Showing posts with label Strollers. 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.


     

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.

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.

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!

The truly versatile winter baby blanket

Whenever I see something advertised as having 20 uses, I assume that at least 19 of them are a terrible idea or a serious stretch.  It's pretty hard to design something that really and truly works well in multiple circumstances.  So when I saw the Kurumi Ket Carrier Cover with Hoodieadvertised as having "5 in 1 uses," I was extremely skeptical.  I was originally looking for a cover to use with a carrier while preparing for the arrival of our son.  This is because when my daughter was a baby, we just tried to carry her inside our coat (see picture on the right).  This really didn't work well and resulted in neither my daughter nor the parent carrying her being particularly warm.  So, I saw that the Kurumi Ket Carrier Cover with Hoodie had good reviews and figured that worst case, we would only use it as a carrier cover and nothing else.


Color me wrong.  So far we have tried this extremely versatile blanket in a number of circumstances with great success.

Nursing on the playground

Nursing Cover

I don't always use a nursing cover for modesty reasons, especially when there is literally no one else around.  I have, however, started to have the experience of needing to nurse outside in less than pleasant weather.  When I only had one child, I would, of course, go somewhere more comfortable in these circumstances.  However, my older kiddo really does need to be able to run around and the younger kiddo isn't exactly patient when it comes to food.  Thus, I have been finding myself nursing on a park bench in all kinds of weather recently.  The Kurumi Ket really does work great as a cold weather nursing cover.  The fleece hood keeps it on the baby without much need to even close the snaps (though I could if I needed to) and I can still see what I'm doing.  Viola - baby and mom are warm.

Stroller Blanket

We never ended up getting one of those foot muffs for the stroller when my daughter was a baby (the Skip Hop Stroll and Go Three-Season Footmuff is a well regarded example).  We pretty much just put her in a warm coat and headed out.  If it was particularly cold we'd throw a blanket on her and if it was windy we'd use our rain cover.  However, for those days when the weather was changing and we ended up relying on the blanket more than planned, it was always a pain to keep it on her and in the stroller.  More often than not, the blanket would fall out at some point during the outing only to be rolled and then stepped on by yours truly.  This is why I totally love the idea of using the Kurumi Ket as a stroller blanket.  The little arms with snaps can attach to the stroller frame so there is no way of losing it.  They recommend attaching it "upside down" with the hood covering the baby's feet - genius!  It's certainly not as warm as a real footmuff but so far it's been working great.


Carrier Cover

Last, but not least, we are also using it as a carrier cover - the item of desire that started this whole thing in the first place.  Here I am, pictured about to embark on a walk with my little bear snuggled comfortably in his carrier, covered by the blanket.  

All around I would give this blanket an enthusiastic thumbs up!  Not only is it truly versatile but for the price it is honestly great value.  I think it's about to join the Mai Tai as a permanent resident of my stroller basket. 

Part 3 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (what else do you need?)

See Part 1 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (why)
See Part 2 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (which stroller?)

Despite the fact that sometimes it feels like we live in the great white north (see: winter of 2015) my family spends quite a bit of time outside.  Some of this time is spent on the playground, and some is spent getting to and from places.  We run errands, we go out to eat, we go to the children's museum, and sometimes we plain ole' take a walk as a family.  (Our favorite destination is what we refer to as "the far Starbucks", all of half of a mile away.)  As such, we spend a lot of time thinking about the right weather gear and other equipment we need to make ourselves comfortable on our journey.

So here is our advice for the kinds of things you might want to add to your stroller (whether you went with our recommendation for the actual stroller or not) to make it the kind of tricked out ride that meets all your needs (oh yeah and those of your kid... the kid matters here too... yeah).

Rain cover

Ok, so once again, for kids in the back - we live in a city with terrible weather (but the food is great, or something).  Sometimes you just have to walk on the wild side, even though the sky looks ominous, and go outside anyway because you've been in the house too long. Other times you need to go outside, even though it's actively raining because you have to go to work.  For those days you need a rain cover for your stroller.  We use  the Snap Stroller Raincover and Weather Shield (because we have a Valco Snap Stroller) but pretty much every stroller company makes these things and some even make universal ones (for those of you out there who have multiple strollers).

On the day these photos were taken, I got caught in a rain storm so bad that even though I had an umbrella and eventually tried to hide under an awning, I looked and felt like I had taken a shower.  Meanwhile, my baby stayed bone dry and sleeping undisturbed in his protected chariot (and I didn't even have the cover fully secured because that freaks me out).  Our cover is also generous enough that it covers the diaper bag we keep clipped to the back - sweet.  It resides, almost permanently in the stroller basket and sometimes even gets pulled out when its particularly windy. (Really, you should visit our city, the food is fantastic.)

Cup holder

I don't actually have anything funny to say about our Valco Baby Universal Cup Holder because I love it so much.  It's just too serious a business to be glib about. I enjoy nothing more in this world then setting out on a nice long walk with a baby napping in the stroller and an ice coffee resting delightfully in its designated place.  This cup holder in particular will attach to any stroller.  It self levels and takes literally almost any width cup.  Also, it has a particularly handy feature in that the brace for the cup holder stays attached to the stroller but the holder itself can be detached easily.  This is a very useful attribute when you're trying to squeeze into a narrow space and it's getting in the way (like say your daily bus trip to day care).

Car seat adapter

If you're ever going to drive with your baby, even if you don't own a car, you're going to want a car seat and some way to transport it.  To accomplish this you can either buy a car seat with wheels, a "travel system", or an adapter for your chosen stroller to click in the car seat. A travel system is when you buy a stroller and car seat from the same manufacturer, i.e. a "system", so no adapter is needed.  (An example would be buying the Britax B-Agile and B-Safe Travel System.) However, outside of buying a system, most strollers sell adapters for most of the common car seat brands.  Yes it adds to the price of the stroller but infant car seats are heavy and unwieldy.  You're not going to get very far just carrying the thing on your arm (again, the other option is to shell out even more money and buy a car seat with wheels).  When we used a traditional infant car seat we had the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat and so Valco Baby Snap Car Seat Adapter (Chicco) was the correct item for us. Obviously you should pick the adapter that matches your stroller/car seat combination.

Hooks

If you regularly grocery shop or run errands with your stroller on foot, you're going to want some hooks to hang from the handle bar to help you transport your stuff home. For this purpose we have Stroller Hooks.  This allows us to transport an entire shopping trip exclusively using our stroller.   As a side note, you my have seen people walking around using something called The Mommy Hook (stupid name).  We picked the hooks we did because the velcro attachment on them keeps them from sliding around the handle and also because they were cheaper.

Word of caution: always fill up the basket of your stroller first before adding heavy things to the handle, especially while your baby is still a baby and not a giant toddler.  One downside of having an ultra-light stroller is that it can tip if you're not using common sense.

Baby entertainment

Finally, we've come to something that's for the baby instead of the parent (though of course, a quiet and entertained baby is really very much for the parent). There are many options for things to attach to the stroller to keep your wee one happy once they're not just using it as a convenient napping location.  We've enjoyed using the Skip Hop Stroller Bar Activity Toy as well as attaching other toys to the stroller straps with pacifier clips.  But frankly there are many options for stroller toys out there.


       


This post is the third 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!

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!

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!