Showing posts with label On the Go. Show all posts

Umbrella Strollers - what to do when you need one but hate the concept?

So after 3 years of hard living, our beloved Valco Baby Snap stroller gave way (note: watch for "kneeling buses" kneeling onto the wheels of your stroller if you get off the bus too quickly and the bus driver is still in the process of lowering the vehicle) with a crack in the frame. Faced with both the terror of choosing a new stroller to use daily and the freedom to pick something that doesn't need to take an infant, we restarted our hunt for the Best Urban Stroller - Umbrella Stroller Edition.

Umbrella Stroller Options

Option 1: Buy the same thing again. We'd narrowing things down to the Snap and the B-Agile last time and they remained compelling options for all the same reasons. You can see our post on choosing an infant stroller for more on this.

Option 2: Cheap umbrella strollers. There are a million of these out there. Many are light a inexpensive, making them compelling at first glance. However, many are poorly made which can put you in a real bind if you not just "at the mall," and more importantly, most have wheels that are simply inexcusable for use on city streets, in the snow, or over train tracks. Hell, even the week we borrowed a MacLaren Triumph was awful while getting around cracked sidewalks and over the Green Line tracks, and that is not a cheap stroller.

Option 3: BabyHome Emotion stroller. Dina seriously lusted after this stroller the first time around but we opted against it due to a lack of lie-flat capabilities. Had we owned our amazing Doona stroller/carseat combo at the time, we may have more seriously considered this option though.

Honestly, we scoured Craigslist until we saw a Valco, Britax, or BabyHome come up and the BabyHome hit first. Having owned it for a couple months now, here are our thoughts.


The BabyHome Emotion Pros and Cons

It's light (13 lbs), maneuverable, has good shock absorbers, and supports one-handed driving. While we were used to the other features, it's hard not to notice how much more maneuverable it is.  Being a couple inches shorter (due to the lack of lie-flat), it's also a bit easier to get into the area of flipped-up bus seats and take up less space on transit of all kinds. It can also remain upright when folded and folds pretty flat, which is great for the restaurants that require it.

A couple downsides... the basket is roomy but the opening is not. The wheels are acceptable but not amazing (they are made from the material of skateboard/Rollerblade wheels which make them durable but are still a bit too small for our tastes).

The BabyHome Emotion: Our Final Take

This is a great, but not perfect, stroller. Second-hand on Craigslist was perfect for our needs. That said, even at full price, the Valco plus BabyHome is still less than having bought a Bugaboo or City Mini system.

In a slightly less snowy city (or one with better sidewalks), you could easily do a Doona + BabyHome for all carseat/stroller needs in the first year (and beyond for strollers), especially if you invest in some comfy carrier options as well.


     

Potty Training in an Apartment with One Bathroom

If there was a top five list of parenting tasks that I wish I could outsource, potty training would probably take up 3 of the items on that list. (The other 2 places on there would be devoted to cleaning up other bodily fluids in the middle of the night and dealing with children during daylight savings time mayhem).

The conventional wisdom in the US (potty training is a developmental milestone highly influenced by culture) is that most children potty train some time between 2 and 3 years old.  I took that recommendation as a directive to spend the entire year panicking about... were we starting too late? to early? did we miss a window? how about now? does a window exist? do we have enough cleaning supplies? is there really NO way to outsource this? pretty please with a cherry on top?

When one considers this complete panic and barrage of confusing information, it was a super convenient excuse that our second child didn't sleep at all as a baby.  "We're too tired to deal with this" we told ourselves every time the topic came up for discussion.  Then finally, the baby started to sleep and we were ready to face my daughter's upcoming 3rd birthday.  We decided to our big parent pants on and just do it.  We signed up for a class at a local parenting center (The Loved Child, for the local crew), we bought some gear, and we got down to business.

Now because things on the internet are forever, I'm not actually going to discuss the details of potty training.  I will say however, that it went far more smoothly than I would have guessed.  I will tell you about gear you may need before you start, especially if you live in a house with only one bathroom and/or don't want to be trapped in your house for a month.

Potty seat for families with only one bathroom

When choosing a potty accommodation for your little one, there are many options, but all of them basically solve 2 problems - the kid is too short to climb on the toilet by herself without assistance and the kid's backside is too small to sit comfortably on an adult ring without falling through.  So here are the options we considered and what we ended up with:

  1. 1. Standalone kids' potty (for example). 
    1. Pro - it's easy for the child to get on and off by themselves and it adds a 'second' bathroom for those times, especially in the beginning, when the child is having to go constantly.

    2. Con - you have to clean it and god forbid it gets knocked over.

  2. 2. Separate child's seat for toilet and a step stool (screw on version, removable version, folding step stool).
    1. Pro - I think the screw on option is awesome if you have a dedicated bathroom for your kid and the folding step stool is easily operated by the child.

    2. Con - If you only have one bathroom, as we do, having an extra ring on the seat seems like a pain as does having 2 removable parts.

