When my oldest was born, I was as uninformed as he was when it came to what we needed. My only guides were advertisement and packaging. Pastel colors, sweet imagery, and soft names convinced me what to buy, while I gave nary a thought to what was inside.
My learning journey about products and packaging started after I became a mom. I now know how much better off babies are with fewer and simpler ingredients.
What Dr. Bronner’s Products I’d Put in a Baby Gift Basket Now
I recently was putting together a gift basket for some friends who were anticipating their first baby, so I got to ask myself anew which Dr. Bronner’s products babies most need. Essentially I was asking myself which products I would have wanted 20 years ago when I was anticipating my first duckling. Some of our products weren’t around back then, much to my retroactive dismay, so giving them to friends now is a little bit of consolation.
Here’s what I landed upon from the Dr. Bronner’s range for my gift basket and why:
Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner: There’s so much to wash. So much. By rough estimate, I think babies generate their weight in laundry every hour. Clothes, bedding, burpcloths, not to mention the toys, bottles, gear, even whole carseats that need frequent cleaning, too. Sal Suds is tough on stains, superbly clean rinsing, with no dyes or artificial fragrances. It’s also the go-to for washing cloth diapers. Keep it in a spray bottle diluted 1:1 to apply quickly to any stain on clothing.
Pure Castile Liquid or Bar Soap in Unscented or Lavender: The mild cleanser for baby and parent, the Castile Liquid or Bar Soap can even wash bedding and gear with all organic saponified oils. The Castile’s simple set of plant oils are gentle on even the most delicate skin. Babies’ extra-sensitive facial skin needs washing only with water, but for the rest, a few drops or swipes on a cloth with the Castile will cleanse skin and hair without stripping the skin of its own nourishing oils. While this is not a tear-free soap, I learned why this feature is more marketing gimmick than best-for-baby. The Pure-Castile has no synthetic ingredients and the scented options use only pure essential oils.
The next four products didn’t exist when I was a new mom–I so wish they did.
Unscented Organic Magic Balm: I would have used the Unscented Organic Magic Balm by the truckful. The seven simple ingredients are perfect for protecting and restoring baby’s delicate skin and parent hands which are easily chapped with frequent hand washing. I’d have used this tons in all those roly-poly neck, elbow, and knee creases that sometimes would turn bright red, as well as on their cheeks—at both ends—to prevent chapping. As they got older, I’d use this in the crusties they’d get behind their ears and on their elbows. This balm is also excellent for nourishing cracked nipples from breastfeeding, though discuss with your pediatrician whether it needs to be wiped off before nursing.
Organic Lip Balm: An on-the-go alternative to the Magic Balm, the Organic Lip Balm is a thicker formulation to provide extra deep nourishment to the skin. You can never have too much.
Organic Hand Sanitizer in Lavender and Peppermint: Not only is the Organic Hand Sanitizer excellent for its stated purpose of sanitizing hands, but this is also great for a quick sanitizing of surfaces that babies touch from shopping carts to booster seats to dining tables, an air-freshening spray after a diaper change, or a refreshing body spray for parents during the afternoon doldrums. Then I found as kids get older, they become magnets for anything sticky, which the hand san is quick to disperse. I list both scents because the Lavender is beautifully soothing, but the Peppermint provides just the needed pick-me-up.
Magic All-One Chocolate: This one is not for the baby directly, though a happier parent is of benefit to baby, too. So slip in to your basket some delicious vegan, organic Magic All-One Chocolate. I’m sure there are studies somewhere of how chocolate promotes happiness and a sense of well-being. If you’re struggling to choose, might I suggest the Crunchy Hazelnut Butter? It happens to be my favorite. But you won’t go wrong with the variety pack.
What Else to Add to the Baby Gift Basket
To complete the gift basket, there are a few more things to add that are harder to gift wrap: offers to run errands, bring meals, clean house, babysit, look appreciatively through countless pictures and listen to endless stories of cuteness. These might even be the most appreciated gifts of all!
