Look folks, I’m just going to come out and warn you, this post got a bit out of control on me.
It’s a long one. A Really long. So Get some coffee and make sure you’re comfortable.
last weekend on twitter I mentioned to
a friend, an acquaintance, a guy on Twitter (@ChuckWendig who probably has no idea who I am other than the fact that I randomly throw tweets his way because I’m a fan of his blog), that I hate Babies-R-Us. Poor guy was about to spend his Saturday registering there and I had to let him know. It wasn’t my fault really I was only agreeing with@jasummerell (another good blog). Anyway, Karin and I have got a story about registering at Babies-R-Us and I promised Chuck I’d write it. Blame him. I just started typing and couldn’t stop.
Before the story though, I feel I should provide a few bits of background. To set the scene, as it were.
Firstly, when I was a kid, 9 or ten I suppose but it could have been later, my parents had bought me a stereo for Christmas. My first. Dual tape deck, Am/Fm Stereo, and yes, even a turntable all in one unit. It. Was. Awesome.
Awesome that is, until I tried to play an album and found out that the turntable while excelling in the table part wasn’t any good at the turning part.
I was heartbroken but assured by my folks that after the holiday weekend we would return it to the Ames Department Store for a replacement. The details of the exchange escape me, but because of bad customer service and the lack of a replacement stereo for our damaged one my parents and I left the store – my father muttering that we would never spend another dime there again.
We never did.
A few years later Ames went bankrupt and there stores closed across the state. My family still jokingly takes credit for their demise. Rewarding good customer service, or more importantly, refusing to pay for bad customer service has been instilled in me ever since.
A few additional examples include . . .
I haven’t set foot in a Wal-Mart in about 13 years.
The cashier at my local convenience store couldn’t be bothered to tell me how much I owed for my transaction on my first (and only) visit to his store, instead choosing to point at the register display. Obviously the television program he was watching was more important than me, his potential future customer, which is why he has never seen another cent from me.
Anyway, customer service means something to me. Always has, and as such I enter nearly every large corporate “box store” with a slight chip on my shoulder.
Prove to me that you deserve my business.
Second. Karin and I missed out on all of the late pregnancy third trimester stuff. While Liam is the product of our 5th pregnancy, he is our first child. Even with his pregnancy the doctors went in to get him before we could start his third trimester of hanging out in mom’s belly. We didn’t get a chance to register. We didn’t get a chance to take baby classes. We didn’t get a chance to make an exciting mad dash run to the hospital after noticing water breaking.( Never having dealt with it in any way all that I can picture is one of those cool super high-speed camera shots of slowly exploding water balloons whenever I hear about someone’s water breaking.)
When you experience the loss of a pregnancy (one of them as late as 24 weeks) you tend to get a little gun-shy on the fun stuff expecting families are supposed to anticipate and enjoy. The rational brain says there’s no such things as jinxes, but a heart that wants nothing more than to be a parent sees jinxes everywhere. Your hope demands guards after it gets its ass kicked a few times. It’s called tempting fate. So we waited until we were sure before going to register at Babies-R-Us.
We waited until we were so sure in fact that Liam was already 6 weeks old. By then, we were pretty sure that we had in fact had a baby.
The NICU was outfitted with everything a premature baby like Liam would need for a while so registering didn’t seem important enough to take us away from Liam’s bedside. It took some coaching from his nurses to get us to listen to what both of Liam’s grandmothers had been shouting at us for weeks. After much hand-wringing and debate we finally decided to venture out of the hospital long enough to register for all the things that we hoped we would eventually need. Liam’s coming home with us was far from a certainty at that point and so it was still difficult to go into it without some trepidation and worry but Karin and I tried to get through it with our usual dark sense of humor. We hit the road for Babies-R-us telling jokes for the whole ride.
Um, Excuse me? Where do we register for a ventilator cozy with a matching version for an IV pole?
Hey! Which aisle has the onsies for all the 2 lb babies? (the answer to that is none of them, by the way)
Oh the jokes we told on our way to the Babies-R-Us.
And third . . .
I have problems with Babies-R-us that have nothing to do with the fact that my parenting experience has been different from most. I don’t like the way that they treat all first time parents.They’ve got you by the short and curlies over there and the worst part is that they know it.