  3. 3. Ring and step stool combination (Mommy's Helper is the one we have)
    1. Pro - It's one piece of equipment that's foldable and easily operated by the child. It can be stored folded when not in use, thus not interfering with adult bathroom use.

    2. Con - It's a larger item to store than a ring and stool. Also the kid can and will figure out how to bang the stool legs on the floor while sitting on the potty. 

    3. That said, this is the set up we've been using for months and we've been quite happy with it.
You may also need other equipment for your bathroom - such as a separate step stool for your sink (if you go with the seat/stool combination or stand alone potty) and/or a faucet extender.

And finally, as with all child related things, you may have found the perfect piece of equipment for you only to find it rejected by the child.  Thus, the best potty set up is the one your kid is willing to use.

Teaching your child the potty ritual (aka "for the love of god wash your hands!")

There's a lot to learn when becoming a person. Things that are obvious to you - why you shouldn't dip your hair into the toilet - are not obvious to a child. It's helpful to have a couple books on hand when climbing this mountain.  Personally we've enjoyed The Potty Book for Girls (there's a boy's version too). Also the Daniel Tiger episode about going to the potty is particularly instructive (Season 2, Episode 10 - available on Amazon Prime Video).

Potty seats for families on the go

So that's all great but what do you do if you ever want to leave the house? I really recommend getting a portable, folding potty seat. (Note: Amazon has a bunch of identical seats like this one - down to the singing teddy - by purportedly "different" manufactures. It seems fishy to me and I'm guessing my link will be broken shortly. Regardless, the seat is good)  This seat folds and thus easily fits in your diaper bag or purse for convenient transport.  And it makes the child comfortable and confident in unfamiliar settings. It's also hard plastic and thus easily wiped down.

And with that - may the spirits of good hygiene and compliant behavior be with you!


Listen to us on a Podcast! (TransitMatters episode 30: Kids on Transit)

I had the pleasure a few weeks back to discuss kids, transit, living carfree, and other urban issues with the folks on the excellent podcast TransitMatters.

If you're not familiar with TansitMatters, check them out - especially if you're in the Boston area. They are an advocacy organization "dedicated to improving transit in and around Boston by offering new perspectives, uniting transit advocates, educating riders and promoting a level of critical analysis normally absent from other media."

The family-centered episode I appeared on went live this week and you can listen to it here: PODCAST 30 - KIDS ON TRANSIT WITH LEE BIERNBAUM

Subscribe to their podcast on iTunes, your favorite podcatcher (yeah, I'm holding on to that term), or at their RSS Feed.

Also find them on Facebook, Twitter, donate, or volunteer.

If you liked the episode, be sure to let them know too.




P.S. If you are familiar with TransitMatters, know that I spend days considering what Parks and Recreation reference I was going to make following the intro and I came up with nothing. I hope I can go back on someday just so that I can reveal my inner Perd Hapley.

Get ready for summer! (aka how to apply sun screen to a squirmy baby, toddler, or child)

As we approach Memorial Day weekend here in the US, we can officially declare summer to be upon us.  If you live in the Northeast, where winter this year has been mild but very very long, it's about dang time. Perhaps only a week or two ago, you were likely still wrestling your wee ones into their jackets, and may have been caught off guard by the sudden switch to needing sun gear.

And so, we come out of our hibernation (as in we've recently gotten some actual sleep) to tell you everything you need this summer to keep your kids outside instead of destroying your house.
  1. 1. Sunscreen for home.  Putting sunscreen on a baby is really hard and it doesn't get easier as they get older.  Let's face it, kids are squirmy at all ages and the last thing they want to do is stand perfectly still while you make sure every nook and cranny of their delicate skin is covered in cream.  For that reason, I could not recommend using MD Moms Baby Sunscreen Wipes highly enough.  Are they a little expensive? Yes.  Totally worth it? Also yes.  One wipe has a ton of cream on it.  Enough, to put on big sister, little brother, mom and dad.  It requires much less cooperation from the littles, gives you peace of mind, and stores easily and cleanly in your diaper bag. In my book, this is a baby product totally worth throwing a bit of money at.

  2. 2. Sunscreen for day care.   Did you already buy sunscreen and are totally regretting it because you hate the 20 minute fight to get it on your kid and have only just found out about the wipes? Send the tube of cream to day care and go buy yourself some wipes. Fact - day care teachers are ninjas! They somehow magically get 8 kids to line up peacefully and stand there while they douse them from head to toe.  I don't know how they do it, but I'm so happy they do.  And for that reason, we do not splurge on wipes for day care. Instead we buy tubes of Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen

  3. 3. Hat. Hats and jackets are items that somehow invite the general public to comment on your
    child's attire.  If you thought you were done with community comments when you were done being pregnant,  you were wrong.  Be prepared for every little old lady on the street and bus to helpfully chime in when they think your child needs one, whether they actually do or are willing to wear one. Some kids just hate hats and others love them. If you have the former, don't worry, I promise they'll survive childhood somehow. You on the other hand, should do your best to let go of the guilt over that.  If your kid loves hats, or is willing to wear one, nothing beats the wide brimmed comfy ones of iPlay. They come in a variety of colors and prints, are adjustable, and offer a lot of sun protection.

