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Cupboard yields proof of parent's preparation

I was just a preschooler when my mom traded her defective Corningware coffee pot for a set of olive green mixing bowls and baking dishes. At some point she explained these were for my hope chest, a stash of goods that would help me set up my first home once I was old enough.

Growing up, I liked the idea that I had something set aside for my future. No matter where I went or what I became, no matter what curveballs life threw my way, I knew I had that baking dish-thing taken care of.

Then my mom sent me the dishes in 1998, when I moved into my first apartment after college. As I unpacked them, I realized the olive green Corningware that was so fashionable in 1979 looked really . . . dated.

My hope chest had become a time capsule.

Nowadays hope chests seem as antiquated as dowries, but the idea of stockpiling for your child's far-off future is alive and well. Last month, the New York Times wrote about parents who are reserving e-mail addresses and Web sites in their babies' names. That way, junior is assured an online identity - once he figures out how to use the keyboard without drooling on it.

Part of me felt like snatching up a Yahoo account for little Toby, even though he's a 4-month-old who is more interested in babbling than blogging. But the other part of me - the part that grew up on records and cassettes before graduating to CDs and iPods, the part that remembers when cordless phones and cell phones were high-tech luxuries - wondered if an e-mail address would someday seem as out-of-date to Toby as my mixing bowls.

That seems to be one of the many challenges of parenthood: You've got to plan for your kid's future, even if you have no idea what the future will look like.

Of course you know they'll need money. Financial gurus say it's never too early to start saving for junior's college fund. Some even encourage parents to start saving now for baby's retirement - yes, retirement.

Ellen McGirt, a senior writer for Money magazine, writes that "setting up a retirement account for your kids is a great way to get them thinking about their own financial futures." But right now, with new baby expenses and a part-timer's income, I'm just trying to afford the present.

Thankfully the baby food industry has taken an interest in Toby's portfolio. Toby has yet to take his first spoonful of cereal, but already Gerber has sent him life insurance information, and Beech-Nut has sent us promotional material for upromise, a service that sets aside a fraction of what you spend on certain products into a college fund. So every time I buy a jar of pureed pears, a few pennies go toward Toby's higher education.

It is a slow-going way to save, however. My husband, Wayne, and I opened a upromise account two years ago, figuring we would someday have kids who would someday go to college. By buying the right brand of cereal, paper towels and other stuff, we've amassed a whopping $22.48 - which will probably buy a pack of pens by the time Toby starts college in 2024.

At least it's a start. Kind of like my olive green mixing bowls.

For a while, I stashed the set near the back of the cupboard, thinking they were tragically unhip. I even bought a set of cobalt bowls that looked great - but were too bulky and heavy for everyday use. Then a few years ago, I started using the hope chest Corningware after discovering the dishes were just the right size and heft for most cooking projects.

I no longer think of them as dated. They're retro.

Now they sit at the front of the cupboard, ready for use, and always reminding me of the little ways in which my folks prepared me for the future. I was a little girl, but my mom saw a future woman, and she knew that every lady could use a hand in the kitchen.

Bridget Hall Grumet, who formerly worked for the Citrus Times, can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is bhall@sptimes.com.

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