Monday, June 08, 2009

To the people who make instructional videos for infant-related products and activities

Dear people who make instructional videos for infant-related products and activities,

I hate you.

When I attempt to use you as a resource to figure out how to do something with my baby, I always leave with a complex.

I think it all started with Harvey Karp. You know, the Happiest Baby on the Block guy. Swankette brought home his video when Hedgehog was about a week or two old, and I watched it carefully. Harvey, I watched you swaddle a million babies. I watched you crook baby after baby in your forearm and balance and jiggle their heads in your hands. Without fail, you took them from demon-child level screeching to completely calm and chilling in about 2.03 seconds.

It was impressive...until I tried it.

First of all, it took me damn near forever to figure out that damn swaddle. By the time I could reasonably burrito the baby, the fourth trimester was damn near over. But now that I've got it down, you can rest assured that I'll be swaddling the boy right up to his high school graduation. I don't want to waste this new talent.

But the jiggling...well, I never did quite get it right. Or, more accurately, I think I may have figured it out once or twice before forgetting exactly what worked and how. It just never looked like yours do. I think you filmed the babies in your video with some kind of weird baby-stop-action photography, or else somehow snuck some melatonin into your hands and rubbed it into the infants' scalps.

The point being, you make me feel like a complete remedial case, both mentally and physically.

But you are not alone, Harvey. I have to include the instructions for the Moby and the Beco baby carriers in this pissed-off rant as well.

The Moby instructions I used were on YouTube. They, without fail, show women patiently explaining the origami they're doing with their Moby (which is basically a massive scarf). There are at least 6 folds in a Moby, all of which must be done JUST SO for your baby's safety. Furthermore, how to get Hedgehog into those folds is something that I never got close to figuring out. The babies in the videos do the most beautiful swan dives into the cloth and fall instantly asleep (unless they're gazing perfectly into their mothers' eyes (and by the way, there are NEVER dads in the Moby or Beco videos, at least not that I've seen).

In real life, babies don't usually care to go into the Moby so easily. I have to balance the baby on my left hand/shoulder, spinning him on one finger like I'm Meadowlark Lemon, while I figure out if I've put the right-shoulder sash in the right position, if I've got it loose enough to allow the baby to breathe, or if I've done all the steps right. If I lose focus on the balancing baby while checking the sash, or if I've forgotten one of the steps, or if I've done the Moby just a smidge too tight or too loose...well, then, my baby splatters his brains on the ground. One time, when Hedgehog decided he didn't want to be in the stroller anymore, I tried to negotiate the Moby while on the side of the road...and that asphalt down there did not look too forgiving while I held the baby up over shoulder level in one arm (a necessary move to get him in the Moby).

My point: Your damn videos and instruction manuals do not show the contortions and balance I need to use your product. They do not show failure. They do not show pissed-off babies wriggling to prevent entry into the Moby.

Worse than the Moby are the DVD instructions for the Beco. God, I hated those. We had bought a Beco only because I failed so miserably with the Moby (which Swankette still uses and loves, by the way).

I gathered the baby, got out the Beco, and watched this video.

The video had several problems that really pissed me off.

First of all, the model (who is clearly on nitrous oxide) is using a DOLL for part of the video. A DOLL. Not my son, who is yelling and screaming and trying to figure out what kind of medieval torture device I'm springing on him. She's cheating and using a damn doll.

Second, she's on a couch that is about fifteen feet away from the camera. Is the baby's arm beneath or above the straps? Is he/she hooked into the front part of the Beco's interior or the back? Where exactly are those buckles? How can I possibly see any of this?

And--perhaps most importantly--why is the baby (once they switched from the doll to a baby) drugged? Is it necessary for me to feed my baby barbiturates before placing him in the Beco?

I have to rewind several times. Meanwhile, my son, who is getting no attention because I have to focus on the video, gets angrier and angrier, yelling more and more. Because of the noise, I miss several instructions, causing me to have to rewind again. I consider using Swankette's old Cabbage Patch doll, but it's not large enough, and it also won't wriggle, writhe, and flail like my son does. I consider using the cat, but he'd probably just pee all over the new Beco. And it's not like I can just set my son down and repeatedly watch the DVD until I get everything figured out.

I get more and more frustrated...but I also have an epiphany. I see the conspiracy.

I realize that Harvey Karp has teamed up with the glassy-eyed Moby and Beco instructional models to crush my spirit. They have come together exclusively to make me feel like a drooling incompetent idiot who can't follow simple instructions even when his son's happiness and safety are at stake.

There's a happy ending to this, thankfully...I now can swaddle the baby with a reasonable success rate, and, after paying a visit to the Beco store to have an actual human being coach me to use it with my actual baby, I have mastered the Beco so thoroughly that I go on walks with Hedgehog in it to get him to sleep.

But I've done all this in spite of, not because of, Harvey and the models. Whatever they have taught me was, for a while, anyway, entirely invisible over the rubble of what was once my fatherly self-esteem.

So, people who make instructional videos for infant-related products and activities, please heed these simple suggestions:

1. Show actual babies. Under no circumstances are you to use dolls.
2. Don't have your models smile so damn much. A look of concentration would be nice, since that's the look I've got on my face. The smile is a form of taunting...a "Look how easy this is for me!" face. By the way, Beco and Moby people...dads wear these things too. A token male or two would help a lot--I wouldn't feel like I'm crashing some estrogen-and-nitrous-oxide party.
3. Do not drug the babies before putting them on camera, nor take them directly out of milk-coma naps. Show what it looks like to put in a baby who is actually struggling against the parents' wishes, as almost all surely will struggle at first.

And finally, most importantly,

4. Show failures. Show people who did NOT manage to get their babies into the carrier or who did NOT manage to get their babies swaddled or to sleep. Explain what they're doing wrong. Troubleshoot. Because without this step, I am left with absolutely no idea what I'm doing wrong, and will have to head to the store where I can ask an actual human being actual questions. More importantly, without this step, I will feel like a complete spaz and an inadequate parent, and I will blame you.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions. I am available to critique your next video before you make some other dad feel like a moron.

But until then, I hate you.

All the best,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been a video producer for more than 20 years and in the last 2 years have been producing videos for expecting and new parents. Your points are very valid and I hope companies begin to take notice. Their problem is they don't want to pay someone to produce these. Basic cameras are cheap, basic editing software is free, etc. and the employee that knows how to turn on the camera is, in the companies mind, "qualified"

Thanks for your rant;-)