  4. 4. Swim/water wear.  Once again, this is a place where iPlay just dominates. Their bathing suits with built in swim diapers are a must for hitting the beach.  I would also recommend getting some swim shirts and shorts (often sold as "rashguards") to reduce the area on which sunscreen needs to be applied (see photo to right for one of their shirts).  And as always, these are the kinds of things that are best purchased at the end of the season for next year if you want to save some money.
Happy summer everyone!


    

Taking Transit with Kids: Boston MBTA

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of guides for riding public transit across the world with your kids. Would you like to help add information about your city? Drop us an email at transitinfo at acrossb dot com.

It doesn't matter how long you've lived here, there are some new things to think about when riding the MBTA with kids...

Taking the MBTA with your little ones will make you think about the MBTA in new and unexpected ways. Maybe you've never really cared much about "new" vs. "old" style Green Line cars, or why using an elevator at South Station forces you to go outside when switching from the red line to the commuter rail, or which exit from Harvard involves the fewest street crossings when connecting to your bus. Now you are going to see a slightly different version of the MBTA.

Our system
  1. a. Is proud of being among the oldest in America (the first subway!) but also 

  2. b. Lacks any sort of standards in stations, vehicles, or much of anything else. 
Consequently, unlike a roundup for, say, WMATA in Washington, D.C. (which has a handful of station types and more-or-less the same trains throughout), we'll have a lot of variations along the way. But at least it's simpler than the old token/quarters-only Green Line fares before 2006... progress!

Also, have you read our guide to getting started on transit with your stroller or non-strollered toddler?

Kids ride the T for Free! 

Kids 11 and under are free with an adult (maximum 2 kids per adult).


Pay Attention to Close Stops!

Because the system is not fully accessible and because dragging a toddler onto and off of various vehicles might be less fun than walking outside (at least on a nice day), it's time to take a look at a good Boston map with the MBTA routes on it. Especially downtown, lots of stops are closer together than you may think if you haven't really walked around much. The canonical example here is Aquarium is a short walk from all the other lines without having to transfer to the Blue line.

Stations and Boarding

Red, Orange, Blue, and Underground Portions of the Green and Silver Lines

  • - Most stations in the MBTA are accessible now (check the MBTA map for the latest), which is really quite impressive (even if it took a few lawsuits to get there). Keep your eyes peeled as you head toward the station because elevators may be at the same entrance as the stairs (Porter), or just a few feet away (Copley), or somewhere else entirely (South Station). In other cases, elevators may be inside the fare gates (Charles/MGH).

  • - In recent years, more elevators have been added to secondary entrances (Harvard, Porter) and to make transfers more direct (Park Street).

  • - Every station has at least one "Reduced Fare" gate that's extra wide for wheelchairs and strollers. It's also good for kids walking through while holding your hand.

  • - Each two-car Green Line train is usually made up of one "high floor" car and one "low floor" car. 
    • * If you have a stroller, you should aim for the low-floor car to avoid having to lug it up the steps. Head to the middle doors and there is a large open wheelchair bay right by each set of doors. This is the place to camp out. 

    • * With a mobile kid, take your pick of cars and seats though you may prefer the high-floor Green Line car as it has pairs of forward/rearward facing seats rather than sideways seats. This way you can worry less about interactions with others on the train (i.e. opportunities for your kid to kick people).
  • - On the Red/Blue/Orange lines there are not any obvious places for a stroller but you can either try at the front/back of the car (where there may be seats missing to accommodate a wheelchair) or the area at the doors is usually workable. Just be aware of which set of doors will open at each stop so you can be sure to get out of the way.

  • - Silver Line buses are all "low floor" so enter at any door. Check out the bus discussion below on flipping up seats.
  • - Final note of interest: we've used station staircases and escalators as places to learn to go up/down lots of stairs and to learn escalator safety (and also about removing escalator grease from kids... fun times). That said, while we're willing to go down Harvard's many stairs during peak times, we still use the elevator at Park Street given the large hurrying crowds arriving from all directions simultaneously.

Green Line Surface Branches

  • This is similar to the situation above, but the need to pay up front creates a few wrinkles. To recap, each two-car train is usually made up of one "high floor" car and one "low floor" car. 

  • If you have a stroller, you should aim for the low-floor car to avoid having to lug it up the steps. The front of the train is NOT low, so you'll have to reach up to the farebox to tap your CharlieCard. The driver will generally open the back two doors for you (if they're not open already) and you can walk back on the train and enter one of those doors just a (usually) short step up (sorry outer bit of the B and C-lines). There is a large open wheelchair bay right by each set of doors. This is the place to camp out. 

  • With a mobile kid, take your pick of cars and board normally though you may prefer the high-floor car as it has pairs of forward/rearward facing seats rather than sideways seats so you can worry less about interactions with others on the train.