Expecting your first baby is a vulnerable time. Sure you’ve read the books and heard the stories but you have no idea what it will be like until the kid is born. Hopefully, if you’re doing it right, you’re scared shitless about it until that baby comes home, and then for about 18 years afterwards. I’ve said it over and over on this blog folks. Parenting is hard.
What if I can’t hold on to the squirmy little thing?
What if I can’t figure out how to feed it?
I have to put the thermometer where now? That can’t be right.
Babies-R-Us preys on that fear. They eat it up. Convert it to energy and it powers the lights, A/C’s, and each and every demo model on the floor, while employees mill about explaining how you can’t possibly bring a baby into a home without a warmer for his or her asswipes. You see without the fear you may figure out ways to raise a child without buying every gadget, trinket and toy.
Now I’m not saying that a warm wipe doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience. The thing is, I’ve got a radiator in the kid’s room that can do that for me for free.
Babies-R-Us does not want you to remember that people have been having babies for thousands of years without the aid of the Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Electric Steam Sterilizer at $70 a throw. My stove top still boils water and doesn’t have to pay to use the trademarked name Tommee Tippee on the package. Steam is steam folks.
Now I know they’re a business and need to make money, I do, but while they don’t come right out and say it in writing the entirety of the registering process is designed to imply that you should get everything on their checklist or you are going to be a Bad Parent. Maybe I was being overly sensitive about being thought a bad parent when we went to register, or perhaps I was just being too sensitive about being called a liar and bad parent directly to my face…
It was a weekday evening when Karin and I made our first trip into Babies-R-Us to register. Late enough that we knew we wouldn’t get it all done in one trip, but we would start the process which would at least keep both of our mothers off of our backs about it for a little while. If we left with a stroller and car seat in mind we would call the mission a success and anything else we had gotten done would be considered gravy.
We were politely directed to a table in special registry area of desks and waited as our “Baby Registry Specialist” (still what they’re called, I checked their website) finished up with another couple. Seeing that we were waiting a while another staff member approached the table and asked the “Specialist” if she could help her by getting us started.
“Well you haven’t finished your registry training yet. But I guess you can give them the packet so they can start filling out their information. I’ll be with them in a minute for everything else though.” Baby Registry Specialist must be a very powerful position in the Babies-R-Us chain of command. Our BRS was clearly in charge and I judged by her sigh that she was nearing the end of a long day.
We were handed a big purple folder filled with brochures and pamphlets. Mostly ads for products that we shouldn’t attempt to raise a baby without, and also some free samples of powdered formula and nipple pads. Instead of sensing the apparent seriousness of the situation, Karin and I looked over the form and laughed about how odd our situation was. The forms had multiple spaces for the baby’s due date but nowhere was there a blank for the baby’s birth date. Funny.
But Baby Registry Specialist was not amused. She finished up with the other family and whirled into the seat in front of us.”Oh, you don’t have it all filled out yet? Well I’m just going to ask you the questions and put them into the computer while you finish filling that out ok?” Her excitement at the opportunity to help another young family showed in her stifled yawns and lack of eye contact. Despite the fact that the store didn’t close for a couple more hours it seemed we were making an imposition on her time. “Mom’s Name?” She asked impatiently.
“Karin” Karin said “But we can give you the baby’s name…”
“There’s no space for that. I just need your Last Name. That’s how you’ll search for it on the computer if you shop and add things online.” Seems that the store employees would prefer you did all of your shopping that way. “Due Date?”
“March 19th, but…” It was mid February at this point. “. . .but our son’s already been born. He’s a really little guy” I said. Still new to explaining our complicated story to strangers Karin and I struggled to find a opportunity to interject that Liam was in the NICU. We were hoping that his due date still being 6 weeks away would alert a Baby Registry Specialist to the fact that our pregnancy was different from most. 12% of the births in this country result in prematurity, so maybe we wouldn’t have to bring it up at all.
“Oh…Well I’m sure there’s some things that you’ll still need.” It didn’t look like she understood what I was getting at but I didn’t think it mattered. I just wanted to get the damn gun thingy and shoot away at the stuff we would need family to buy for us. We finished with the rest of the form, willfully giving our email addresses and phone numbers to one day be sold to telemarketers before our BRS pulled out The Checklist.
