Suckers and Cheapskates

Y’all know I love shopping for baby clothes and kids’ books. You know what I don’t love shopping for when it comes to my children?

BASICALLY EVERYTHING ELSE.

Because there is a perpetual war raging inside me. You could call the sides Suckers versus Cheapskates.

Do I get the more expensive formaldehyde-free diapers? (Not unless I find them at TJ Maxx: cheapskate.) Do I buy the fancy organic squeezy baby food? (I do, unfortunately — sucker.)

I buy the fancy, expensive prenatal vitamins believing they can cancel out my Nutella-toast diet for my nursling. SUCKER.

And from there, it only gets worse. What makes the $400 car seat 8x better (safer???) than the $50 car seat? I’m suddenly struck by a vivid image of me standing sobbing on the side of the road, wiping blood from my eyes and remembering the $350 I saved.

And so much of this is obvious marketing, I know. Advertisers are playing into my fear, and also into my aesthetics and social pretensions — even my exhaustion because sometimes the peace of mind from just buying the pricier option outweighs the tedium of reading link after link on Consumer Reports.

A lot of this particular anxiety eases up after your first kid because you just stand by the decisions you made and keep using the stuff you bought. If you think of it, you figure your older kid is ok (so far) so this baby probably will be, too. But I was reminded again recently of the conundrum a couple of times, first when a friend asked for crib mattress recommendations, and again when I came across what I reluctantly decided was a creditable piece on the dangers of putting kids’ plastic cups and stuff in the dishwasher.

It was easy to dismiss the first: um, yeah, I guess maybe you should get an organic cotton mattress and waterproof it with a merino wool mattress protector but so far Pip and Scout are alive so whatev. Cheapskate wins out! (Rationale: If I spent all my money on organic cotton baby clothing for you, I couldn’t afford to send you to college.) But then I was really confronted by that anxious place with the plastics thing.

I had known you weren’t supposed to microwave plastic stuff, but I grew up eating snacks out of dishwasher-washed Tupperware cups and look at me, I’m a-ok. (The unspoken middle option, of course, is I could buy new plastic stuff and hand wash it every time. Does this require us seriously entertaining that possibility, though?) I was pretty sure during the entire process of sussing out the absolute cheapest stainless steel snack cups and drinking cups and sippy cups that I was getting suckered, big time. I felt the same as I delivered my cheerfully rainbow death-plastic to a friend impervious to the same anxieties. But now my kids’ eating stuff is nearly plastic-free, and that’s one worry I can afford to push to the back of the cupboard.

I can shelve that one, and through acclimation move past old ones like the always-shifting car seat best practices. But there will always be new arenas to freak out over (omg wait I feed Scout EasyMac all the time and apparently that’s full of plastic, too!). There will never be money or time enough to rationally sift through every concern — so I guess my question is, how do you, as a parent, as a human, make your cheapskate/sucker decisions?

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