult bedroom ceilings aren’t festooned with such palliative mobiles because…why?
The only answer I can come up with is that we’ve made a silly decision that mobiles are not for adults, except perhaps in Alexander Calder exhibits at the municipal art museum. But you aren’t usually allowed to sleep – or even lie down – in the art museum, so we lose out on the intoxicating effect of the mobile. It’s a tragedy.
Allegedly Acceptable Alternative: A Bedtime Viewing of The Big Lebowski or Wizard of Oz (the latter preferably set to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”)
Kids Product: Velcro Sneakers
I hate knots. I’ve never been very good at them. I feel like it has something to do with me not being a math/science guy, but I could be wrong about that. Either way, velcro was always my crutch as a kid – it allowed me to tightly fasten my Keds to my feet without having to tie proper knots, all while looking cool.
For non-senior-citizen adults, of course, this kind of velcro footwear is generally frowned upon. I lament this as someone who has tried to defy the adult world’s peer pressure by regularly wearing a pair of Vans Prison Issue #23 to my morning radio gig. But in truth, these sneakers are only considered adult-acceptable as a humorous novelty – that is, they are acceptable for adults only because they imply an inside joke about the supposed ridiculousness and juvenile nature of velcro. Vans Prison Issue #23, in other words, are considered a flashy accessory for “Back to Childhood” chic – but not truly acceptable in any other context.
And that leaves knot-o-phobes like me perpetually tied up in knots for no good reason.
Allegedly Acceptable Alternative: Tevas
Kids Product: The Stroller
A long time ago, royalty traveled by lectica, jiao, sedan chair, palanquin and/or gamas – aka beds or chairs hauled by musclebound manservants. I know this because I once saw The Last Emperor and because Wikipedia told me so.
Today, the only people who still regularly enjoy such a labor-dependent vehicles as a primary mode of transportation are the kiddos. Wheeled everywhere in their luxurious strollers, infants are the masters and parents the lowly help. This certainly makes economic sense for most of us non-millionaires who can’t afford to employ our own staff of bodybuilder-grade minions. However, for some reason, even the super-wealthy souls who could theoretically afford to travel by stroller don’t because we’ve said strollers are OK for kids, but not for the rest of us.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: The Rickshaw
Kids Product: The Pacifier
Though just a piece of plastic or rubber, the pacifier possesses magical qualities – in particular, the ability to sedate on contact. Why this is remains one of the universe’s true mysteries. But any parent who has seen an infant suddenly stop wailing and start sucking appreciates the demonstrably awesome power of the paci.
With a recession amping up stress and with America still afflicted by 9/11-induced PTSD, the pacifier could be quite a useful instrument in the adult world. It could, for instance, be an inexpensive oral substitute for whatever we’re currently using to calm our nerves – be it a medicinal sip of 12-year-old single malt or the newest anti-anxiety drug. It might also be a healthy tool to mitigate arguments at home or in the office – instead of taking a time-out smoke break, we could recede to our respective corners for a suck on the ol’ artificial nipple. But because we’ve arbitrarily deprived ourselves of the pacifier we give our kids, all of those possibilities are pipe dreams, leaving us to look elsewhere for effective pacification.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: Nicotine Gum, Chewing Tobacco or Big League Chew
Kids Product: The Diaper
If you’ve ever seen a commercial for Imodium or Pepto Bismol, you know the terrible feeling they’re referring to. There you are, having to crap your brains out, but you either aren’t anywhere near a bathroom, or are in a delicate social situation that doesn’t lend itself to a desperate run for the john. So on top of the horrific abdominal pain, you are dealing with the stressful proposition of soiling yourself.
For babies, the whole scatalogical experience is different. Yes, your infant is a human like the rest of us – so he definitely feels the same physical pain of imminent explosive defecation. But here’s the thing: he never feels the corresponding psychological anxiety, because he doesn’t have to run anywhere – he’s permitted to let it all out into a self-adhering receptacle we commonly call a diaper.
Now, I sympathize with the environmental case for limiting diapers to kids. Whether we’re talking cloth Rumparooz or Plastic Huggies, diapers use resources – the former (which are certainly greener than disposables) use water and detergent, the latter use petroleum-based compounds and landfill space. But, then, so does flushing a toilet or a urinal. And here’s what I really don’t understand: Even if you generally subscribe to the environmental case against diapers (which I most certainly do), I don’t understand why they are 100 percent OK for kids, but 100 percent not OK for healthy non-Depends-needing adults. By that I mean it’s not even socially acceptable for a healthy adult to wear diapers in occasional emergency situations – like say, during a long plane flight after binging at the airport’s Indian restaurant, or during an important business meeting that happens to be taking place at a Mexican restaurant.
If you’re telling me you wouldn’t want a diaper in that kind of bind, then you aren’t being honest with me – or yourself.
Allegedly Acceptable Adult Alternative: A Portable Bed Pan
[David Sirota is a writer, radio commentator and newly-minted geeky dad. You can find his work at davidsirota.com.]