Color coded by category, which also matched the colors given to the different sections of the store, The Checklist even included a map with directions through each section ensuring that you pass by as many of the gadgets and gizmos you really don’t need. BRS pulled her pen from behind her ear and started her speech. She didn’t make it very far.
“You’ll start right here – ” she said gesturing behind her into the corner of the store “with feeding supplies. Bottle systems, and sanitizers are all in this corner. Bathtubs and thermometers are next before you get to baby monitors here.” She motioned toward the map while still keeping her pen over that category on The Checklist.
And then it happened.
“The next big section is travel systems, Strollers and car seats but obviously you guys already have one of those so you’ll probably just go to the diapers or the furniture.” She sounded so sure of her assumptions.
Obviously you guys already have one of those.
I had no idea what she meant.
“No, no, actually we don’t have a car seat or anything…” I stopped her. I was completely confused about where the conversation had headed.
“Well that can’t be true,” (it’s always good customer service to call your customers liars.) “The hospital would never let you take him home if you didn’t have a car seat.”
The words hung in the air for a bit and Karin grabbed and squeezed my hand while I tried to decide if this was really happening or if the lack of sleep mixed with the stress and fear of the previous six weeks had finally driven me bonkers. BRS’s eyes got wide as she paused, realizing that something was going wrong.
After smiling at Karin and seeing her cheeks flush in that pre-crying way I looked BRS in the eyes and calmly said. “that’s because we haven’t taken him home from the hospital.” Karin may have been flush but I could feel the color drain from my face. “He’s still there.”
I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t talk to people the way that she did. I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s lives. I wanted to take Karin’s hand and walk out of the store and run to Liam’s bedside. I did nothing. I sat there holding Karin’s hand just hoping we could speed this up and go home.
Now it was BRS’s turn for the color to leave her face.”Um, . . I, . uh . .I’m, . . ” She stammered for a moment – either trying to figure out how to apologize or still trying to process what had just happened. Karin squeezed my hand tighter and tighter while I reeled through the stress, and anger, and fear of the previous six weeks realizing then and there just how different our family’s story was from most new parent tales. BRS looked at us and as she put all the pieces of the puzzle together tilted her head to one side and gave us the look. We hadn’t seen it much to that point but we still see it from time to time in doctor’s waiting rooms and out for walks. It’s pity.
I don’t remember her apologizing but I didn’t give her much of a chance to.
“We’ll, just take the gun thing and figure out what we’ll need ourselves.” I told her, trying to speed things along. BRS scurried away to get it and a minute later we were walking away from the desk with the whole conversation still hanging there. Supported by the weight of its own awkwardness.
We made sure to hit the car seat aisle first out of spite, before wandering around for an hour or so picking out the few things we could find that we knew we would definitely need. Then rushed back to the hospital to be by Liam’s side. All the while cracking jokes about the crazy sales lady and fighting to hold back the anger at her for her assumptions.
I know that this wasn’t really her fault. I mean how could she know what we were going through? But if you’re going to call yourself a Specialist, and you are going to tell us during the sign-in how knowledgeable and well-trained you are for the Baby Registering Service you’d better brush up on the basics of what happens to 1 out of every 8 births in this country.
The whole debacle was our first experience with the look but we’ve grown much more comfortable with it. When we tell people who don’t know him about Liam we get a lot of “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”, head tilted to the side in that same annoying look as the one from BRS.
“Don’t be!” we always say, “He’s a fighter! and he’s doing great!” even on the days when he isn’t. I don’t want your pity. I don’t need it. In fact, I pity all of you out there who haven’t yet met Liam. It may be hard but I’m pretty damn lucky to be the guy who gets to raise this kid.
Anyway, I’m sure Babies-R-Us do wonderful work with charities helping children and I think that’s wonderful. I don’t care. I’ve never bothered to check. I’m pretty sure that we only went back in there once to round out the registry. Hey, if people were going to buy us things for Karin’s baby shower, (held in March with her baby almost 3 months old) we might as well pick out things we need or at least want them to buy. I haven’t set foot in a Babies-R-Us since.
Like I said a couple thousand words ago, customer Service means something to me.
And that’s why I hate Babies-R-Us.
Thanks for hanging in there with me on this one folks I don’t know what got into me.