Showing posts with label Carfree. Show all posts

Part 2 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (which stroller?)


See Part 1 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss.

If you live in the city and don't have a car, you probably need a good stroller (though even this fact can be debated by some).  I knew this decision was super important, so when I was pregnant with my first baby, I approached this with the kind of methodical process I am used to implementing at work - a spreadsheet.  Looking back at the spreadsheet I created then (yes I still have it, yes I am a dork, you're welcome), here are the criteria I evaluated all potential strollers on:
  • - weight
  • - wheel type/quality
  • - storage basket quality
  • - fold-ability
  • - 2nd child accommodation
  • - adjustable handle height
  • - width 
  • - parent-facing infant
  • - accessories available 
Two kids and a bazillion million stroller trips later, I have to say, these are not a bad place to start when looking for your own stroller.  Many people will tell you that the long list of criteria is why there is no such thing as a perfect stroller.  That you need a different stroller for different occasions (a heavy duty stroller for every day, a light stroller for travel, a jogging stroller with big wheels for bad weather and exercise, a something stroller for something else... I don't know, I stop listening at this point).  Those people live in a place where they have somewhere to put their arsenal of strollers (and I guess are willing to spend a looooot of money on them for only occasional use).

Based on an insane amount of googling, review reading, trudging to 5 different baby stores, and soul searching we finally settled on the Valco Baby Snap*.  You've probably never heard of this company and that's a shame.  It's the only stroller we own and it has held up admirably.  Please allow me to sing their praises in the post below (no they haven't paid me for this post).

With experience, I would say by far the most important criteria are weight, wheel type/quality, storage basket quality, and to a lesser extent, fold-ability.  However, let's go through each of the criteria mentioned and discuss at length (the only way I know how).

Weight

This is your most important criteria, frankly.  Most of Boston's transit is accessible, which means that usually an elevator is an option.  I say usually because it is not always the case.  I have picked this stroller up, carried it, bounced it up and down stairs, on and off buses and and and and...  I can do this because it weighs 13lbs (though I believe the current model comes in at 15 lbs).  Many strollers sold weigh in at a hefty 25lb+.  You may be thinking that you can easily lift that much and I'm sure you can, but you're forgetting the baby.  And this baby, will not be a baby for long... fast forward a year and you'll be adding 20lbs+ of child to that chunky stroller as well.... and a diaper bag... and your coffee... and the rain attachments... and the groceries you're taking home in the stroller...  Get a heavy stroller over 20lbs and you will curse the day you were born.

Wheel type/Quality

This feature is important for 2 reasons -  weather and maneuverability.  We live in the north and have terrible weather.  The wheels on our stroller have gotten through snow, slush, standing water, and have lived to tell the tale.  The suspension on the stroller has also let us go over train tracks with an infant who doesn't even wake up to notice.  This is another place where some people will tell you that you need a "jogging stroller" for the bad weather days.  Nope.  You just need a regular stroller with high quality wheels.

Storage basket quality

The worst thing about your kid growing up and deciding to ditch the stroller is that you now have to carry all those groceries home yourself.  The basket is where you'll put your rain cover, your unstructured carrier for baby freak out emergencies, your groceries, and your older child's coat they decided to ditch.  A good basket that's easy to access is your super best friend.

Foldability

One could argue that foldability only matters for the suburbanites who have to fold and fit their stroller in the trunk of their car all the time.  However, we have definitely gone to restaurants that are very small in our area and had to fold our stroller in order to fit our family inside.  Also our stroller has fit nicely in the overhead shelving of Amtrak trains.  Finally, it can be carried by the conveniently placed handle (see picture).

Note: this feature is much more important if you live in NYC.  As you've likely noticed the only way to get on the subway in most stations is to bounce your stroller down the stairs, take the baby out, fold the stroller, go through the (not accessible) fare gates, put the baby back in, and proceed (or go through the emergency exit and set off the alarm).  For this reason, having a one handed fold may be very important to you and thus possibly worth considering getting the Britax B-Agile Stroller (discussed below) instead, as it has a slightly easier fold.

