I’m afraid I was a user, but long ago, you understand -before I really knew what I was doing. At that age, you have to depend on your parents, I suppose, but we all know what a lottery that is… At any rate, so the story goes, I escaped unscathed when the contraption I was using tipped over in the parental bed during the night.
It was a crib my father had built and carefully re-sanded so his youngest son would not suffer the same splinters his older child had gathered in his cheek from the same container. Even parental beds are inherently unstable and tippy -a property he felt would work in his favour to rock the baby and insure a modicum of sleep for my exhausted mother… and him, of course.
It was a clunky thing though, I’m told. It had high walls to prevent inadvertent crawl-out, but no breast-holes for ease of night-feeding. It also failed to position its center of gravity low enough to counter any endogenous, let alone exogenous activity, and apparently all three of us were, well, active in the depths of night. The result was predictable: the crib and I spent the rest of my useful infancy on the floor near -but not too near- the bed.
I was reminded of this autobiographical detail from my early life by a delightful article written by Christina Szalinski in the Smithsonian Magazine about novel ways of conquering the nocturnally insomnial tendencies of babies: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/history-cribs-other-brilliant-bizarre-inventions-getting-babies-to-sleep-180972138
‘Throughout history parents have invented places for their babies to rest—rockers, hammocks, swings, carriers, cribs and more… The original baby rockers were likely hammocks. Wooden cradles came later, and in the nineteenth century, metal became popular for hygienic reasons.’ But, of course, rocking required work -repetitive work- and a person would get tired, not to say bored after a while so ‘turn of the twentieth-century inventors added cogs, spring motors or hand cranks to cradles so they could rock, at least for a while, on their own.’ And, as technology and catchy labels evolved, new and improved models soon took over: ‘Now we have the Bluetooth-enabled 4moms mamaRoo 4 swing that “moves like you do,” the Graco Sense2Soothe swing with “Cry Detection Technology,” the SNOO Smart Sleeper bassinet with “calming sensations of the womb,” and Ford’s Max Motor Dreams crib that was made to mimic a car ride (however, this one was never sold to the public).’ No need for sanding -my father would have loved them.
But I can’t help but think he didn’t do much in the way of historical research into his project. As a matter of fact, for years the only books I remember in the bathroom library were Reader’s Digests. Szalinski tells us that ‘A half barrel with all but three slats removed, one on each side and one on top, was probably the world’s first device designed for nighttime sleep. Called an “arcuccio” or “arcutio,” Italian for “little arch,” this seventeenth-century creation was put on the mother’s bed with baby inside, allowing a mother to sleep and breastfeed throughout the night without the possibility of rolling onto her infant, or having her infant roll out of bed.’
But, in a way, I’m glad my father was who he was -a no-nonsense, practical inventor who was unswayed by neonatal fashionistas- because there was an American pediatrician Luther Emmett Holt who wrote a book called The Care and Feeding of Children. In it, he said he believed that ‘“fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood” and that “those who sleep out of doors are stronger children.”
We lived in Winnipeg in those halcyon days, and exposing me to the whims of a prairie winter would have been counterproductive (I was born in December); mind you, the summer recourse to which city dwellers apparently resorted was to ‘put baby in a cage suspended out the window, much like an air conditioning unit.’ Apparently, writes Szalinski, ‘Eleanor Roosevelt used one in their townhouse window for their daughter, Anna, until a neighbor threatened to report her for child cruelty.’ We only had a one-story house at the time, so my plight might have gone unnoticed for weeks… Okay, hours…
The crib that I found a bit creepy, though, was one invented in 1944 by the experimental psychologist B.F. Skinner (of Skinner Box fame, for studying animal behaviour using -amongst other things- operant conditioning ). His baby box, which he called the ‘air crib’ was ‘a completely enclosed crib with three solid walls and a ceiling, and a safety glass front, that allowed both temperature and humidity to be controlled for baby.’ He was apparently concerned that ‘being bundled up meant a child’s self-directed movement would be inhibited.’ But -surprise- what with his widely publicized animal experiments, the crib seemed a little too familiar and never caught on -especially amongst his lab associates.
Anyway, speaking of dealing with the very young and their undeniable penchant for rocking, Szalinski brings us up to the simple, why-didn’t-they-think-of-this-before, bi-gendered methodology of my own parental era: wearing them, of course. I mean, how hard is that?
And yet, ‘Babywearing fell out of favor in the mid- to late-nineteenth century in European and U.S. cities when roads were paved and strollers became a status symbol.’ Nevertheless, I can remember many a hike I took with my son comfortably strapped to my chest in a Snugli. I suppose I was lucky, though –first of all because, so far as I remember, neither my wife nor I tripped very much, and ‘because attachment theory shifted parenting attitudes in the 1970s and 80s. Warm, sensitive care and physical contact was no longer seen as a threat to a baby’s development of autonomy (like it was from the turn of the 20th century to the 1960s)—you could hold your baby (again) without “spoiling” them.’
I’m trying to remember whether or not I was spoiled. I don’t recall ever being carried around, nor, except for the crib-episode in those proto-Anthropocene, Snugliless days, ever being dropped, so I guess it all worked out. My father never taught me any carpentry, though.