Buses (including Above-Ground Silver Line)

If you're with an unrestrained or carrier-contained kid, you don't really need any special information, though I will note that sitting in the seats on the steps or further back improves the ability of the child to see out the window so we aim for those. 

All buses are technically accessible though there are still a few "high floor" buses still rumbling around the fleet. They're being phased out as of early 2016, but I imagine you'll see them for a while. If you come across a high floor bus, board it the same way you would the Green Line at the surface - i.e. pay up front and then board with the stroller in the back door (and lug it up the stairs, sorry). The area of flip-up seats is directly across from the doors (generally 2 sets of 3 seats that flip up).

On a low-floor bus, you can board normally through the front. On most types of buses, the entire set of front seats folds up. With a small enough stroller, you should only need to flip up one of the four potential sets of seats. Note: There are a few variants of buses out there that have slightly different configurations including a brand new set of buses that basically just has a spot to park a stroller specifically.

In any case, there are two ways to flip up the seat. On some buses, there will be a ring underneath the seat. Pull the ring toward you and then pull the seat up (see picture to the left for how to find the ring). To lower the seat back to its original position once you're about to get off the bus (polite but not necessary), pull the ring up and push the seat down. On other buses, there is a lever behind the seat (sometimes left, sometimes right, but the back of a bus seat is probably not the grossest thing you've touched today anyway). Push the lever to the wall and pull the seat up. To lower, there is a knob on the bottom front of the seat, pull out and push the seat down.

Commuter Rail

Any readers have tips for the Commuter Rail? We haven't tried it with the kiddos.

Ferries

Any readers have tips for the Ferries? We've not tried it with the kiddos either.

Exiting the T

For the most part, you'll just do the reverse of what you did to enter the vehicle and station.

The Green Line technically does not allow rear door exiting during the off-peak, so if the driver does not see you waiting to exit, a shout of "REAR DOOR" is usually sufficient to get them to open it. Hey, it's Boston, you made it this far in the article before someone had to shout at someone else.

Wrap-up

So yeah, that was a lot, but you can do it! 

Other Bostonians, what did we miss? What did we screw up? Let us know in the comments below.

Are you interested in helping to develop a guide for your city? Even if you know only a part of the system, drop us a line. We will help you put something together and build out a great resource. Email us: transitinfo at acrossb dot com.

Airplane travel without a toddler car seat - Cares Harness Review!

Once your kiddo reaches 2 years of age, you have to buy them their own airline ticket.  The truth is, jarringly expensive as it is, you may want to buy them their own seat even before then because an 18 month old is HEAVY.  Spend 3 hours with a squirmy, active, tired, 25 lbs in your lap, and you may be trying to pay someone $500 to take your child, not just put them in the seat next to you. Regardless, once they have their own seat, are over a year old, and weigh 22 lbs or more, you can do a little dance and ditch the car seat. Instead you can attach them to their seat with the only FAA approved harness on the market - the Cares Safety Restraint.  

This is a small strapy thing that comes in its own convenient little carrying case and can be wrapped around the child's seat to form a 4 point harness. Yes you read that right. It's not a 5 point harness because the bottom half of the child is still held down with the regular lap belt and so is lacking a crotch strap. If you read the Amazon reviews of the harness you may notice people worrying that their kid would slide out of the seat without this. In our experience this wasn't much of an issue with our 2.5 year old who complained that the chest strap was "too tight" the one time she began to slide down. In any case, reviewers have recommended putting a shelf liner or something similar on the seat to help prevent the kid from sliding, if necessary.

The strap is fairly easy to install (and MUCH easier than a car seat), though it does require you to get consent from the passenger sitting directly behind the child to wrap it around the seat back, between the seat and the tray table. Other than seeing the strap, it does nothing to impede their use of the tray table. Though (from the Amazon reviews) on sufficiently small aircraft, where the seats are smaller, the strap may not get tight enough.  We have only flown with this on 737 aircraft and it secured nicely.

So is it really worth it to buy a whole other thing? In my opinion - yes.  Sometimes you may fly to destinations where you don't plan on driving, such as Disney World or NYC.  Often you may be flying somewhere consistently enough, such as grandma's house, that it's worth it for them to buy an inexpensive car seat to keep at their house. If neither of those is a possibility, there's always the option of bringing your IMMI GO car seat with you and either checking it or making it your carry-on item (the IMMI GO is not suitable for use as a seat on an airplane but it does comply with carry on rules). Traveling with kids requires the bringing of so many things, that eliminating a bulky and unwieldy item from your packing list seems like a good all its own.

Finally, an additional bonus of flying with the Cares Safety Restraint, other than the obvious, is that the toddler's legs are now too short to kick the seat in front of them. One less behavior challenge in a day already brimming with chaos is a win in my book. Combine this with our advice on preparing your toddler for travel and entertaining them in the flight, and you are ready to go!

