One of the pleasures of being alive right now, and especially of having a child, is the vast improvement in the design of everyday things since I was a kid. We bought a good tent, oh, four years ago now. It has carbon-fiber poles and I can put it up, single-handed, in about five minutes. A far cry from the orange pointy thing that used to take the four of us half a day to pitch in the back yard.

Kids’ stuff is even better. No more scary safety pins, or even three-way-claws – today’s nappies are secured by purest velcro. Much as I love my nappy service, I have to admit the disposable nappies we use when we go out are even more impressive. They have some kind of super-absorbant gel which, according to an article in one of last year’s New Yorkers, wicks the “insult” away from Claire’s tender behind.

Best of all are the toys. About five people independently gave us different Lamaze toys for newborns. They’re awesome. They’re brightly colored and contrasty and clockwork and crinkly, and obviously based on a sophisticated understanding of child psychology that just didn’t exist when my mother scolded me for burning my doll Goldie’s foot on the gas heater. (I was just trying to keep her warm!)

It’s a scary and depressing world in a lot of ways, but people are still inventing small, useful things that simplify camping and make babies smile. Western civilization not a total waste of time.

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