For a while there, it seemed that babies were a thing of the past, nothing but fondly remembered vestiges of a lost civilization. But the fad seems to be making a comeback now, and pregnant women are everywhere, from K Street to the supermarket. (Pregnant men are harder to spot, but clearly around also.)
And, as surely as night follows day, with babies comes the need to produce baby gifts.
All baby gifts fall into two categories, and those having to do with food are no different. So the first thing to decide when contemplating such an offering is whether it's the baby's interests you're looking out for, or those of the parents. The two are not always totally compatible.
For instance. There is a wonderful sterling silver cup, in that devastatingly plain style often called "classic," available from Cartier for about $150. It is suitable for engraving.
This is the kind of gift that makes parents start fantasizing about family dynasties and trust funds and perhaps a donship at Cambridge. The parents, unless they are relentlessly '60s in outlook, will love this. The baby will be totally indifferent, possibly even hostile, at least until he turns 15 and discovers he can hock the cup for a downpayment on a sound system.
Although a silver cup is in fact a wonderful gift that will be treasured eventually by all parties, another kind of cup is both cheaper and more immediately useful. This is the Tommee Tipee and its variants, the idea of which is utterly sensible.
A Tommee Tipee has a tight-fitting cover with a little drinking spout. The spout is perfect for the baby who is trying to make the transition from nipple to cup and hasn't quite perfected the technique, and the top means the cup's contents can't spill. The weighted bottom is obviously the invention of a genius.
Tommee Tipees are available at Crib N' Cradle stores and at Toys-R-Us, among other places. Variations, usually without the weighted bottoms, are available at supermarkets.
Several parents of former babies have mentioned a little item they consider to be the most useful baby/food item ever. It's called the Happy Baby food grinder, and it would make a great baby gift. It's a non-electric, very portable, miniature food grinder. It will grind to a near-pure'e cooked meats (not very tough ones, though) or vegetables, as well as fresh fruits and some fresh vegetables.
It's designed to be as simple as possible to use, too. You put the food in the top, turn a crank which moves a grinding mechanism down through the food. And voila : Ground food appears and at a place where, without disassembling the grinder, you can spoon it out and into the waiting mouth.
One mother told me her Happy Baby grinder, along with her happy babies, has seen the inside of some of the swankiest restaurants in the country, where presumably it ground up the zucchini flowers and scallop roe into something her daughters could gum happily.
The Happy Baby grinder comes in two sizes, both costing under $10, is dishwasher safe and available mostly in health food stores.
The small Foley food mill is also good for grinding baby food, but it's not quite so portable, and not an item that says "gift." Other implements to make baby food out of adult food are even less portable, most requiring electricity. Oster, for instance, makes small storage jars for its blenders in which you can pure'e small amounts, then remove them for storage.
One mother of a 6-month-old says her vote for most ingenious baby/food device goes to the simple straw that fits inside a bottle, connecting the nipple to the contents at the bottom. That way, the bottle doesn't have to be held upside down in order for the baby to get at the last drops. These little things would make nice supplementary shower gifts, and are available for around $1 at supermarkets.
Back at the other end of the scale is an Italian high chair made of white molded plastic, with the clean lines and suave styling that Italian designers are so good at. It's expensive -- about $125 -- but it's a nice break from early American wood.
Besides its high style -- to which its occupant will be oblivious -- it is padded and comfortable-looking. But the biggest bonus for everybody is that it can be lowered so that baby and parent can see eye to eye even if parent is sitting in a low-slung chair. The people at Just So (a store for infants and children on Foxhall Road NW), which carries the chair, say it's very popular with grandparents.