Sunday, March 09, 2008

A mama coat

Yesterday I had a fun day with my long time friend, Masako-san, and an American friend, Heidi. Our purpose was to go shopping and find a baby gift for Heidi whose baby is due in two weeks. Heidi has lots of questions about how to prepare for her baby because customs, baby goods, just the ways of thinking are very different. Unfortunately, Masako-san and I are closer to grandmother age and we ended up mumbling

"Um, I don't know how that's done nowadays but 23 years ago..."

If nothing else, baby shopping was a fun experience for Masako-san and me. (Heidi has already been combing the baby stores so she knew was was available but for Masako-san and me, we've haven't set foot in a baby store in years and years!) First off,

"Heidi, what do you need?"

"I don't know. People keep giving me so many things and some of them I don't even know what they are!"

Masako-san and I had a look and we didn't know either so no help from us. At the store Masako-san and I oohed and ahhed at the new space shuttle like baby strollers and car seats, played around with contraptions that attached to baby cribs, car windows and doorposts.

"We didn't have these in my day!"

Somewhere along the line the three of us decided that Heidi might need a mama coat. I absolutely loved my mama coat when my kids were babies and after showing Heidi, she thought that it might be nice to have and we started fitting her for a spring mama coat. What fun!

First of all, a mama coat is a coat that both the mom and the baby can wear at the same time. I have never seen one in the States but Japanese have used a simpler version traditionally but the ones we were looking at yesterday were of more modern style. Japanese mothers carry their babies around on their back, papoose style. This lets baby feel mom's heartbeat, get mom's body warmth and the constant movement as mom goes about her duties puts the baby to sleep. Mom's hands are freed up to wash dishes or ride a bicycle and do something so papoose style baby carrying is the most common way to carry a baby. (I thought this was hilarious the mom was busy at choir practice while baby slept peacefully on her back. That couldn't be comfortable could it?)

The other way of carrying a baby is in a front style pouch, much like you see in western countries now, but back twenty-some years ago, I only saw this way of carrying babies in Japan. This was my preferred style and my kids rode around attached to my front until they were nearly walking. In either case, a mom can use a mama coat because there is a zippered panel that can fit either in front or back and enclose baby and mom together in warmth. (Not a very good picture of me with Leiya in the mama coat 18 years ago.)

So yesterday we checked out mama coats. While we were browsing a young mother, her baby and the grandma wandered by the aisle and either Heidi or I thought it would be a great idea to "borrow" the baby and latch it onto Heidi's back and then try on the mama coat so Heidi could see how the coat functioned.

"Excuse me, could we borrow your baby for a few minutes?"

Mom looked a bit surprised, Grandma looked a bit worried, baby couldn't care less and Masako-san sputtered and explained what her two foreign friends wanted to do. The baby's mother graciously untied her baby and fastened him onto Heidi's back (so in essence Heidi had a baby on her back, the borrowed one, and a baby on her front, the one due in two weeks). Even so, the mama coat seemed to fit around all this bulk so we all clapped and the gift was decided. Baby was returned to the rightful mother and everyone was happy! I'm sure that mother and grandmother had a good story to tell last night about how their baby was appropriated by the bold foreigners with slightly odd ideas.

Heidi's baby will be here soon so I hope I'll be able to show the mama coat in actual use! (Heidi modeling the mama coat)


Tracey in CT said...

Wow, that is very clever and practical! When I used to have my babies either in the sling it would have been nice to have this, instead I used to have to put the coat on after I put the baby in the sling, ad then you couldn't zip it up.

Seriously Tanya, with a lot of the things that are different in Japan VS. the US, it seems like the Japanese solutions are so much more practical and useful to me!

Anonymous said...

I had one of those coats when I was stationed in Japan, both of my kids were born over there. Thanks for the memories! I love reading your blog!

teodo said...

Great your post for Heidi and for me that was a young Mom 32 years ago.
ciao ciao

Shelina said...

What a clever idea! I think next time I think "someone should invent something like that", I should look around other countries to see if it has already been invented. I hadn't thought of a mama coat though. I bought a baby sling, but I hardly ever used it. I guess I wasn't sure it would hold up the baby, so I always used my arms.

Anonymous said...

I love reading your blog. I am an American who worked in Japan after graduating from college. I love your descriptions of Japanese things. I loved this blog about the mama coat. I had forgotten seeing them. I was amazed at the things mom's did with their babies. When I was there in the 90's I don't think I ever saw a baby in a stroller. In the US-everyone uses strollers. One mom drove her car with her baby on her back. One mom ate with her baby on her back at a restaurant. I thought it would be easier to hold the baby and sit back in the chair than have to sit forward in the chair. Do they still have the Miki House stores for baby clothes? I loved looking at their things. They had the cutest tiny wooden pairs of geta for the baby. I think more for show than for use.

andsewitis Holly said...

I don't remember the mama coats but I didn't see a lot of infants or real young children either. Your story about borrowing the baby and then envisioning a very pregnant lady with a borrowed baby on her back as well made me chuckle :)

DomesticShorthair said...

A baby coat sounds so sensible! Too bad they don't do that in the U.S.

meggie said...

What a wonderful practical idea the Mama Coats are!