Infants not seen

“Children are to be seen and not heard,” admonished adults in the 19th century.
Things have not really changed a great deal. Two recent Associated Press news stories with contrasting attitudes about children both weigh in favor of the importance of appearance.
The first story focused on exclusive shops for babies such as Babies ‘R’ Us and Buy Buy Baby. These businesses concentrate on typically older, double income parents who have the money and the interest on spending significant sums of it on their children. For infants who only notice whether they are hungry, wet or sleepy, the shops offer $55 for designer socks for the infant to kick off and the washing machine to lose, $1,500 cribs for them to beg to escape from and $800 bedding for spitting up on.
Why all the expense?
“Children are like a commodity – everyone wants a nice house, a nice car and now the best outfitted baby,” said Betty Wong, an editor at Parents magazine. “It’s easy to pamper your baby when you have money to spend.”
Commodity? as in the dictionary definition of “something you buy or purchase, a parcel or quantity of goods, an economic good?” Interesting adjective for baby. But, proud new mothers with excess cash who want their child to be seen can afford to dress their child in expensive beautiful clothes, spend thousands of dollars for baby pictures, purchase them the best in furniture and little extras such as a baby monitoring camera to make sure they can always see the baby.
Tracy Fields probably wishes she had had a baby-monitoring camera focused on her infant while the child was under the care of day-care owner Paula Burcham of Bartow, Fla.
Burcham ran an immaculate day-care center. Parents loved her. Kids lined up for hugs from Mama Paula right up to the day in December 2001, when Fields’ healthy 3-month-old daughter, Grace Olivia Fields, died in Burcham’s care. That was the day Burcham added over-the-counter cold medicine to Grace’s bottle of breast milk. That was the day that the families that loved and trusted Burcham learned that she used over-the-counter medications to sedate cranky children. She administered medicine sold with a warning against giving it to infants and children under six years old without a doctor’s instructions.
Burcham preferred children to be seen and not heard.
Burcham admitted giving the medicine, but said it was not to control the child.
“She found a way to control behavior, she found a way to make those kids sleep half the day,” Fields said, adding that her then 2 1/2 year-old daughter later told her she was given bubble gum flavored medicine before nap time at Burcham’s house.
In August, Burcham was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter. At least 10 other cases of child care providers sedating children with cold medicines or cough syrups have been investigated nationwide in the past three years according to the AP story.
Medical examiners, now aware of the practice, are increasingly considering and testing for an overdose before writing off a child’s death as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“The medication was not used for the benefit of the infant, but for the benefit of the person administering it,” said Andrew Baker, assistant chief medical examiner in Minneapolis conducting research on the misuse of over-the-counter drugs after he found high levels of a drug in a baby.
And that is the bottom line of the old adage, “Children are to be seen and not heard” – it is usually for the adult’s benefit. Infants cry because something is bothering them – and for sure that something isn’t that Momma didn’t buy them a designer burp rag.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times.)