Bibs for eating out (aka limiting the grossness in your diaper bag)

A couple months in your parenting gig you may feel like you've more or less gotten it together.  In fact you may get so cocky that you start venturing out to eat in places that are not your house.  You may even consider bringing your baby to these places... your baby who may be eating food him/herself by this point.  Woah!

You'll want to be prepared for this and bring along some things to make it easier for both of you -  such as a cup they're used to using at home, a small toy, and of course, a bib. We've covered our favorite bibs on this blog before, but we quickly noticed with our oldest the following sequence of events when eating out:
  1. 1. Bib goes on baby.

  2. 2. Baby smears food all over the bib.

  3. 3. Bib gets folded yucky side in and placed in the diaper bag.
Eons of time pass
  1. 4. Bib gets discovered in the diaper bag after a geologic age has passed.  It is now super gross and has fostered new life.
Having gone through the experience described above several times we hit upon a solution one day when out for breakfast at a local diner. We noticed another family was eating with their toddler but the child had on a disposable bib. I don't know why we'd never seen such a thing, but we immediately accosted the family and interrogated them to soak in their wisdom. Since then we've been keeping a couple of Disposable Bibs by Mighty Clean Baby in our bag (in the interim, Munchkin Disposable Bibs has come out with their own version that we haven't tried yet, but has great reviews).

And we've never again had to reach into our diaper bag only to realize we are touching week old banana that's been smashed into a bib... and we've all lived happily ever after!

How to start bringing your baby/toddler/kid on transit!

"Next Stop, Please"
While we were quite certain we didn't want to get a car the moment that first baby came, the idea of figuring out how to get a stroller onto the bus or train and keep a kid calm was daunting. Ideally I also wanted to allow others to board/alight without causing all the sidelong glances I'd so smugly sent at flustered new parents for many years.

Similarly, when the never ending snows of 2015 came, our slow easing-back of the stroller became an all-out desertion of anything with wheels. The thought of getting a 20-month old to and from daycare on transit unrestrained was intimidating, even for us urbanophiles.

So how did we do it?
Note: If you're here with just a toddler, you can skip the next two sections and head down to "Lower the Stakes."

Educate Yourself about the Transit System

Still pregnant? Watch other families board and see what works (and what doesn't) for them. Check out where they sit, how they get there, and especially watch how they flip up seats or any other adjustments to the bus or train. Be brave, ask questions or offer to help, it's a great time to practice.
Note: If you've enjoyed the anonymity of urban life so far, you may feel weird talking to random people, but your life of being ignored will soon end. People of all types are going to approach you with all sorts of comments and questions when you travel with the adorable littles, even in the city. So you may as well start getting used to conversation with strangers. At least this time you're getting some much needed information out of the deal.
Too late to practice? That's fine. If you're using a stroller, the general rule of thumb you're going to use on transit for the next few years is to treat the system like someone in a wheelchair. You are looking for low-floor trains/buses, elevators, step-free passages, and space to get a stroller out of the way of people trying to fill up a vehicle. The Americans with Disabilities Act (for those in the U.S.) does not cover you, but the things transit agencies are doing to comply will be your friend. (SEE BELOW FOR A MAJOR POINT ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY.)

Most transit agency websites have a section devoted to these things. You will generally find them under "Accessibility" or other information for the "Mobility Impaired." Your results will vary, as some agencies have more information than others, and some will (understandably) focus more on other issues of accessibility, but it's a good place to start. 

On a day you're riding solo during a non-peak time, see if you ask a couple questions to the driver. Are there seats that flip up? Where is the handle? Is it the same on all buses/trains? Is it easier to enter through a back door? How/when do you pay your fare? Answers for Boston MBTA will be forthcoming in another post.

The Right Gear for Children on Transit

We've all seen people try to board the bus with giant heavy strollers, slowing down everyone else while they get increasingly flustered. How not to be them? 

First, get the right stroller and accessories. Light, tight turning radius, and narrow are your friends here... especially light. Stores may tell you that 20 pounds is light for a stroller (it may even have "city" in its name), but that's not light enough. You can find them under 18 pounds (15 pounds and under is even better).

Stroller toys are also super since on a particularly bad commute, anything that buys you another 5-10 minutes may just be the thing that gets you home (or the kid to sleep). Until the babies were old enough to ditch the pacifier, we kept one on a clip attached to the stroller at all times (clips are also a great way to keep a toy attached to the stroller without it going missing). That was, in fact, the last pacifier we ditched with our first, even after the one that lived in the crib. Remember to also keep appropriate things in your diaper bag in case of unexpected delays or accidents. This is not a place to go nuts for all contingencies (staying light being a priority as well), but a snack with a long shelf life and some all purpose wipes will go a long way for peace of mind.

Is your train or bus extra crowded? Do you live in a city that requires you to fold up strollers? Is it snowing? Then a carrier is a great way to use transit and more-or-less avoid all of the issues afforded by strollers. Just hope that this isn't the day you need to get diapers, wipes, and sheets into daycare.

