There are 4.3 babies born in the world every second. Maybe there’s 1.0 new baby in your world and you need to appease it with a gift. How?
The first thing to keep in mind is that the baby, well, the baby doesn’t really grasp what’s going on here. The baby is vulnerable and confused, a little swaddled factory for taking in milk and turning out poop. Neuroscientists recently observed that taking psychedelics gets you closer to the natural mental state of a baby: “free and unconstrained,” “hyper-emotional and imaginative.” So when figuring out what to give a baby, consider what you would want to offer a friend who had just taken a heavy dose of LSD. This is a serious responsibility! Personally, I’d want to present both a baby and a drugged friend with objects that were gentle and welcoming, objects that instilled wonder and appreciation of the senses.
And to the extent that the baby understands its environment at all, it’s all in-the-moment pleasure—the future-baby won’t look back on that toy and think, dang, that thing brought me so much joy back then, or wow, that toy was very dull and I resent whoever thought it was a good idea to gift it to me. This seems to deflate some of the pressure of giving a gift to a grownup: you want them to enjoy it for a long time and consciously remember enjoying it. But a baby gift is intentionally short-lived, a quick fix, soon cast aside for new gifts appropriate to their next phase of life.
(But looked at another way, the possibility that you could bury something deep in the baby’s subconscious—something they won’t explicitly recall but that’s deeply imprinted their worldview—makes baby gift-giving seem like the most daunting and terrible responsibility of all.)
Anyway, we’re here to pick a gift for a baby. With that in mind:
When you give a baby a gift, you’re also giving a gift to the baby’s parents and anyone else likely to be spending time with the baby. You are determining the sounds and colors that the parents will be assaulted by, the textures that they will step on, the clothes and toys they will have to rinse of vomit. So keep in mind the preferences of the baby’s loved ones. Perhaps they could use a practical gift to aid in care for the baby.
It’s far more enticing, though, to examine the exact opposite of these preferences. You can torment a loved one by gifting their baby adorable onesie for their most loathed sports team. I worry that my college roommates will buy my hypothetical babies tie-dyed Phish shirts and condition my babies to enjoy the freewheeling stylings of jam bands. My progeny will be clamoring for “The Lizards,” hootering and hollering at the high chair, and I will be trembling and alone, feeling betrayed by my flesh and blood but still bending to their baby whims. This is all to say that your friend’s offspring are an good vector for trolling.
Above I mentioned objects that instill its holder with wonder and appreciation of the senses. This also approximates my first and only experience wandering a baby store alone. Every turn exposed me to engrossing, inscrutable objects: how would a baby even engage with this? who thought to adapt this for babies? Walk in fully aware that a baby store’s a quagmire that can entrap you for a long time.
This rings doubly true if you like miniature shit. I gazed at these tiny Timbs longer than I have gazed into the eyes of any human being. I took them on and off the rack five or six times before deciding against them.
Some of the toys mystified this adult. “Make your mark with numbers on crayons!” one of them called out to me. This device, aimed at elder babies, lets you carve runes into the side of a large crayon and then draw with the carved crayon itself. (Echoes of Xzibit: Yo dog, I heard you like drawing so I got you this drawer to let you draw on what you draw with.)
If time is a concern for you, be steely and decisive when selecting a gift for a baby. Walk in with willpower and a clear-eyed vision of what you want for the baby. I selected the dopest set of blocks I’d ever seen—they were brightly colored and covered in tiny plastic bristles that let them adhere to one another—and a blocky, cardboard edition of one of my favorite children’s books. I hope neither of these will traumatize my cousin’s beautiful small son.
As general advice: opt for stimulating colors and textures. A friend in early childhood education suggest toys that involve mirrors or soft materials like yarn and cotton, and noted that the gift’s packaging might turn out better than whatever it contains (bubble wrap is crackly fun for all ages).
Don’t bother wrapping it. The baby won’t know any better and you should let the trees live. If you’re lucky you might get to watch the baby even handle it briefly before tossing it aside. Congratulations!