All you had to do was stand in one of the stroller-choked aisles in Baltimore's Festival Hall this weekend to know that, yes, the demographers are right: There's a baby boom going on.
Babies were everywhere: toddlers doing that funny stiff-legged wobbly walk, crawlers and newborns being pushed along in single and double-wide strollers, being carried in backpacks or papoose-style on the chest, and there were those who hadn't arrived, but whose presence was unmistakable.
"I've never seen so many pregnant women in my life," said Linda Rash, pushing her twin 7 1/2 -month-old boys, Kody and Kory, in a tandem stroller. "I was supposed to come last year, but I was pregnant with them."
So it goes in the current baby boom. You've either just had a baby, are about to have a baby, or are thinking about having a baby. The National Center for Health Statistics noted that 1990's births were the highest in 30 years, almost matching the post-World War II baby boom peak of 4.3 million births in 1957. The folks at WMIX-106.5 FM know all this. They've charted their target audience, ages 25 to 44, and they've read the stats.
"We know our listeners are starting families," said Ardie Gregory, the station manager.
Last year, the station's one-day Baby Expo brought in 11,000 people. This year the station added an extra day and hoped the event would attract 13,000 to 15,000 people. About 100 booths were on hand, offering everything from voice-activated crib rockers to advice on financial planning.
Amid all the pink and blue balloons, 6-foot-tall teddy bears and kiddie toys, the guys at the John Hancock booth provided a stiff reality check. Armed with a computer, they'd punch in your child's age, ask if you wanted a private or public college education, then show you the grim numbers.
"The eyebrows raise," said Aaron Diamond of the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., noting that a private college education for a child born today will cost about $150,000. "The reactions go from shock to a realization that people have to do something really quick."
He put some figures into the computer, then said a private college education for today's 5-year-old will cost $121,910.75. Linda Harris, who lives in Pasadena, asked about a public college education for Stephen, her 18-month-old son. The computer flashed a modest, though still wallet-emptying $40,636.92.
"Do you have a printout of that so I can show my husband?" asked Mrs. Harris, who came away saying the best strategy is to "start a college education ahead of time and put a little money away. You don't really think about it when they're so young because it seems too far away."
But there was more to the expo than serious planning for the future. Interested in fashion? Child models trotted out rain gear to the tune of the Weather Girls singing "It's Raining Men." They turned and posed in bathing suits and swim trunks, modeled to the insistent guitar and world famous drum solo of the Surfaris doing "Wipeout."
Even though this was a Baby Expo, it wasn't just a showcase for babies and a salute to mommies. After all, this is the '90s. Fathers had their own chance to shine in the Daddy Diaper Derby, a mad race to diaper a baby doll. Greg Cicero of Laurel easily won his match. A father of two, he's had some practice, though mainly as a backup.
"My wife usually does it. I only do it in dire emergencies," he said, adding this bit of advice: "Let your wife change all the diapers. That works the best. They have more patience."
Hmmm. Hardly a '90s New Man perspective. But diapering is not a job for everyone, or is it? Bruce Tyler, who also won the derby, said he getsplenty of practice sharing the duties with his wife. He takes the mornings, and she takes the evenings. His advice?
"Just play a part in the baby's life every day. She's only going to be little for a little length of time," said Mr. Tyler, who is from Westminster. "I know my dad never changed diapers."
Fathers doing their share of diapering isn't the only sign of the new Baby Boom. Charlotte Sheffer, a grandmother, marveled at the cloth diapers with hook and loop fasteners, a virtual miracle for anyone who remembers safety pins, pricked fingers and the fear of one of those pointed devils accidentally popping open.
Lionel Kiddie City displayed a row of car seats that ended with a padded and pillowed top-of-the-line model that would rival any plush bucket seat coming from Detroit, Tokyo or Bonn.
At Crib N' Cradle, the strollers came with or without shock absorbers. One crib had a built-in rocker. For stationary cribs, there was a $50 device tuned to the pitch of a crying baby's voice. Put it on and Presto! Rock-a-bye baby.
That was a little too much technology for Sonya Ryans, who came from Annapolis with her 3-month-old son. "It's nice," she said of the rocking cribs. "But I feel you can get up and do it yourself."
Who needs high-tech? The baby's the thing. And to know that, all you had to do was watch the Baby Crawl: the infants on one end, the smiling mothers on the other, pounding the mat, shaking rattles, urging their children on while the master of ceremonies called out:
"Go, babies! Go, babies! Come on, babies!"