Consumer Carnage: praise to the glory and the siren song of the stand-up activity centre

Consumer Carnage: praise to the glory and the siren song of the stand-up activity centre
Fredie, standing up, drooling a bit.

The world of baby products is a world I was almost entirely unfamiliar with before we decided to have a baby. Now I can't escape it. The modern wonder of the internet means the second you search something like "what is a baby" or "wtf am I having a baby" some switch will flip in a datacentre somewhere and the deluge will come.

There will be ads for baby products, endlessly. Every banner. Every search result. Every Instagram story and post and reel, even though I never even watch reels and don't really understand them.  It doesn't matter what adblocking measures I try. They get through. I can Google something like "BBQ recipes" or "nba mvp 2006" and I'll get results like "beer can chicken for babies" and "babies that look like Steve Nash." The entire world knows I have a baby, and wants to sell me stuff for that baby.

The good news for those people is that we have, in fact, bought a lot of stuff. Like, an absurd amount of stuff. Freddie is six months old and already has a veritable cavalcade of things. People told us it's impossible to spoil a baby, and we are testing the limits of that axiom.

But whatever. Having a baby is all about survival. So this is the first in a series of posts I am calling Consumer Carnage in which I will give my thoughts on things we have bought for the baby.

First up: the Skip Hop Baby Activity Centre.

While I was, admittedly, ill-prepared to actually become a parent, I feel like I had a pretty grasp on the basics. I understood the order of things. Babies don't do very much for a few months. Then they start rolling around. Then they crawl. Then they stand up. Then they walk. Then they go to school. Then they get a job and start paying taxes.

Straightforward, really.

But what Freddie has taught me is that babies want to do these things before they are actually capable of doing these things.

So, as I have mentioned in previous DadPosts on this DadBlog, Freddie decided early on that standing up was the coolest thing imaginable. To him, standing up is the Fonzie of bodily positions. The coolest position. He wants to stand up all the time.

But he is a baby with tiny baby legs and tiny baby muscles and a tiny baby brain. He is not yet capable of standing on his own. So starting at about three months old, what he actually wanted was for us to hold him up in a standing position, generally by the armpits, his feet digging into our laps.

Don't get me wrong. I like this. I love this. He smiles and laughs when he does it. But it also hurts and gets tiring. My body is 38 years old and fuelled by an unconventional-but-potent combination of Coke Zero and hamburgers. Still, I have my limits. So does Erin, though hers are considerably higher than mine.

We got to the point where there was a math problem. Baby + Standing + Time = Pain.

So we decided we needed a product. There were a few options to consider. They make baby swings, for example — some of which anchor themselves to door frames. But our house, being built in the 1890s as cottage housing for labourers at the nearby railroad and liquor distillery, has very few door frames.  Also: those swings might be dangerous? The internet suggests maybe yes, but it also tells me Avril Lavigne died and was replaced by a body double.

So, we passed on that. There are also versions of baby swings — Jolly Jumper seems to be the most popular brand — that come on stands, but they take up an enormous amount of room. And we do not have much room. Again, the labourers who needed housing in the 1890s rudely didn't account for modern baby products.

So we entered the market for so-called "activity centres" or as Americans might call them: "activity centers." They are table-like contraptions where you put your baby in a harness in the middle. The baby can then spin around and play (and/or chew on) various plastic implements.

We bought the Skip Hop Baby Activity Centre because, in addition to serving as a container that holds babies who love standing up even though their bodies are not yet developed enough to stand up, it also converts to new uses as your kid grows.

It'll become a table that encourages babies to practice standing up in its second stage. In the third stage, you can buy little chairs that match the table, allowing your child to host dinner parties where they discuss issues like the volatility of the stock market or whether Joel Coen's solo work will live up to the movies he made with his brother.

Living in a small space without much storage, the versatility and long-term utility had a lot of appeal. So we hit the buy button.

Here's the review: this thing rules.

Freddie, playing us a tune on the piano.

Before we bought, Freddie had the chance to try a similar stand-up activity centre at his grandparents' place, which went over well and suggested this would be a good purchase. If you have a similar opportunity to try before you buy, I strongly recommend it for any baby products. Babies are variable and unpredictable.

But luckily, the stand-up activity centre we got him for home was an even bigger hit than the one he tried beforehand. He'll play in this thing for upwards of 30 minutes, which is a significant amount of time for a baby. Think of 30 minutes in terms of a percentage of their life lived so far. It's pretty huge.

Freddie will start by, say, trying to eat the plastic trees. Then he'll turn around and start fiddling with the slidey bits that go up and down a curvy course. Then he'll play a song or two on the piano. Then — oh shit — he'll remember the plastic trees, which should clearly have been eaten, but were not, so it'll be right back to that task.

I mentioned there's a piano. That might scare some prospective buyers off this thing. You do indeed have to put some batteries in it. Then it'll make some noise when your kid presses the colourful buttons. There are a few modes, including one that basically functions as a real piano and plays singular notes when you press the keys, and one that, on every key press, plays a full nursery rhyme.

Freddie likes the latter mode the best, which sounds like it could be annoying, but it's not, really. The volume on this thing is set at a level where it's audible but not overwhelming.

And the song selection is pretty good.

In the nursery rhyme mode, it'll play one of four songs, depending on the key press. Here are the songs it plays, ranked from best to worse:

  1. The Itsy Bitsy Spider. This is a legit banger, with an important message. It's about getting knocked down. Then getting up again. It undoubtedly inspired Chumba Wumba and we can all be grateful for that. I assume there are official hand motions that go with the song but I just made some up and Freddie thinks they are genius.
  2. The Old Man. This is probably better known to you, a philistine, as the "Knick Knack Paddy Whack" song. It makes less than zero sense and I love that about it. What the hell is this old man doing to, at times, various thumbs and shoes and knees? Why is a dog getting so many bones as a result? It's all very mysterious, but life is mysterious, so I think this is educational.
  3. Frère Jacques. My knowledge of French actually isn't bad, but I've recently realized that I only know the lyrics of this song in an awkward, elementary-school phonetic level. When I sing it, I sing "Sunny Lemon Tina." That is not at all accurate. I looked up the lyrics and I am way off. Apparently it's about ringing a big-ass set of church bells to wake up a lazy monk. Cool.
  4. Down by the Station. I love trains but this song was previously unknown to me. I have some quibbles with the lyrics, like, what's a pufferbelly? Am I going to have to explain what a pufferbelly is to my son? Is it a bird? A fish? I'd rather not have to research it. Please revise.

It could be a lot worse. It could play Baby Shark. It doesn't. Let's call it a win.

Anyway, my advice to other parents is simple. If you also have a baby that just wants to stand up all the time, you should strongly consider this Activity Centre.

Are there downsides? Sure. For me, the biggest one is the fact that it doesn't fold up or contract for easy storage, so you'll need to be okay with this thing basically existing as a permanent fixture of your living room. But whatever. You've got a baby now. Stop pretending otherwise. Embrace oblivion.

If you really don't like the idea of plastic toys or toys that make noise — though you could just not put the batteries in this one — you should also look elsewhere.

But overall the Skip Hop has my recommendation. It could save your life. It will definitely save your knees. And, with any luck, it'll give you a healthy appreciation for undersized spiders who continue to brave it all in the face of climate change.

Freddie, rightly proud of himself.

Final rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five)