Second child accommodation

I am a planner by nature.  Prior to having any children I thought I wanted two and so that is why I put this criteria on the list.  Having now had two children I recognize the foolishness of this kind of planning.  Whenever someone tells me how many children they want to have and how close together I smile at them and usually mumble something along the lines of "start with one and see where you end up".  Life is messy and complicated and there's no way to know how hard a conception/pregnancy/delivery/infancy will be on a family.  Other parts of life can interfere too.  I know so many families who thought they would only ever have 1 to end up with 3 and vice versa.  So on this topic, I say, plan for the child you're pregnant with now and don't buy a stroller with a frame that will accommodate 2 sitting children (popular examples of this are the Britax B-Ready, the Baby Jogger City Select, and the UPPAbaby Vista).  Buying a stroller that you hope will pan out 2 years from now when you have a second will result in you hating it for the entire time you use it with your first because it's too heavy to get onto a train.  Even if you do end up with two kids your oldest may be willing to walk most places.  You may be able to pop the baby in the carrier you have in your storage basked and let the older kid ride when they get tired.  And finally, almost any stroller will accommodate a hitchiker so that is always an option too.

Adjustable handle height

Ok this one is real.  My family is lucky in that I am 5'4" and my partner is 5'3".  This means that any stroller that works for one of us works for both of us.  If one or both of you are tall, you're possibly going to need a stroller with an adjustable handle height.  Here are some urban friendly options you might consider
  1. 1. Buying a stroller handle bar extender like this one.

  2. 2. The UPPAbaby Cruz Stroller. This stroller is more expensive and the wheels are less good.  That said, it's light enough, and if you're tall, this may be one of your few options.

  3. 3. The Mountain Buggy Mini Travel system.  I don't know much about this stroller other than the fact that it made the rounds of the urban parent internet when it came out.  I know it's a high quality brand and the specs of this guy seem good.  If you're tall, this is certainly an option worth considering. 
  4.  
  5. 4. The Baby Jogger City Mini GT Single Stroller (don't confuse it with its not "GT" cousin the Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller, which does not have an adjustable handle and has crappier wheels). We are friends with a mixed height urban dwelling couple who have had good luck with this guy and you certainly see plenty of them walking around.  Definitely seems worth a test drive.

Other things on the list

  1. 1. Width - It turns out most (non-double) strollers are pretty much the same here.  Ours is on the narrow side, which is of course better but it's not much of a differentiator.

  2. 2. Parent-facing infant seat - This is certainly a nice to have, especially if you're a nervous parent.  That said, the importance of this feature shrinks when compared to others. 

  3. 3. Accessories - these are really important.  So important, in fact, that we will write a whole other post about them.
  4.  
  5. 4. Price.  You may have noticed this was missing from the original list of criteria and this is because I purposely omitted it.  I went into my search thinking that since we don't have a car we were going to live and die by our stroller choice so it was worth spending some dough on.  That said, the stroller we picked was actually THE CHEAPEST one we considered coming in at under $300 (the price varies based on your color choice).  Isn't that always a nice surprise?

That's all great but I just cannot buy a stroller without a test drive

If you live in the Boston area, Baby-Koo carries them in stock so feel free to head on over to them.  I'm sure most big cities have at least one retailer that does as well.  However, if you cannot find one, a really good runner up to the Valco Snap is the Britax B-Agile Stroller.  It's almost identical on features and price.  However, in the end we picked the Valco for the slightly better wheels and the fold that results in the seat being inside rather than out (so we don't have to worry about it getting dirty when folded and stashed in the back of a restaurant).  That said, if the Valco didn't exist, this would be my stroller of choice.

 * Note: we bought our stroller in 2012 and since then many new models of this same stroller have come out.  We have good friends who own the 2014 version and we remain convinced that this is an excellent stroller, especially for the price.


This post is the second in a series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!

Out and about when you don't lactate (or choose not to)

So one of the harder things for partners of breastfeeding moms (and to a similar degree, parents of formula fed children, see below for why I make the distinction) is the logistics of taking the kid out to the park, library, music class, etc.

You may have developed a routine for heating and prepping milk at home, but how the heck do you do this without a kettle, making a mess, or trying to explain why you want a cup of hot water but no teabag at whatever sandwich shop you stopped at when the crying begins, especially if you don't want a sandwich right now (see: crying)?



Ok, so what do we need?
  • - bottle, preferably with milk already in it
  • - milk, if not in bottle already
  • - heat
  • - contained place to apply heat to bottle

Bottle

By now, you probably have a pretty good mental accounting of how long it takes your bottles to heat (and doubly so if you own multiple models). Our daycare only takes plastic bottles, but we have a small collection of glass ones for use at home for exactly this reason. Glass bottles heat much faster and as every non-lactating parent knows, every extra second listening to your kid scream is no fun. As they get bigger and recognize that "THIS IS A BOTTLE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I WILL GRAB FOR THE BOTTLE BECAUSE I AM HUNGRY AND DON'T UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF BOILING WATER," this gets only worse. For those of you out-and-about with your first kid, this is exacerbated when out in public (I cringed at every cry in a cafe, on the train, and even in the park. Especially when "well-meaning" old ladies started with their "advice.") I'm getting better with the second, though.  I figure if he hasn't puked on anyone else, we're good.

