Saturday, November 7, 2009

Regarding Registries and Reviews

I've been extremely busy the last few weeks. My free time was transformed, my thoughts were hijacked, and my conversation skills have diminished. I have been swallowed by the world of the Baby Registry.

Before I even began, I thought I had an inkling of how this would go. Back in 2002 Greg and I learned what being a married couple would REALLY be like by forcing ourselves to work together to choose our registry items. I can't count how many times we went out there with that barcode gun, quibbling over style and color, function and value. Before this duty was thrust upon us, all of our items were hand-me-downs, and our personal style was something we rarely discussed. It would have been more depressing than anything, mentioning what we liked but couldn't afford. Sure, our sessions with the Rabbi helped us understand the challenges of married life, but learning to mesh my more whimsical style with his more classic underpinnings did far more to make the place into OUR home. (I'll never forget the generosity of those that gave us all those wonderful things - it was a dream come true.)

Since baby stuff is a whole new realm for us to knock heads on, I flashed back to those days. I thought that the meat of the problem would be our own preconceptions of child rearing and style choices. What I didn't realize is that it wasn't us against each other anymore, it was us against the absolute mountain of options.

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If there were any doubts that I'm a nitpicky, anal retentive, indecisive perfectionist, my experiences in registering have washed them away.

I imagine that things were different 15 years ago. You went to the store, you chose what you wanted. Perhaps you bought an advice book or spoke to experienced parents first, but in the end, you looked at stuff and decided it was a probably a functional/quality/necessary/cute item and it would be nice to receive as a gift. Beep goes the barcode scanner.

What I'm sure most (normal) people don't realize is that today it's far easier to get lost...stuck in details...wander in the mist and question one's own self-worth while grappling with the all-encompassing questions, such as "will my baby prefer a safari or a woodland creature theme?"

There are So.Many.Choices. I almost wish there were fewer, as it was all those years ago. Sure, the high chair tray took two people and at least one bruised finger to unlock, the seat was designed to ensnare crumbs and grow fungus, and the kid outgrew the thing immediately, but at least you only had one choice, right?

(By the way, if you haven't read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, as well as all those other current books about decision making, I recommend them.)

Even as the products have more and more killer features (wait, you mean I can get a high chair lets go of the tray with one hand operation, adjusts for height, reclines, wipes clean, and encourages the digestion of peas??) there are always different features for different products.

Baby bottles are a good example. There are three basic options to start - glass, plastic, or plastic liners. (Quick aside - pretty much all plastic baby bottles are BPA free these days. BPA was the big "bad for baby" scare in the past couple of years, and the dust has settled, so plastic is again accepted as a safe choice). Here's the rundown: Glass is easy to clean thoroughly, and there is no doubt that it is 100% non-toxic, but it weighs a ton and can break when dropped. Plastic bottles are lightweight and shatter proof, though some warn that you never know what chemical will be called out next. Plastic liner bottles are the most sanitary of all (being brand new every time) and much less washing is necessary, but you are buying and tossing a bag every time your baby needs a drink.

My very personal, very subjective take: Glass will shatter on our tile kitchen floor (and perhaps take a tile with it) and I have no large fears about the future toxicity of plastics. I dislike throwing away a bag for every meal, and I have no issues with washing bottles. Sounds easy, right? There, done, plastic it is!

See, but that's just level one. Your princess is in another castle.

Now it's time to tackle brand names. To figure out what's best for colic, for gassy tummies. Some brands have special vents that go on before the nipple, but washing them can be a pain. Some brands have special nipple shapes to supposedly mimic breastfeeding. I even found some new-fangled bottles that, I kid you not, look a little too much like the real thing. And of course there's always price to consider...

So, how do you decide what's important to you, when you've never washed a bottle, and your baby can't yet opine on which nipple they prefer? You read reviews.

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Reviews sound pretty straight forward. Either the product works or it doesn't. But after reading a few dozen reviews a few trends become clear.

First, no matter how many people say the product is awesome, there will always be a few outliers who hate it. I mean, HATE IT. After 8 reviews in a row saying the item is great quality and lasts forever, there will be one saying "fell to pieces when I assembled it, unsafe, would never let a child near it". After 10 people claim their babies fell asleep fast, one will say "my kid did nothing but scream, terrible product, this other one is much better."

The worry is that you may have more in common with the one outlier family than the other 85% of of the population. The best you can do is try to figure out, by the way the mom describes herself and the product, whether you can trust their point of view. For instance, if they use ALL CAPS, poor grammar and no punctuation, it's a clue that this person may not have the smarts to assemble a sandwich, never mind a complicated piece of furniture.

There's often a bit of give and take to the reviews, as some people post just to respond to others, saying things like "I don't get why there are so many negative reviews, these work fine if you just close them properly" amidst a few others yelling back, "THERES NO WAY TO CLOSE THESE WITHOUT LEAKS!!! DONT WASTE YOUR MONEY!!!!"

And of course, if they use "lol" in their review at all, their opinion is instantly discounted.


My absolute favorite reviews are from people who have NEVER USED THE PRODUCT. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. "I bought this for a baby shower, it's very cute, my friend loves it." "The bag seems to be high quality, I can't wait to use it!" This might actually be acceptable for certain items, but the very best of these are for items that you simply can't judge before use...like mattresses. If the baby hasn't slept a night on it, how can you judge it?

Here are some actual quotes from crib mattress reviews.

"it looks to be very firm and comfortable. we are expecting our first child this october."

"Ordered this from the website, but not expecting the baby for a few months yet."

"Looks and feels nice, highly recommenended by sales staff"

"Has a great coil count. Don't know how it will all translate once the baby arrives."

Some at least mention that it fits well in the crib, which is somewhat helpful if you've bought their crib brand...but then there's the best one of all:

"We have not put together our crib yet, so I'm not sure how snug it will fit, but I hope it does. Hence the 4-star rating."

These are direct quotes, people.

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Now that this is done (or rather, done for the moment, I'm sure we'll have to go back and register for more items) I can feel the gratitude already washing over me. I now have a basic list of all the things I'll need to make this process easier, and my amazing friends and family are going to consider buying them for me. I'll even get lots of fun things I haven't asked for (but that every family wants) - books and toys and adorable clothes and things I can't even imagine. As I have been reminded of over and over again throughout this pregnancy, I am one of the luckier people on this planet. All the silly reviews and obsessive nitpicking can't affect that.

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If you'd like to see the results of all this, the registries are at Babies R Us and Target. Just do me a favore and don't read too much into the choices.

2 comments:

  1. Loved reading your view/experiences. Recently I've had the need to visit Babies R Us and other stores baby departments and was overwhelmed! I could not believe the number of 'play yards', cribs, strollers...ack!!! I think there are too many choices, too. I think the registry is a great idea to help out those who want to do more than a gift card.
    This is MouseWife and I don't have any accounts so I will be 'Anonymouse';0)

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  2. I totally love your blog. I can't relate to it at all, yet it draws me in with information and entertainment. :)

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