Lower the Stakes when Starting out on Transit with Your Kid

The people on the bus go up & down...
Ok, now we're to the part where the strategies are the same for getting out there with a stroller AND for getting your kid out of the stroller. In other words, use the obvious strategies that you employ when trying something new with your kid.


Start small

Pick a non-essential trip, during the middle of the day or the weekend, on a day when your child seems to be in a good mood.  Don't go too far - pick a destination that you can walk home from with the stroller or carry the kid if you've ditched it.

Be ready for the first time (or 3) to be slow and to feel like the tourists you scoff at all the time. It's going to be awkward, you won't know where to put your hands, or the kid's hands, or you'll discover the cup holder hits the stop request button, or your newly unrestrained kid's snowpants cause them to slide right off the seat.  It will feel like you spent 15 minutes getting settled while everyone else stares daggers at you. You can rest assured, however, it was probably only 30 seconds and no one even looked up from Facebook.

Get off two stops later, enjoy a cup of coffee with a pain au chocolat at a cafe, and walk back home. You did it!

Build Slow

For the stroller crowd, once you get a couple of these under your belt, try a rush hour commute. If you're feeling nervous, recruit another adult to help (partner/parent/friend/etc.). Then try a rush hour commute where the second adult hangs out at the other end of the vehicle and only helps if something goes wrong. Slowly ease off the training wheels and you've got the confidence to hop on anytime, get around, and enjoy your city, baby and all!
Our first longer walk parallel to the bus route

For those trying to ditch the stroller, the same principles apply but you're also adding in the need to help your kid learn to walk further and further. So instead of wheeling the stroller directly into the daycare, we parked the stroller first and walked to the door. Then, we started walking to the park (holding onto a stroller handle) but letting the kid ride in the stroller on the return trip.

To bring it back to transit, we started taking the bus unrestrained to music class where the walk on either side of the bus was short. We kept practicing with various trips until we were ready to try a run to daycare. At first we only did the commute without a stroller one way, leaving the stroller at the daycare overnight for an unrestrained ride home and then back to school the next morning. We went from one day a week, to two, to... the worst winter in Boston history where we ditched the stroller entirely and were so happy she was ready and able to do it!

Use Cute and Precocious as Long as you Can

Moving to unrestrained transit riding also meant teaching the kid a lot more about proper behavior than we had to cover when she was confined to the stroller. We do lots of reminders about the fact that everyone gets personal space, the need to stay in your seat, using your inside voice, and really all the things that toddlers do. All of which is to say, you'll no longer be checking your phone or enjoying a cup of coffee while enroute.

When we've had issues with her pushing the limits of appropriate behavior, I apologize, and generally people are pretty nice/forgiving (yes, even here in grumpy Boston). Her size, comparative independence and charizma let her get away with it. This should buy you enough time (and trips) to teach better habits.

Ask for help and know when to decline it

We all have bad, weird, or frustrating days. And here's the thing, you can always ask for help. You can ask people to vacate the accessible seating, you can ask people to flip up a seat, or to even help you with a stroller on the stairs if you so need. In my experience, people have always been pretty great about it, especially people who have grown children.

While plenty of people offer useless (or worse) help, most of them are just trying to be good citizens and everything is going to be OK, I promise!

I see our subway station!

You Did It!

Eventually they'll want to look out the window, which will be lots of fun (and distracting) for them. They'll learn the names of the stops, learn their left and right from the door announcements, and tell strangers how to get around. At home you can make up new verses to "The Wheels on the Bus" based on your actual experiences (we've added verses about bike racks and card readers).

And now we have a commute where we can have fun, learn skills, and see each other face-to-face all without having to circle for parking.

Hey, we got back to being smug, victory!

A note (actually 2) about Accessibility

When you are in the wheelchair section of your bus or train, keep your eyes open for folks using other mobility aids who need access to that section of the vehicle. It's annoying to stand in an aisle with a stroller, but easier/safer for you to do than a wheelchair, which generally must be secured using special attachments only in that area. Similarly, someone with a walker may not be able to make it as far into the vehicle as you can. Part of asking others to vacate these spaces for you is realizing that you may still need to vacate for someone in more need than you.

Also, when you're winding through dark passageways from platform to platform and stuck in slow-moving foul-smelling elevators while those without wheels walk up 10 stairs to accomplish the same task, remind yourself: When my child(ren) is out of the stroller, we'll be done with this. And then double-remind yourself, for many of the people using these services, they are stuck with this substandard transit experience every day.

So, when your transit agency says they don't have money for accessibility, or there's no need to add a second elevator to serve platforms in both directions, or that they can't upgrade a station because then they'd finally need to make it accessible, PUSH BACK. Do it for your selfish reasons of needing to get a stroller around town for the next few years, but especially do it for the non-selfish reasons.

This post is in the 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!