Anyway, we'll eventually write a post on bottle recommendations (we use the Evenflo Feeding Classic Glass Twist Bottles) but really just go with what works with your pump and baby's disposition.

Milk

The easiest thing is, of course, to store the milk in the bottle before you leave the house, but sometimes you gotta go with a bag (for example, from your freezer stash). You can read about our freezer bag preferences here.

Heat

So now we're at the crux of this all. Boiling water in a kettle and pouring it into a large cup or bowl is how we do this at home.  But, reliable access to boiling water was not something I wanted to count on in the park.

We tried some open-and-they-heat-up pad things, but found them to be garbage. (They advertised they wouldn't burn you because they only go to body temperature.  However, something at body temp takes a LONG time to warm up something that's cold or frozen.  Plus it was very slow to get TO body temp. My wife is the scientist here, but even I know enough thermodynamics to know this won't work). 

So if hot water is what we want, how about a thermos? That brings us to...

Place to Heat the Bottle

While any old thermos would surely work to transport hot water, we found the Tommee Tippee Travel Bottle and Food Warmer to be really useful because the lid over the main thermos part a) helps keep the whole thing relatively cool inside the diaper bag, b) contains spills if you have some leakage, which you shouldn't, and c) serves as a cup you can pour the water into to immerse your bottle and heat it! So for the size/weight of a normal thermos, you get all the stuff you need.


The only complaint is that you have to PAY ATTENTION to the open/close positions on the lid. It's the opposite of what is intuitive and I have poured scalding hot water on myself (or into the lid) a few times. Being a "safety culture" kind of guy, I now verify I have it in the closed position by turning it to a pouring position over the sink before I pack it in the diaper bag.

Could you just use a normal thermos and a cup? Yeah. Is it slightly expensive for a thermos and lid? Yeah. But it's extremely convenient and $20 is pretty cheap for the sanity it enables.

You said something about formula

We've not formula-fed, so I have no specific suggestions, but I do add the following thoughts:
  1. 1. There is a ton of formula-specific gear out there that looks pretty cool when I've seen other parents use it.

  2. 2. My understanding is that heating to body temperature is not necessary for exclusively formula-fed babies.  This is because breastfed babies are used to receiving milk at body temperature for obvious reasons.  If you introduce formula early enough, most babies can and do get used to drinking it at room temperature.  This certainly simplifies the feeding process.
That said, if you do find yourself in need of a way to heat things, this has been our go-to solution.

Part 1 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss - (why?)

It was shocking to me how quickly after announcing our first pregnancy to the wider world questions/assumptions came pouring in about when and what kind of car we would be purchasing (answers: never and none).  Yes, it's true... my name is Dina Aronzon, I live in a city, I have 2 children, and zero (0!!) cars.  Also I am not alone in this decision.  If you've not encountered this phenomenon before, this post will answer all your burning questions about what that's like.

Are you some kind of martyr/hippy/crazy environmentalist/crunchy sanctimommy?

No (at least I don't think so).  The decision to not have a car was not made as a statement nor out of any kind of particular conviction (please! who has time for that kind of thing with the amount of laundry around).  It is entirely one of practicality.  Reasons I don't have a car:
  1. 1. It's really expensive to have a car in the city.  You have to pay to park it at your own house (we rent out the parking space that came with our condo for $125/month), at your job (my job downtown charges $350/month to park; even when I worked in the 'burbs it was still $30/month), and everywhere else you go.  Car insurance costs more.  Our combined spending on transportation (monthly transit pass + average Zipcar spending + taxi/uber) comes to roughly $200 a month.  The math doesn't lie.  Plus, we can take all that money that we DON'T spend on parking, insurance, car payments, and gas and spend it on our mortgage.

  2. 2. At the end of a snow storm I've never been sitting there thinking "you know what I want to do right now?  Go outside in the freezing cold and dig a hunk of metal out, just for kicks". 

  3. 3. I never have to schedule an oil change, get snow tires, or coordinate getting home from "the shop".  Frankly, I'm too lazy and busy to add another expensive and possibly lethal thing to take care of.

  4. 4.  Most importantly, in the 10 years that I have been living as an independent adult, there has never been a thing that I wanted to do that I haven't been able to because I don't own a car.

Do you have a driver's license?

Yes. I live in America, I'm pretty sure they strip you of your citizenship if you don't get one by age 25.  Also, I've had to drive equipment around for my job so it's come in handy for professional reasons.  Also also, we do use Zipcars when we need to get somewhere that's not conveniently accessible by transit.  Being able to drive when you need to without owning a car - the future is pretty awesome, isn't it?


