By Kris Woll
My neighbor looked at me with amazement as I presented her with the large plastic vat of trail mix.
You know, I said, trying to poetically explain the rationale behind my rather unconventional gift, for the journey.
I didn’t always give M&M’s, raisins, and mixed nuts as a baby gift. I used to give things like cute and tiny onesies and plush stuffed teddy bears.
But then something changed: I had kids. And kind, well-meaning, and totally uninformed (either they forgot, or they didn’t yet know) people around me started bringing cute size 0-3 onesies and puffy bunnies and soft sheep to my house—my house that I could no longer clean, given that I had at best 15 minutes each day with both hands free; my house that was coated in last week’s laundry still to be folded but never to be put away; my house that was always a little light but had become so much so with the arrival of yet another resident, even one that small. Yes, they brought onesies and snuggly bears to my house and left them there, wrapped in three layers of tissue paper and placed inside a perky little bag with ribbon handles, for me to find a place for. To find a place for somewhere in the “baby’s room,” that crowded former office space that now served as storage for diapers, wipes, onesies, and stuffed animals. And as the guest bedroom. And also the coat closet. (The baby was nearly the only thing not stored in the room; she slept near us.)
In other words, motherhood taught me to rethink my approach to post-baby gift giving, taught me to think about real wants and needs …
Like M&M’s! And a cashew or two! Mixed with—because, let’s face it, those early bowel movements are not a piece of cake—raisins!
I first gave trail mix as a gift to a mom down the street, a neighbor I knew only casually from front-yard conversations on warm summer nights. I gifted the trail mix to her just a few days after she arrived home with baby number two; the pink balloon still danced, though a little deflated, in the front window when I arrived. It was just a few months after I had my second child, the blur of the earliest days only starting to lift, and I gave the fruit and nuts and chocolate with a straight face, believing wholeheartedly that not only was it a totally appropriate present, but that it would be sort of a dream gift.
I expected my neighbor to open the door with her one free hand as she cradled her newborn to her breast with the other, and to tear up my thoughtfulness. I’m so hungry! she’d shout, and I only have one hand free! And the microwave buttons beep so loudly that they wake the baby! And the pretzel bag crinkles too loudly, too! And I want to save the leftover frozen pizza from last night’s dinner for tonight’s dinner because the thought of even unwrapping cellophane at 5pm is just more than I can handle, and, like the microwave buttons and pretzel bag, that cellophane is just so damn loud!
But trail mix! she’d exclaim, now there’s something I can eat! With one hand! With no dishes! Oh, how did you know?
This is not what she said.
At first, as I held the plastic tub her way, she thought I was asking her to hold our snack while I adjusted the baby in the carrier on my chest. I motioned toward her as she tried to hand it back, adding, no, no, it’s for you! She laughed but quickly caught herself, too polite (we live in Minnesota) to offend. Oh, wow! she responded. Wow, well … (awkward pause, while she looked at me like I was the real nut in the doorway) … thanks!
I stared past the door she opened to me and my baby. Admittedly, her life beyond our shared sidewalk was a mystery. And what a glorious mystery it was—behind her was a sparklingly-clean home with space far beyond that of my unexpanded version of her cape. Not a toy in site, even though her preschool-age daughter peeked through the stairway railing. She had brushed hair, and the top she was wearing not only lacked drippy stains but also coordinated well with the pants she had on. She wore lipstick and even a bracelet. I knew as I stared at the charms that adorned the one of her two free hands—the baby was asleep, presumably in its own room—that perhaps my trail mix was a miss. That maybe I should have re-gifted one of the cute size 0-3 onesies still stacked—unworn, unwashed, tags in place—on a shelf in my “baby room” back home.
I tucked my hands and bare wrists into the carrier and swayed with my baby to try to cover my embarrassment. I wished her well, and turned toward home.
I have not reverted back to giving onesies (even the cute ones at the co-op with “locally grown” stamped on the chest), nor have I given any stuffed bunnies or bears since that particular day, but I’ve not tried the trail mix again, either. Lately I opt for diapers or a gift certificate for a pedicure.
Yet I can’t help but think it’s the new mother’s loss. Those microwave buttons can be really loud. And frozen pizza is so hard to unwrap with one hand.
At least for some of us, those early weeks can be an arduous—blissful, yes, and rosy in mind now, but arduous at the time—climb. When I think back my first weeks with a new baby, I remember now all those hours spent rocking, rocking, rocking, and rocking, how hard it was to get up from the chair, and how hungry I got, and how good that trail mix tasted along the way.
Kris Woll is Minneapolis-based writer.
Illustration by Christine Juneau