Dressing babies and toddlers for the cold when they go to day care

My kids go to day care.  They both started when they were 12 weeks old and have been attending since with very few interruptions. We picked a day care that really puts a value on the kids spending time each day out doors.  Not only that, but it worked out that the day care is located in Dad's place of work.  This means that their commute to school on transit each day is as long as ours. As a result, for the past 3 years we've had to pick weather gear for them that would:

  1. 1. Withstand the Boston winter - complete with icy temperatures, wind, and snow.
  2. 2. Be as easy to put on and take off as possible.
  3. 3. Be something that travels with the child should their teachers take them on an outing.
Having now done this for 3 years, we have some recommendations. 

Cold Weather Gear for Toddlers

We've already covered high performance boots and socks for toddlers in another post. For coats we've really liked having the Columbia Sets for Toddlers. We've always gotten the coats that came with the firefighter style pants.  These keep the legs warm while staying safety in place with Velcro shoulders, whether the kid is going down the slide or doing the "ants in the pants" dance on the train. The Velcro also allows you to adjust the length of the pants should your tyke have a growth spurt in the middle of winter (these are very generously sized outfits). Additionally, having the pants be separate from the coat (as opposed to something like the Columbia Toddler Dude Suit) makes it possible to have an outfit for an intermediate temperature by being paired with a lighter jacket (pictured). In all, this is a highly practical way to allow toddlers to be outside, come what may.

Cold Weather Gear for Babies

Stroller straps can be placed over the coat
If you're expecting that you'll have a baby who is unlikely to walk before the end of winter, then something that's basically a bag for the baby is the way to go. As we mentioned in our post about the versatile winter blanket, we do not have stroller bunting for our kids.  This is because we need their cold weather gear to go with them and be usable for day care outings, without having to unstrap it from the stroller. With our first, who was born in June, and thus 6-9 months old in her first winter, we made the mistake of getting her the Columbia Sets for Toddlers described above.  This set, while really great for older kids, was kind of a pain to wrestle a baby into.  Not only did we have to stuff her into both parts of the snow suit separately, but we then had to get some boots on her feet as well. So, when planning for my son's arrival, I wanted something easier, especially since I knew I would have to get two kids bundled for any outing.

Straps disappearing inside the coat for a safe buckle
We settled on the 7AM Enfant Doudoune One Piece Infant Snowsuit. This brand makes all kinds of high quality weather gear from stroller bunting, to carseat covers, to carrier covers.  However, the snowsuit, in my opinion, is the best investment because it is one thing that can be used in any of those situations. The suit is essentially a bag with a hood. Unlike a true bag, though, the legs are separate and closed with snaps like a footie.  This means that the baby can both straddle the parent in a carrier as well as be easily strapped into a stroller.  Additionally, no separate mittens are necessary as the sleeves can be made to leave the hands covered or uncovered, as desired. It definitely wins points for ease all around. Just this week, a fellow parent in the day care infant room complimented the ease with which I was able to remove the outerwear from the baby while juggling all of his other possessions.

Best of all, a baby wearing this suit can be placed into a car seat safely.  You've doubtless seen the recommendations against strapping children in puffy coats into car seats because they can easily slip out in accident. However with this snow suit you can put the straps of the car seat inside the coat (thread the crotch strap between the leg snaps and attach to the shoulder straps before zipping up the sides).  This allows you to get away with not having a separate car seat cover, which for a carfree family is nice bonus.

Buying Smart

Thredup Inc.As we mentioned in our post about gender neutral clothing, we tend to buy seasonal gear at the end of the previous year's season.  We lucked out and were able to get the baby snow suit for half the price last spring.  Likewise, by shopping for toddler winter coats in the summer and/or at second-hand stores, we've never paid full price for those either. Since staying warm is one place where skimping on quality is a bad idea, it's always nice to get a good price on something you were going to buy anyway.  Buying high quality clothes second hand, whether at your local thrift shop, or from ThredUp, is always a good idea.  Children grow way too fast to wear out anything well made.



  

Picking an infant car seat as a city family

As we've mentioned previously, if you live in an urban area and are a carfree family (or even with just 1 family car), you will spend way more time obsessing about car seats than your friends with cars do.  Add to that the stress of picking anything safety related for a baby you haven't met yet, throw in some pregnancy hormones, and what you have there is a steaming cup of panic brew.  So while you practice your deep breathing, here are some thoughts about how to choose.

Do I need an infant car seat?

If you, or anyone else, will ever transport your baby in a car I really recommend going with an infant car seat rather than a convertible one. (Confused about the difference? Look here).  It's not often that we recommend buying more baby products when less will do and especially when it comes to car accessories.  The reason we recommend going with an infant seat is that they are much, much easier to install rear-facing than convertible ones.  In fact, I recommend strategizing such that you never have to own or install a convertible car seat at all, but very especially, rear-facing.  Yes this means you will likely have to own at least 2 different car seats over the course of your child's life, possibly even 3 in some circumstances.  But I promise it will be so very worth it in massive amounts of frustration saved.

What's important?