How do you get your kids anywhere?

Riding Amtrak with our 3 month old
The same way all parents do - with a lot of patience.  Also with the help of strollers, trains, buses, and as previously mentioned, Zipcars.

15 month old, riding the bus
Toddler says "Hi there, I love my stroller"
And of course, when all else fails, we use our walking feet

You must be sacrificing SOMETHING

Sure, yes.  But once again, this is no different from anyone else.  There are absolutely jobs I haven't taken because it would have meant buying a car and commuting out to the suburbs every day.  This is definitely a  place where I have some luck.  I have not had trouble finding work that fit my criteria.  That said, I have also been flexible as to what my criteria are.  In return, my husband and I commute to daycare on transit where we get to talk to our children, play games, and sing songs with them. They are not stuck completely strapped into a seat, facing a different direction, unable to have meaningful interactions with us.  Also, as a bonus, we don't tend have naps ruined by a cat nap in the car (instead our naps are ruined by toddler intransigence).  And finally, yes, sometimes we say no to activities or events because it would be too much of a hassle to get there.  Then again, there's something to be said for using your time judiciously and just walking your kids to the playground instead.


I have a car.  Are you judging me?

Yes.

I am of course joking. I don't really care what others do. The purpose of this post twofold.  The first is really to dispel the mystery around my family's choices (which frankly aren't that mysterious).  The second goal here is to encourage others who may currently be living car free but are about to have children to consider giving the carfree family lifestyle a try. 



This post is the first in a series of posts about carfree living. Upcoming posts will include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!

Photo Credit - National Sarcasm Society under the Creative Commons License. 

What do you mean both children need to come with me?

If sometime in your first baby's toddler years, you looked at him or her and thought "Hmmm this one is cute, but getting big.  I guess let's make another one, but smaller!" you may want to read this post. It turns out that just because your oldest can walk and declare things like "No help Mama!!" does not mean you can just leave them somewhere while you go off with your new baby.  In fact, it means that you will be transporting both of them with you as you try and do previously simple tasks like dropping off the dry cleaning.

The traditional route for parents here is to get a double stroller.  However this solution may not work for you because
  1. 1. Your oldest is too old to ride in a stroller.

  2. 2. Your oldest is 2 going on 22 and has been going stroller free since she was 20 months because "strollers are for babies" (ask me how I came up with this one).

  3. 3. Thinking about attempting to get the double stroller through the door of the dry cleaner makes you hyperventilate.
So what's an urban family with 2 hellions to do?

Stroller Handle

This is the absolutely most genius idea ever, put out by the fine folks at Skip Hop. It is a Skip Hop Walk-Along Stroller Handle that attaches to the frame of your stroller for the toddler to hold.  They come in a variety of  colors so you can pick your toddler's favorite one.  Ours is obsessed with owls so this was a major win for us.  We have been enforcing strict hand holding with her ever since she was 12 months (not holding hands resulted in immediately being picked up, which for some blessed reason she thinks is punishment).  Thus, when the stroller came out of storage after the birth of our son it was easy to edit the previous "always hold hands rule" to a "always either hold hands or the owl" rule (she almost always prefers the owl handle).  We've been happily using this for 3 months without any problems.

Ride along platform

Admittedly our toddler is kind of amazing in her ability to walk long distances.  As such, there are really very few places we go that we can't just reach via a combination of public transit and our trusty
stroller handle.  That said, there are a couple of playgrounds in our town that transit doesn't make sense to and are still too far for her to walk both ways to.  For those occasions we pull out the
Valco Hitch Hiker Ride On Board.  This is a board that attaches to the back of your stroller that your child can ride on.  Most stroller brands offer this as an add on.  We have the Valco version because that is the brand of our stroller, though this attachment claims itself to be universal.  Looking at the construction, I would guess it probably can attach to most strollers if you're willing to apply some muscle.  Additionally, what's great about the design is that the board slides into braces that you attach to the stroller.  This means that once you attach the braces, you can take the board itself on and off relatively easily (figuring out where to put the braces and then securing them can take a bit of both brain and brawn, so it's nice to only have to do this once).

In the spirit of full disclosure, there are 2 downsides to using this board (or almost certainly any one like it).  If you have to bounce up the stairs backwards with your stroller in your daily life (like we do to get into our building), bouncing with the board attached can be a hassle.  Also, admittedly acquiring this piece of hardware can seem a bit pricey but there are a couple of things to consider such as the fact that this is definitely cheaper than a double stroller.

And with that, you're ready to go off on your adventures, be they near or far!