The first thing I ever bought on Amazon was a book by Richard Powers called Galatea 2.2. I don’t remember the book at all, but the Amazon description tells me it’s about a writer trying to teach a computer to understand human behavior.
I don’t know much about artificial intelligence, but I do know that you can pretty much chart the course of my entire adult life by looking at everything I’ve ever ordered on Amazon. I ordered Galatea 2.2 on September 12, 1999, back when I was still Daisy Alpert and lived in a rent-stabilized apartment, when whatever I bought was for me and me alone. I placed six orders that year—seven books, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (never read), and two CDs (the latest from Paula Cole and Fiona Apple). There were five orders in 2000, nine in 2001. Books, mostly. Some I remember, most I don’t.
In the early years, months went by between orders. In comparison, I placed 114 orders in 2018, or one order every three days. Sometimes I order something from Amazon while waiting for my Keurig (the coffee pods ordered on Amazon) to brew.
In 2001, I changed the name on my account to Daisy Florin and optimistically ordered Making a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant. Then, a year later: Conquering Infertility.
On April 9, 2003, the first sign of good news: an order for Baby Bargains, a book my husband studied for months, looking for the best stroller, crib, and high chair. Right before our son Sam was born, I ordered a humidifier and then, a few months after he arrived, books from my own 70s childhood—The Giving Tree, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Free to Be… You and Me.
I ordered The Girlfriends’ Guide to Toddlers in 2004, when I still thought parenting books could help me, along with Healthy Baby Meal Planner, my first attempt to feed my children something healthy. More CDs and books followed, board books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and “More More More,” Said the Baby, most of which I can still recite from memory. In 2005, Sam turned two and I ordered Kumon books for cutting and tracing, followed by a three-pack of Wiggles underwear. We loved Paul O. Zelinksy’s The Wheels on the Bus so much and so hard, I reordered it the following year.
My daughter Ellie arrived in 2005 and the orders picked up, from 9 in 2007 to 32 in 2008. Life got busier. We moved to a house and ordered an exercise bike because we finally had the room. Also a blender and a set of wooden blocks for the playroom. Lots more books, including favorites like Knuffle Bunny, Little Bear, Elephant and Piggie, as well as 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children. Board games and Lego bricks, lots of Lego.
The years fly by, but my Amazon shopping cart provides an unlikely window on my children’s developmental milestones. Sippy cups and swim diapers, sleeping bags and night lights, there was always something new to buy. After Oliver arrived in 2009, we were back to baby gates and booster seats.
My kids went to school. We bought chapter books and Rainbow Loom, Slip ‘N Slide and Nerf guns. The latest Wimpy Kid book and Kidz Bop CDs. Music books for the many instruments they played and quit. A ridiculous number of stuffed animals. Birthday parties and Halloweens, math books and Barbie dolls. It’s all there in my orders, the days when my children were young.
You can see what I was worried about by what I ordered. There were pencil grips for Sam when I was concerned about his fine motor skills. Stainless steel water bottles when I got freaked out about BPA. There’s a book called Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids. Another called Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. And, finally, Jennifer Senior’s All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.
I’ve placed 71 orders in the last six months. Amazon is so much a part of our lives that once, when I ordered a pizza, Oliver asked, “Will it come today?”
Recent orders are more mundane. Light bulbs, paper towel, Gorilla glue. My children are older now, two are teenagers. Gone are the days when they could be bribed with a toy. What they need now—patience, tenacity, emotional resilience—can’t be bought with two-day shipping.
The discernible milestones of my early life, marriage, childbirth, the growing up of small children, have passed for the most part. What my cart reveals now are the hectic ins and outs of a family in motion. Brita filters, shoelaces, a garden hose. Coffee, lots of coffee, because now Sam drinks it, too.
And yet, when I look back at these orders in twenty years, I know they will move me as much as those from the past twenty have. Because in them is the fine print of our lives, a record of this time when we are all together under one roof.
In twenty years, my children will be grown and gone and I’ll be left to wonder where the time went. Sifting through the orders is like going on a modern-day archaeological dig: This is where you came from, they tell me. This is who you are.
Update, early 2021: When I wrote this essay back in 2019, I had no idea how much I would rely on Amazon in 2020. Love it or hate it—and there are lots of reasons to hate it—there’s no question that Amazon was a big part of how many of us adjusted to pandemic life. Quick data point: The 112 orders I placed in 2019 grew to 231 in 2020.
The first signs of the pandemic in my Amazon cart was an order I placed in late February for face masks, Advil, and a pulse oximeter. Like many of you, I ordered lots of toilet paper in the spring along with hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, face shields, and rubber gloves. I also treated myself to a standing mixer for all the baking we were doing. As remote work and school dragged into the fall, we upgraded to a better Wi-Fi booster and ordered lots of printer paper and ink. Rainbow loom refills and paint-by-sticker books kept my 15-year-old occupied; a Nintendo Switch did the same for my 11-year-old. I kept my cool doing KenKen puzzles and watching the birds gather at my new bird feeders. Worst purchase? An overpriced trampoline we thought would keep the kids busy through a long, lazy summer that mostly gathered dust. Best purchase? My noise-canceling headphones.
It’s been a long year. Here’s hoping we can all meet up and browse in stores together soon. – Daisy