Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Dialectical Ultra-Capitalist and Utopian-Socialist Worlds of Children's Accessories

This weekend was the one devoted to the Kingfield neighborhood garage sales--a favorite of ours.

On the way home from one of her myriad Saturday events, Seven and I got sidetracked following an orange sign with "Toys" hastily scribbled and an arrow suggesting a northerly direction. We'd slow down as we passed several sales along the way to what we imagined would be the FAO-Schwartz of garage sales, tables and racks of mismatched clothes piled on tables, the faded primary-colored plastic remnants of tricycle and big-wheel has-beens strewn across lawns, last chosen team members at the end of a long-day of tryouts (it was approaching the end of the garage-sale day, 9-3 and homeowners were anxious to peddle their wares and head inside to the shade and comfort of their couches, hoping to carry a little as possible back inside).

Children's accessories (clothing, toys and loads of other necessary baby gear) seem to be of two distinct markets: ultra-capitalistic or utopian-socialistic in nature.

Every city now comes standard with their boutique baby and maternity shops (my link is to only one example), catering to the new parents (or newly expecting parents) or gift givers, funky t-shirts in stock (Jaffa/Oink! Baby for Boys -- $28! or the fair trade version of your "Milk on the Rocks" onesy -- $25 with 0.00001% going to the woman in Guatemala who sewed it), bottle gagetry that you didn't know you needed (Shakeaway Latte Travel Bottle with Hoodie! $5 and $7), and, of course the store is not complete without a rainbow of Bugaboo Strollers (starting at $759 with free shipping). Note that the websites of such stores usually contain a "most popular" link so that you can not only consume conspicuously, but you can make sure that you're consuming at least as much as your online neighbor whom you'll likely never meet. A virtual Jones' horserace.

On the other hand, every parent eventually comes to the reality that they've had their last kid and the boxes of clothes and toys are beginning to take over the basement. The most ambitious of these clan become expert eBay entrepreneurs, while the others join the annual garage sale, hoping to garner enough wages (clearly not counting their opportunity cost, for who in their right mind would spend an entire saturaday afternoon netting less per hour than when they head to the office Monday through Friday?) to cover a babysitter, dinner and a movie that night.

A third and final category of parent seeks out the person on whom they can lavish little packages of their "gently used" wares, someone to lovingly adopt their beloved's erstwhile posessions, ghosts of their smaller, more innocent selves. Evidence of their growth and pending independence. Harbingers of future emptied nests.

These three categories represent exchanges of course, not unlike those at the new baby niche stores, but not at the premium cost. Even in the third case there is an implied reciprocity, a gift certificate perhaps, or at the very least an assumed promise to pass on the goods yet again. (Oh, and I've overlooked a fourth category: the take-it-to-the-curb-and-put-a-"free"-sign-on-it. Trucks of this variety have been known to show up mysteriously in my car and, have, somehow made their way into our house. Goods of this variety are sure to be of substandard value; either incomplete, dilapidated or quite dirty.)

The market is dichotemously bimodal in this sense, I believe, because the goods are unique in at least three ways.

First, while somewhat durable, most baby/children's clothes will most likely be grown-out-of before they will be worn out. In our case, Big has only recently fit into clothes for more than four months at a time, especially considering the change in seasons. Parents end up with loads of too-small clothes or juvenile toys in the house that, unlike their own clothes that we can delude ourselves into fitting into again in the future, will never fit again and not just becouse they are no longer in style.

Second, babies represent a highly social gift-giving opportunity: not unlike a wedding or an engagement people feel obligated to and excited to give friends gifts for new babies.

Lastly, the occasion can be even more highly charged if it is a couple's first, or last, or if conception was challenging in some way.

While I've been known to shop in all categories of children's goods and am the happy regular recipient of regular hand-me-down care packages, Seven and I kicked some garage-sale arse this weekend. Items included: one potty for Big (yes, given our history, this is HIGHLY optimistic (you can't win the lottery without a ticket I'm told). I'm just hoping to plant a little seed of an idea in his head), one garage equipt with various vehicles and a veritable village of community members and mechanics, one baby doll with blanket and bedding, one leapster magnetic letter reader, the book, by local author Kate DiCamillo Because of Winn Dixie, and, Big's favorite, a Barbie bicycle.

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