They had something I do not: a community
Before I had a baby, I can remember walking into the homes of people with babies and being shocked by how much kid-related gear had taken over their homes. It was like kudzu vine had covered everything, but no one who lived there noticed. Excuse me, people, there’s a pacifier stuck in your bath drain, and um, that toy mountain in your living room is making it hard to have a serious adult conversation about anything, and what do you mean you put poop-filled diapers in the kitchen trash!? Obviously, these people were so blissed out by their children, they’d lost their minds.
When it came time to have my own baby, I swore I’d keep things simple and held fast to the parting words of our birthing class instructor. “Don’t worry,” she said. “All you need is boobs and a blanket.” I believed her. It seemed so true, so pure. I tried.
That was then. Looking now at my second baby and five-year-old romping around our apartment, I’m struck by exactly how far I’ve strayed. I’m overwhelmed by my need for certain things. Diapers. Strollers. Toys. Tylenol. Ziplocs. Car Seats. Books. More toys. Wipes. Epidurals! iPhones. Sophie the Giraffe:
Where did all this stuff come from? And how did I ever live without it? The sad fact is, I cannot imagine mothering now without stuff. It’s a hard job and all this gear makes it easier, right? So how did people do it without all the gear? I must be a total wimp.
As a side effect of raising kids in the modern world, an era where kids products are a multi-billion dollar business, lately I’ve become obsessed with how cavemoms raised their kids. Yes, cavemoms. Tiny brains, huge teeth, hairy boobs. Mom 1.0.
How did cavemoms get through morning sickness without bread? How did they clean babies in coldwater creeks, lakes and oceans without freezing them, scaring them, or, God forbid, making them uncomfortable? What about all the poop? What about surviving winter? What about surviving the Ice Age?
Well, you say, prehistoric motherhood was pre-civilization. You can’t compare us with mothers back then – that’s like comparing apple mothers and orange mothers. We have nothing in common with cavemoms.
But that can’t really be true. At the very least, we can assume that cavemoms wanted their kids to be healthy and happy. And isn’t this exactly what today’s kiddie gear is for – to assure us that our kids are going to survive the day and continue to thrive long after that? Shouldn’t I be a better, more relaxed mother considering the women who had to do it all without baby gates and pacifiers? I mean, sure, there are certain leftover survival challenges to modern mothering, but they pale in comparison to fighting off Neanderthals while trying to breastfeed your twins.
And yet, and yet: maybe cavemoms had the better deal. My infant’s car seat has so many warnings and disclaimers, it overwhelms the actual fabric of the car seat. My stuff is contributing to my anxiety, which makes me think that it’s totally possible that life for our predecessors was easier in some respects. Perhaps – I smile even thinking about it – men breastfed. (What else are those nipples for?) Perhaps living without the Internet was a good thing – no way to stoke up irrational fears! No way to know about how perfect French cavemothers are!
So all this baby gear is a mixed blessing. But surely cavemoms had some stuff too. The truth is that since Homo Erectus lived in an era before writing, we don’t know much. In fact, scientists are making up what happened based on precious few scraps of evidence. Things like slings or baskets or playpens most likely would have been made out of leather or wood and would not have survived the test of time, and so the story goes that women carried babies on their hips and couldn’t do much else. Man-the-Hunter. Woman-the-Gatherer. Probably, though, the truth was more complicated. Maybe, like us, they had some baby gear. Maybe they struggled with parenting and loved it all at the same time too.
The projection I’d like to give all those scattered bones is of a commune. The it-takes-a-village type commune, where women raise their children together. I am fully aware that this fantasy comes to me because it couldn’t be further from how I live, in a household with two working parents, a babysitter, extended families who live on the other side of the country, no church group or similar community. The only communal activity we engage in is my older daughter’s schooling. Otherwise, my tiny clan is both self-sufficient and fairly isolated. Maybe this is why I cling to all my things. Things are my community.
And if I cannot have a village, then I will continue to look for other things to make the job of parenting easier. Because even if cavemom beats me to the best accessory – other moms to share the experience of parenting with daily – and even if my husband continues to prune the amount of stuff we accumulate in regular, traumatic sessions, I’ve got to believe that I’ve got it better than my Paleolithic sister. I’ll stick with parenting 2011-style: tricked-out. And frankly, from the sound of it, a whole lot easier.