A Letter to Myself as a New Mom
As I was writing this list of “what I wish I’d HAD when my kids were born,” I got to thinking about “what I wish I’d KNOWN when my kids were born.” So I wrote my 26-year-old self a letter, which I share with you here:
You think your background in education has prepared you for childrearing, but you have no idea what this will be like. Unlike teaching, these kids don’t go home at the end of the day. You don’t pass them along to another teacher at the end of the year. There is no other parent to call when they’re acting up.
And you’re not just teaching them English literature and composition. You’re teaching them everything. From using public bathrooms to managing their money to communicating with friends and family and strangers and difficult people to getting things done even when they don’t feel like it to figuring out their places in the universe. And in this house, they’ll also learn how to avoid split infinitives and light birthday candles in binary and drive a stick shift.
For these first years, keep it simple. Ignore marketing and media that tell you what all you must do with your baby. The world itself is novel and fascinating and provides enough stimulation. You don’t need to go looking for more for either you or your babies.
There is no gold medal for jumping back into external activities quickly. Take it slow. Your body needs time to heal, to recover from this incredible thing it has just done in growing another person inside itself. Your family needs time to adapt to adding a new being to its midst. Focus on the basics: get enough sleep, eat well, take care of the little one. Everything else will still be there when you’re ready for it. It can stay undone for now. Establish rhythms. They won’t always work, but they’re something to fall back on when things are haywire. The routine of sleep and wake and play and togetherness.
People will tell you to enjoy every minute of it because it passes so quickly, and you’ll want to pop them in the nose. Not every minute is enjoyable. There will be poop and puke and blood and tears. Those times are not enjoyable. But there will be the softness of their skin, the fullness of their laughter, the sweetness of their smell, the glorious weight of their bodies sinking into your chest as they relax fully on to you with complete trust and contentment. Those are the moments to enjoy and enjoy and enjoy. At those times, there are no chores more important or tasks that can’t wait.
The relationships you build with other moms through these early stages will be the ones you lean on through the years. Be sure to say yes to friendships. You need your tribe. Nowhere else will you find people who really do want to compare stories of tantrums and blowouts and mysterious skin rashes. The moms you meet at your MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group will be the ones you put on your emergency contact list for school. The ones whose houses are second homes to your kids. Whose parents are substitutes when you’re not there. Whom you’ll call at 4 am and say, “I need you here,” and with no explanation, they’ll come.
When your firstborn begins talking at 9 months and everyone tells you it’s because you and your husband are so smart, don’t believe them. Your second born won’t talk until he’s three and what would that mean about your intelligence then? Each kid talks when they’re good and ready. Each kid does everything when they’re good and ready, so skip all the charts and comparisons.
You will receive lots of advice. Smile and accept it with grace but feel no compunction to follow it. You know your baby best. You know your household best. Trust that. Those issues which seem so crucial? They aren’t. There are many ways to care for and raise beautiful healthy children and have a loving and resilient family. It all works out. What matters is love and care.
You’ll think you need to do it all. To be super mom. But you don’t. You just need to be their mom. You don’t need to be afraid that you won’t be enough. You’ll be what your kids need and when they see you pause and rest and give yourself grace, it will give them permission to do the same for themselves.
You’ll make it through. Sometimes you think you won’t, but you will. You’ll even parent them through a pandemic when every routine and norm they’ve known outside the house will cease. But even this will have its blessing as you’ll discover what is most essential and that relationships and character are far more important than activities and accomplishments. By the end of this time, you will trust your kids’ hearts.
Your children are not you. Their strengths will differ from yours, as will their weaknesses. Their challenges and triumphs will differ too. They will do things you never would or could. They will follow their own path, and this is a good thing.
You are raising an adult, and someday this baby will be taller than you. So begin with the end in mind. You are stewarding a body and soul with the spark of the divine. And ultimately, your goal is to work yourself out of a job—or mostly so. All your love and care needs to fuel their strength and independence so that they can step away in eagerness to pursue their own dreams and passions. This is a good thing, too.
Parenthood will take every bit of love, grace, resilience, and creativity you have and then some. You will be stronger for it. You will be humbled by it.
And lastly, they’ll each break a window doing the exact same thing: mowing. Remember they’re trying to help. It’s only glass. And they will learn to turn the mower the other way.
Yourself in 20 years