There are 3 things you need to consider when picking a carseat (infant or otherwise).
  1. 1. Ease of installing it (correctly!), with and without a base.  This one is really important for obvious reasons. But in particular when you try this out at a store (many stores have a sedan seat for you to practice installation), make sure you pay attention to the baseless install.  Frankly, I can count on one hand how many times I've installed the base with either of my kids.  Get a seat you can easily plop in with just a seat belt, and that's 5 lbs of bulky weight you can say good bye to transporting.
  2.  
  3. 2. Ease of transporting it.  A seat can be easy to transport because it is light, because it snaps into your stroller, or because it has its own wheels.  If none of these things is true, you're going to be very sorry about buying it. 
  4.  
  5. Car seat clicked into stroller via an attachment
  6. 3. How quickly your child will outgrow it. Ok this fact is discussed very poorly on the parent internet in my opinion.  For some reason the number always thrown out for the "max" measurement of a child with infant seats is the maximum weight a child can be to use a seat.  The number that's really hard to find, unless you really go looking, is the maximum height a child can be to use a seat.  This is really weird and insane.  For example, many infant seats top out at 30 lbs and 30 inches of height.  A 30 inch boy is in the 50% percentile at 12 months, a 30 lb boy is in the 50th percentile at two and a half years.  What this tells us is that the overwhelming majority of children will outgrow the seat in height way before (a year and a half before) they outgrow it in weight.  So why do you keep advertising the weight? I don't get it.  Anyway, since you're required to keep your child rear-facing by law until 1 and by recommendation as long as possible or until 2, you want to pick an infant seat with the tallest possible height.  I really recommend trying to find a seat that's rated for at least 32 inches of height. (If you want to play around with percentiles look here).  That will almost guarantee you use of your seat until 1 year of age, but likely 18 months or more.  At that point you can go straight to the folding IMMI GO.
Why didn't I put safety on the list? All infant cars eats go through a ton of testing and are pretty equivalently safe when installed correctly.  The best thing you can do for your baby is to pick an infant carseat that you can install correctly until they are as big as possible.

Who are the winners?

Doona Infant Car Seat 

Yes the Doona is kind of ridiculously expensive (you can often find it a couple hundred dollars cheaper at Magic Beans than on Amazon). However, if you have the money (or if someone else is buying) this seat is amazing.  It's pretty easy to install without a base, even for the inexperienced.  It's rated for babies up to 32 inches tall.  The wheels roll surprisingly well and the break is easy to access (also flip flop friendly!).  This seat is approved for use in cars both in the U.S. and Europe (which is quite rare), as well as air travel.  Plus, it's just a really well made, well thought out seat. Much like the IMMI GO it falls into that non-committal space of "we're going somewhere on foot/transit but may want to take a car back".  It's perfect for occasional car users and heavy air-travelers.

Note: I would not recommend using this seat exclusively as both your car seat and stroller.  This is a car seat on wheels, not a primary use stroller.  Remember, car seats restrain kids enough to keep them safe in a car crash, which is to say they pretty much restrict all movement.  This is not good for babies if it's done for too many hours a day, every day, for a year.  This is a great solution for a family trip to avoid having to bring extra gear.  This is a poor solution for daily continuous stroller use.

Graco SnugRide Click Connect 35 Infant Car Seat

I have not personally used this seat myself, but it looks like a fantastic value for the following reasons.
  • - It's inexpensive ($119).
  • - Rated for babies up to 32 inches tall.
  • - Graco is a brand which all strollers that make any adapters at all, will make an adapter.
  • - It weighs only 7 lbs, for those times you do have to carry it.
  • - Recommended by The Car Seat Lady for easy installation in a taxi.

Other thoughts

When we were shopping for baby products in preparation for my daughter's arrival 3 years ago, all infant seats topped out at 30 inches.  We selected a Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat because of all the seats we tried, it was the easiest to install (and we tried a lot of seats).  The seat served us well until my daughter was 15 months old, at which point she became too tall for it.  We ended up having to purchase a convertible car seat for her until we were ready to turn her around.  We got an Evenflo Tribute because it was cheap and light.  However, though light, the bulk of the seat made it a pain to transport and its poor construction made it really hard to install rear-facing.  It is reasonably ok to install forward facing, but the transport issue remains.  (This may help to explain to you some of my enthusiasm for when the IMMI GO came on the market).  Much as the Chicco served us, I don't think I would buy it today because of the better options available.

Ok but an infant car seat still seems like a huge waste...

Still not convinced and absolutely want to avoid an infant only seat? Sigh... ok... at least get a high quality convertible seat that's light weight (Combi Coccoro).  You can even turn it into a makeshift "travel system" with the Mountain Buggy Nano Stroller according to The Car Seat Lady. (The Nano will accept any car seat without an adapter because it attaches them via what is basically a seat belt).   That said, only choose this combination if you plan on using a carrier exclusively until the child is ready to go into the Nano directly (probably around 3 months, though the specs say 6 due to overly conservative rules on this).  Alternatively you can transport the child in any regular stroller of your choosing and put the Coccoro in a car seat backpack. (We did the backpack with our Evenflo Tribute and "lovingly" referred to it as our "man-sized safe").


       

This post is in the 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!