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Why Americans Will Never Get the Finnish Baby Box

Last week, the Internet went crazy for a little-known perk of raising a family in Finland. For the last 75 years, expectant parents there have received a sort of baby starter kit in the mail. The package is loaded with cute and practical baby things: onesies, snowsuits, PJs, and, depending on the decade's health ministry-endorsed parenting style, pacifiers, bottles, and cloth or disposable diapers. Everything arrives in a sturdy cardboard box, which is lined with a little mattress and bedding.

When empty, the box becomes baby's first crib, which, come on: genius. And Finns know it. They love their colorful (but gender-neutral!) baby boxes, calling them a "rite of passage" and a way, through the style changes of the box and its contents, to mark the era in which a baby was born, according to a recent BBC article about them. A mere 5 percent opt for the lower-value cash payout instead.

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As with so many Nordic parenting perks, this Finnish box fills me with envy. Beyond the fact that I love free stuff, I love that, in Finland, the village we know it takes to raise our kids is totally making the first move. The only thing I ever got free in the mail through three pregnancies was a series of guilt-inducing life insurance ads from Gerber. (Not even the envelopes were capable of assisting me during new baby naptime.)

But I know better than to go down the fantasy parenting road that starts in Scandinavia, with its generous parental leave policies, fabulous health care and well-funded child care centers, preschools and top-scoring primary schools. These things just don't stand a chance in a country where it's OK to tell women who hire babysitters, "If you don't want to raise your kids, don't have them." That flimsy cardboard wouldn't stand a chance (and in that Florida humidity!) in a country as uncollective and ruggedly individualistic as the U.S.

Think about it: Americans demand options that a one-size-fits all box could never accommodate. What would new parents down in Houston want with a pale green snowsuit or a balaclava? Hearty, winter-born babies in Minnesota would have already outgrown the short-sleeve, legless side-snap onesie, once it is warm enough to wear. Those practical Midwesterners detest that kind of waste!

Everyone would howl at the warning sticker: Lid not for use when box contains sleeping baby.

Were every family to receive a box, the U.S. would have to ship 4 million on average these days. Sure, this would aid the financially strapped U.S. Post Office, possibly guaranteeing Saturday delivery for another generation. But the expense would mean turning the enterprise over to corporations, who would offset the costs through the return on the free brand engagement they'd get with the coveted 3-week-old demographic. Lawsuits would be filed by aggrieved pacifier makers claiming millions in losses after the winning bid, a competitor, touted government-approved status on its in-store packaging. "The only binky approved for distribution in your Fantasy Baby Box!"

The baby shower industrial complex, with its scanner guns and newborn necessities list, would lobby Congress to put that baby box in a corner.

Forget about color and style changes with each year, as happens in Finland. American baby-box onesies would, as a concession to powerful red state senators, always be some variation on red, white and blue—little Olympic uniforms for the teething set.

And then, there's the issue of American parents. Oh, American parents! The cloth diaper people would rage about the wasteful disposable diapers. The disposable diapers parents would feel cornered by the oppressive cloth diaper mafia. Should cans of formula and a bottle brush be included? What about those nipple-confusing pacifiers? A box for napping? Only if it includes a belt and how-to instructions for strapping that thing on a mom so she can preserve the crucial parent-child attachment.

Baby Box Tumblrs would document ridiculous uses for the baby gear—the balaclava and a bungee cord as makeshift bouncy swing. Slideshows of cats in the baby sleeping bag. Buddha babies squeezed like sausages in the government-issue onesies. Preemies swimming in same.

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Everyone would howl at the warning sticker: Lid not for use when box contains sleeping baby.

No, as lovely as the Finnish baby box seems on paper, as wonderfully generous as they are and as supportive as they appear, we Americans aren't ready for one from dear Uncle Sam. We Americans are picky gift-getters; we want what we want. We're a diverse nation—geographically, culturally, economically. We love our scanner guns and online gift registries and custom, self-stocked nurseries that express the very special individuality of our unborn brands, er, sons and daughters. No government program could ever capture our child's uniqueness.

You know what? Keep your boxes, Finland. We've got American babies to raise here.

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