I’m on the baby shower circuit these days, marching in a parade of pink and blue that has left me a tad nostalgic for the sweet smell of a newborn’s hairless head. Of course this wistfulness lasts for all of two seconds. Then reality rushes in. I remember those ear-splitting howls, the frantic trips to the pediatrician, the countless interruptions in the bathroom.
Child-rearing was back-breaking work 30 years ago, and it remains so even now. Plenty, however, has changed since my kids were born, and nowhere am I reminded more of shifting practices than when I spend an afternoon with prospective mothers. I would need a cheat sheet to bring up baby today. Then again, many of the new moms stare blankly at us when we reminisce about old-time parenting. I know what they’re thinking: How quaint!
“Do you remember your first mosquitero?” a great aunt asked aloud at my daughter-in-law’s shower.
And of course I did. In the tropics, a new mother would be remiss if she didn’t have mosquito netting for her newborn’s crib. My mother stitched Disney appliqués on the netting of the mosquitero I used for my first child, and though my windows were firmly closed and the air conditioning thermostat stuck on auto, I dutifully spread the mosquito netting every time I put my child to sleep. More form than function, this nod to tradition kept the abuelas and tias happy.
The mosquitero, once a fixture in many Miami nurseries, is now as rare as a Philco record player, but its mere mention has nudged my memory about life with baby. Back in the Stone Age, I swore by Agustin Reyes’ Agua de Violeta cologne and by the pin with the azabache stone that my grandmother insisted would ward off the evil eye. I was also partial to anise for colic and chamomile for sleeplessness and diaper rash. Though these are typical Cuban remedies and rituals, every culture has its own customs, handed down generation to generation, a tacit agreement that experience counts for something.
In the Time of Google, where information is a click away and the extended family is dispersed across many ZIP codes, these concepts come off as antiquated and passé. Advice is sought online, from strangers, from bloggers, from talking heads. Veterans of the nursery wars feel ignored.
I am not, by any means, advocating a return to the days when children rode their bikes without helmets and skated down the street (not a park path) without knee pads. Nor would I push for a return to those car trips when a baby was carried in a parent’s arm unrestrained and sugary juices were the favored morning snack. What’s more, I applaud the change of babies sleeping on their backs after experts figured out there was a connection between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and babies on their stomachs.
Such advances are welcomed progress, a move in the right direction, but I wonder if in our rush towards the new and improved, we don’t also leave behind the tried and true. Now that I’ve joined the grandparents’ club, I often hear old-timers confide that no one listens to them anymore, no one values their hard-earned knowledge — as if all those sleepless nights went for naught.
Maybe that’s for the better. Every parent deserves to shape her own path. Every parent deserves her own mistakes. How else will we old-timers be appreciated?
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.