- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

The vikings never bothered to bring their own food and supplies when they traveled to faraway lands. They just looted and pillaged whenever they got a chance.

But times are different now, and when we take the Little Viking, who is 5 months old, for walks in the park or to dinner at friends' homes, we have to bring the essentials.

They include but are not limited to a change of clothes, a bottle of water, the doggy rattle, busy-bee on a string, mega keys, teethings rings, wipes, diapers, extra blankets, Tylenol and the ever-important gum soother, Orajel.

It's unbelievable how much stuff a little person uses.

It used to take my husband and me 10 minutes to get ready for a dinner party. Now it takes us at least an hour, and that's only if the little man already has been fed. Do we bring three toys or two? Will he need the fold-up bassinet? Has the portable changing table been stocked with diapers and packed?

Going to the park with the Little Viking and our livestock, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Loke (after the Norse god of mischief), requires just as much planning and preparation. Once we're on our way, we lumber along like a Bedouin caravan with our toy-diaper-and-blanket-filled sport-utility-vehicle stroller. (It's gargantuan, with three cup holders and all-terrain wheels.)

There is no way around it: A 5-month-old baby needs more stuff than two thirtysomethings combined.

Our living room used to have warm, earthy tones the brick hearth, the pine floors, the sage curtains and brown couch. Instead of earth tones, now we have in-your-face reds, blues, yellows and greens. And let's not forget the myriad toys with white-and-black checks. Supposedly, toys with sharp contrasts, such as black on white, are educational.

But it's not only the rattles, links, stacking cups, stuffed animals, balls, multicolored plastic tool set, Disney pop-up characters, "Polly-Olly" playing Tigger, Winniethe-Pooh play blanket and Baby Einstein DVDs that take up room and change the character of a home.

At least these trinkets can be put on shelves and in boxes. It's the must-have baby furniture, which includes the Mega Saucer, bouncy seat, playpen and kick-gym, that really take over. Our living room has the look and feel of an obstacle course.

Lean back on the couch, and you're bound to hit Squeaky Duck or the Mickey Mouse radio playing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." Going from one room to the next, you wade through the Mega Saucer and play blankets.

Sound irritating? Maybe a tad, but these things also light up the Little Viking's eyes, put a smile on his face and teach him how to shake, point, stand and kick. It's delightful beyond belief to watch as his little mind figures out how to "turn on" the Mickey Mouse radio or push the button that makes Tigger play "Polly-Olly."

These are truly great toys, or we wouldn't put up with them, but for all their colors and sounds, they are not the Little Viking's favorites.

So, without discounting any of this fabulous gear, most of which comes from caring and thoughtful friends and family, the Little Viking's very favorite, timeless activity is to watch the flutter of leaves outside or observe his parents go about their daily chores, especially preparing meals.

He sits in his highchair or bouncy seat on the dining-room table, or is held all 22 pounds of him by my husband or me (we take turns to avoid breaking our backs) and watches us as we chop or saute colorful vegetables, smoke fish or mash potatoes.

He hasn't exactly "said" it, but we assume that what makes cooking such a treat for the Little Viking is that there something for all senses: The smell of smoked salmon, the sound of sizzling sauteed vegetables, the texture of rice cereal (one of the few things he has started eating) and the colors of a ratatouille are hard for any toy to match.

Then, when our backs are close to broken and we need a few minutes just to zone out, the Little Viking's myriad toys serve their purpose many times over. After all, Squeaky Duck and Tigger entertain, and Baby Mozart's "Magic Flute" and Symphony No. 41 stimulate and soothe.

We realize living in this ocean of bright colors that squeaks and sings is not going to end anytime soon. It will take about 18 years to reclaim our space from the invasion of the Little Viking, and Odin forbid we have another one. So, all we can do at present is engage in toy crowd control. We pick up, stack, tuck, fold and put away. It's never-ending.

But at the end of the day, what's an earth-toned, clean and neat living room compared to a giggling baby? Nothing. And what does a content baby mean for the happiness and harmony of his parents? Everything.

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their "Little Viking" in May. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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