Monday, March 22, 2010

Vintage baby gear stands test of time

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel March 22, 2010)

Shhh! My eight-month-old grandson is asleep in the Gerry Pack.

I love the Gerry Pack, an ingeniously designed baby carrier for kids up to 40 pounds. Ralph and I depended on the lightweight, aluminum-frame backpack when our four children were little. Now, as grandparents, we find ourselves depending upon it again.

Thirty years may have flown by since we first slipped Atom's mother, our oldest child, into the carrier's padded pouch, but the backpack works just as well now as it ever did at soothing fussy babies, lulling overtired toddlers to sleep and providing alert little ones with a secure and cozy perspective from which to observe the world.

The beauty of the backpack's design is that while the contented tot is toted about, the grownup upon whose back he is being carried is granted a rare and precious gift — hands-free mobility. When I use the Gerry Pack, my fingers are free to dance upon the keyboard, stir food on the stove, pick toys up off the floor or push the vacuum around the room. I realized shortly after our grandchild was born that while many things change over the years, certain pieces of essential child-rearing equipment remain constant.

Consider the table at which Atom sits when he visits. My husband first used the simple wooden table with adjustable seat, movable tray and wheeled legs when he was a baby. My mother-in-law, who recently passed away, not only saved much of the child-rearing equipment she used for her own three children, she somehow managed to keep everything in excellent condition. She gave us the table when our kids were babies, and it was in constant use from 1979 until the mid-1990s.

Recently, Ralph reclaimed it from the attic and cleaned it up so that when Atom visits, we have a comfortable, practical place for him to sit while eating.

During those visits, Atom plays with some of the many wooden toys his great-grandmother passed down to us. The same colorful playthings that entertained my husband and our children are now working their wonder on a third generation's inquisitive mind. Stackable wooden blocks that fit over a dowel have an ageless quality.

Atom is still more interested in eating books than reading them, but one day he'll realize how much pleasure is contained between the covers of books. When that day comes, I'll be ready with dozens of well-worn classics. I look forward to taking out the Harold and the Purple Crayon series, sharing with Atom the story of Ferdinand the Bull and introducing him to Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings. So many books now gathering dust on our bookshelves will soon provide Atom with portals into new and fascinating worlds.

Grandparenting may be a new phase in my life, but it came preloaded with memories and familiarities. When my grandson sits on the floor and plays with a basket of bottle lids, I remember his mother doing the same thing when she was a baby. When Atom is tired and nods off in the Gerry Pack, I flash back upon an earlier period of my life. I may not be able to carry a baby's weight for as long as I remember doing when I was in my 30s, but I can still support and soothe a fretful child.

Child-rearing trends come and go, but certain things never change. A child's need to be held will never stop, and expensive playthings will forever be tossed aside in favor of everyday objects. Toys may become fancier and more mechanically advanced, but that doesn't make them better. Wooden blocks and household items have an enduring quality that trumps technology And when it comes to books, well, as amazing as computers are, nothing can take the place of an illustrated hardback.

Right now my grandson is asleep in the Gerry Pack, but soon he'll awaken. When he does, my husband and I will be there to attend to his needs. The years may have taken a toll on my endurance, but my ability to love is as strong as ever. Love is another quality that doesn't diminish over time. It just grows stronger.

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