5 worst baby gifts

At the risk of seeming ungrateful, I've come to the conclusion after twice giving birth that some baby gifts just shouldn't be given. I'm not talking about the vaguely creepy Anne Geddes book you stash in the back of the closet or the puke-yellow blanket featuring a duck holding a baseball bat. I'm talking about the Hall of Famers, most of which come from the child-free, the elderly, and the frenemy you haven't seen since high school graduation.

I realize none on my short-list are as bad as presenting the lesbian couple's baby with a "Daddy's Little Princess" bib. (True story.) And now that I think about it, I might prefer any of these to the gift-wrapped nursing shawl, whose tent-like drape and flower print ironically scream to the world, "Hey everybody, my tits are out!" And yeah, I know all of these freakish offerings come from the heart. (Though, honestly, what could be less endearing than a stuffed animal made out of Aunt Jo's old tennis socks?)

But to the point. The Hall of Famers:

1. The diaper cake.
It's a five-tiered cake, festooned with cutesy-tootsy ribbons and bows. Made out of disposable diapers. Beautiful! Yet practical! And all the rage at baby showers these days, so I'm told. People magazine says Debra Messing had one out in Hell-A. Bless her heart. But really. I am pregnant. I am already nauseous, people.

2. The baby bathrobe.
I don't know if other babies are working the cocktail party circuit after bathtime, but mine moves from tub to changing table in a towel - Quick! Before he pees on me. And then I clothe him. There's no time for loafing about in that monogrammed blue velvet getup from Pottery Barn Kids. Send it to Hugh Heffner's kid.

3. The baby cologne.
After my baby has donned his miniature smoking jacket in preparation for an evening of smooth jazz on the veranda, he'll need some cologne. Right? As the packaging informs me, it's "very popular in Spain!"

4. The lambskin.
While we're on the subject of exotic delights: If your in-laws have a friend who recently traveled abroad, that friend might decide to gift you with a local treasure. But if you happen to live south of the Arctic Circle, you might not get much mileage out of the traditional Swedish lambskin, upon which - apparently - all Swedish babies sleep. You might have read a little something about the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Or you might be a vegetarian repelled by the notion of putting your baby to bed on a sheep carcass. You might have to send the lambskin to live at your in-laws' house.

5. The Moose Tunes.
Just because some guy named Marty records a homegrown CD of 13 tone-deaf "children's songs" by and about the noble moose doesn't mean anyone should buy it. And send it to a baby. Whose dreams it will haunt for years to come.


The bearded lady goes to bed

Each night at bedtime, my daughter and I practice the delicate art of separating and separate-ness:

Mama, can you come in my room, Mama?
No, Avie. It’s time for sleeping.
Mommy, are you close to me in the office?
Yes, lovey.
I’m working on the computer.
Are you playing my songs on that computer?
Yes, Ava.
What those songs called?
They’re called songs by Frederic Chopin.
WHAT you say?
I said, they are songs written by Frederic Chopin and played on a piano.
Is that a boy?
Shh...quiet. Rest your mind.
Is that a boy?
Is who a boy?
That piano songs boy.
Yes, Chopin was a boy.
Mommy, are you going downstairs?
Yes, in a minute.
Will you see my daddy there?
Yes, Avie.
Is he going to give you hugs?
Um, sure, maybe.
Is he going to give you kisses?
He might.
Mama, is he going to give you love?
[Awkward silence.] Well. Um, sure.
Is there cat puke on the stairs?
That was a long time ago. It’s cleaned up now.
Is that really disgusting?
Yes, Ava. Shhhhhh. Quiet, please.
Is Santa bringing me candy canes?
Are you going to make taco salad?
Will you drink wine and beer?
Mama, SNOTS! I have SNOTS!
Do you need a tissue?
Mama, can you be mad?
Can you make a skeleton face?
Can you be a dinosaur?
[Five minutes pass. Silence.]
Can you be a FRIENDLY dinosaur?
That’s enough. No more talking, please.
Mommy, SOCKS! I need SOCKS!
Mama, did I tell Daddy, “Don’t put water in my eye,” and then he put water in my eye?
And did I cry tears in my eyes?
OH, RATS! I have a beard!
I have a beard, I said! It's scratchy!
Mommy, mommy, talk to me if you have time!


Preschool in the Fast Lane

In Washington, DC, school admissions for the still-pooping-in-my-pants crowd is competitive and crass. Two-year waiting lists and lotto-style enrollment for suckers who camp out overnight with "letters of recommendation" and blank checks.

Sounding a bit like the fat girl overlooked for the cheer squad, more than once have I scoffed at the early childhood rat race that plagues cities like New Yawk, LA, DC. But then I had a kid and, shortly therafter, moved to one of those places.

I dutifully completed our "application packet," wrote the entrance essay, and paid the non-refundable app fee with a smile on my face. I canoodled an alumni neighbor family into giving us the thumbs up with the selection board. I pressed the flesh at the Open House with as much charm as I could muster, and Noah and I talked dreamily of how nice it would be to see Darling - and ourselves - making debonair friends in such a debonair place. But we prepared ourselves for the worst - Given the number of families hustling for spots, were were not likely to be among the golden. Darling might not attend a preschool program until age three, or even (gasp!) four. We had accepted it.

But in the end, the gods took pity upon us. And at that moment of revelation, as I tore open the preschool acceptance letter, I became just another power junkie on the mini-van highway. Overcome by the heady joy of being "invited in" by the Beautiful People, I did an undignified jig of celebration in the privacy of my miniscule kitchen.

Turns out, they had me at hello.

Yes, I know it's a racket. And I know I'm a sucker. I know that Darling would have been blissfully unaware, had she drawn a losing number. She couldn't have cared less. She would not have been stunted, nor sprouted horns. It's not that I buy the notion that the right preschool will make or break the future. It's just that my own shallow self feels so shiny and happy when the popular crowd - at last - invites me to play in their sandbox.

The preschool admission pageant has been therapeutic. I've made peace with my inner wanna-be-cheerleader. To celebrate, I think I'll get her some red pom poms. And a big-ass megaphone.