When you have your first baby, you buy all the shit. If you’re like me, you buy all the shit new. You end up with three different strollers for different scenarios/terrain. They fill your front hallway.

Soon after, the baby is born, and you’re tired of stepping over the stroller gallery. You begin selling some of the shit. You realize you were overzealous at Babies R’ Us, wanting everything about your baby to be perpetually cute, and padding your insecurity with material goods to feel at least somewhat prepared. In time, you realize how ridiculous this was.

Over the last six years, I’ve made my fair share of dumb purchases, and honestly, most of the material stuff is just that – stuff. Here’s a rundown of the best parenting investments we’ve made – money spent that has somehow improved our lives.

Between my aunts, cousins, and neighbors, we have a decent stable of babysitters that our girls love, and that we trust. It takes trial-and-error to find the ones that jive with our family. We’ve had some not great sitters, like the one who gave my kids a package of gummies right before bed. (What? Why?) But, the good ones allow us to meet a deadline, go out with our adult friends, or manage some mundane task that’s more tolerable without two kids in tow. Babysitters allow us to maintain our marriage and sanity. Definitely a worthy investment.

Swimming Lessons
Not only a fun activity, a life skill. Dave and I feel strongly that our kids know how to swim. Since last year, they’ve taken lessons year-round. Edie is constantly improving, and as of this summer can hold her own with friends. While we still stay in arms reach, she’s experiencing the freedom and joy of swimming. Emmeline loves the water, thinks she can swim, and is fearless. By next summer I think we’ll all be swimming across the pool. Maybe some synchronized action??

Girls on step

Sisters drinking smoothies, painting toes on our front stoop. Doesn’t get much better than this!

Library Cards
The investment is the town taxes we pay, and the time it took to sign up for the cards. Beyond it being a fun, free place to go year-round, the library is a veritable treasure trove – books, movies, magazines, programs, computer games, and so on. There is age-appropriate content for everyone, and we usually run into a friend (or meet a new buddy). Serious win.

Tag Sale Umbrella Stroller
I’ve used small, medium, large, cheap, and expensive strollers. I’ve used singles and doubles. But a $10 MacLaren is the best one I’ve bought. It lives in my trunk and I pop it out when we need to quickly travel somewhere. It’s amazing in an airport. It’s light, nimble, and cuts down on at least 50% of the toddler meandering. Worth the sanity, and time.

Kids don’t come with a cheap price tag, but by far the best investment we’ll make is in giving our girls a sibling. I LOVE that my daughters have each other. They have a built-in buddy, someone to maintain the checks and balances, and when they’re older, they can commiserate about how [insert chosen adjective] Dave and I are. Over time, they will understand each other like no one else. My girls have very different personalities, and their unique qualities balance each other out.

Vacations are imprinted on our minds. They’re time stamps of different ages and places of our lives. I remember a road trip with two other families as a kid to the Outer Banks. We communicated via CB radios from Connecticut to North Carolina. We rented a creaky old beach house on the ocean, and my sister, cousins, friends and I set up a “jellyfish washing station”. A ten-dollar bill floated onto my boogie board, and I felt as if I’d struck gold. There was a hurricane warning at the end of our trip, and our hearts raced as we loaded up and headed north. I saw the most magical star-studded night sky that I’ve ever seen. These memories are as clear as yesterday, and hope my kids remember the vacations we’ve taken, and will take, for their entire lives. A trendy outfit, or a high end stroller, will never make such an impression.