Baby Train

At closing time on a recent Sunday evening at the Westminster Babies "R" Us, the front doors are locked, the Sunny D is cracked open, and the superstore begins its monthly "Babies, Bellies and Booties" seminar — an after-hours class that helps expecting parents sign up for a baby registry and teaches them how to buy stuff.

"How many people here heard about this event from their OB office?" a store employee asks the seventeen attendees who sit around the registry desk munching on free snacks, perusing baby-name books and fiddling with wireless bar-code scanners they've just been handed. "No one? The offices failed," the employee concludes cheerily, explaining that local obstetricians are given a prize for referring patients to the seminar.

Soon the employee leads the group to the back, where toilet latches, stove-knob covers and other safety-themed items are arrayed on a table in honor of Baby Safety Month. "We are going to guess how much these things cost," she says. The game starts with a handheld night-vision color video monitor. A young pregnant woman shoots up her hand. "$169.99!" It must already be on her wish list.

The employee moves on to the table-edge guards, noting, "You need to look around your home and figure out how many you need. You don't want to wait until your baby is six months old to safety-proof your house." Then she brings up the subject of cord shorteners: "Babies have actually choked to death on blind cords." When she's done covering all $280 worth of products, the employee has a surprise for the participants. "Since it's safety month," she announces, "these are all being put on your registry automatically!"

Though the attendees look slightly bewildered, no one complains, and the employee moves on. She warns people not to overlook the sizable booklet of must-have registry items she hands out, because, she explains, "eventually you are going to need all of this stuff."

She notes that registries can be accessed online, perfect "if you know anyone overseas or in Iraq." To those whose due dates are in 2008, she advises, "I would wait on the big things like strollers, because, like cars, there are '07 models and '08 models." She also makes special note of "Loving Your Grandbaby" — a brochure for grandparents.

"Technology is just a wee bit different now," she concludes with a grin and a wink. "Babies are still babies, but things have changed."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner