Showing posts with label Toddlers. Show all posts

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.

What do I do to help a toddler with a stomach ache?

Prior to having kids you probably thought you knew the answer to a lot of questions.  Possibly this very accumulation of knowledge is what prompted you into thinking that you were ready to take the plunge into parenthood.  Fast forward to actually having kids and you suddenly realize that the number of questions without answers is much bigger than you could have possibly dreamed.  Questions like...

"Can this much fluid really be contained in such a small human?" 
"How many times a day can a toddler ask you for a cookie and expect the answer to change?" 
"Will you ever feel not tired again?"

Then, of course, there are the factual questions... such as

"What do you do for a toddler with a stomach ache?"

In the last couple of years drug manufacturers have added Aspirin to pretty much all of the over the counter stomach drugs like Pepto which means they are no longer appropriate to be given to children.

This is exactly the problem we faced recently when a stomach bug made its way around our day care. Luckily for us, a Swiss friend of ours had given us a cute hot water bottle with sleeve as a "welcome baby" present (we were told this is a traditional baby gift in Switzerland).  The brand of bottle we got cannot be easily purchased in the US but there are a number of similar, well-reviewed products like it are available on Amazon (Classic Rubber Hot Water Bottle w/ Cute Knit Cover and Children's Rubber Hot Water Bottle w/ Cute Knit Cover are two examples).

What's great about the bottle we have (and the ones I'm linking to) is that it's smaller than a full-size 2 liter bottle. The cute cover is fun for our toddler and is easier to keep on than just a towel. Of course, it also provides her with comfort. A hot water bottle is good for a stomach ache both because warmth can help relax a cramping stomach and also because it provides some measure of "doing something" placebo effect for the child.

I really recommend getting one of these because like a thermometer, diaper rash cream, saline solution, and other first aid staples, this is the kind of thing that's good to have in the house as a "just in case" (this is NOT a good time to head out to the drugstore and Amazon just can't deliver that fast). Because, of course, the ultimate question without an answer is
"When will my child be sick next?"

Tales from the Trenches: Day Care - I love you so!

When you're pregnant, people feel like it's their job to ask you inappropriate questions. When I had the joy of fielding them while carrying my first, I riddled off the answers on autopilot by week 3 of my second trimester.
"June 7th," I'd smile and say. 
"My husband IS excited it's a girl, thank you for your concern" I would mumble, rolling my eyes internally. 
"Yes I'm sure it's not twins," I'd growl while visualizing unleashing the full extent of my pregnant lady wrath.
Occasionally, someone would run out of inappropriate prenatal questions to ask and would move on to questioning our postnatal plans. Suddenly, everyone was interested in what we were going to do for childcare.

We had always intended to send our progeny to day care.  I don't remember why we had assumed this, but a nanny never seriously entered the discussion.  As such, we dutifully and proactively toured a couple well regarded centers in our area and got our names on the waiting lists for ones we liked. Well, it turns out that sending your kids to day care is perceived in some circles as being just shy of leaving them in the crib all day with a water bottle and an open bag of Cheetos. Day care, it seems, has a bad rap.

Three years and two kids later, not only do I have no regrets about group child care, I could not be more pleased. I know there are many fantastic nannies out there, and it's a great choice for some two-working-parent households, but I am here to speak up for day care and write it the love letter that it so thoroughly deserves. So without, further ado...

Reasons why I   day care

I don't want to have employees

Adding children to a family is already logistically difficult and comes with tons of paperwork.  Not having to add payroll into the mix is a huge win.  I know lots of people pay their nannies in cash, but that's not something I could really see myself doing.  If I was going to hire someone, I would want to give them benefits and pay taxes and do all sorts of other formal things I don't know how to do. I know Care.com has recently started advertising that they'll help you set all that up, and that's great but it still seems daunting.

Not only that, but having interviewed and hired people in my professional life, I know that not every employee turns out awesome.  Some have trouble showing up on time, some seem like they are going to be far more competent than they turn out to be, and some end up being jerks. Given that I needed childcare from the time both of my children were 3 months old and thus couldn't speak up for themselves, the idea of leaving them with an unsupervised stranger sent my first time mom fears into hyperdrive.

Day Care teachers are professionals

It turns out that people who dedicate their professional lives to taking care of children are on the whole amazing souls. They definitely don't do it for the money (as shockingly expensive as day care is, the teachers are grossly underpaid in my opinion). Sure, the skill and dedication is true for many professional nannies as well. This point, however, is largely directed at the lady who once said to me that "obviously all working moms feel really guilty about not staying home." Well, I would like to tell her, with as few choice words as possible, that I sure as heck don't. I love and miss my kids, but I like to work and I know my children are in excellent hands.

Not only have all the teachers we've encountered been kind, friendly, and amazingly loving towards our children, but they also know what they're doing.  They were able to get my daughter to nap in a stationary object, they taught her how to dress herself and drink from a cup, and they've had tons of suggestions for us as parents for things to try at home.  It's almost as if they have a degree in this stuff and do it for a living or something... crazy I know!

I send my kids to school so my house can remain intact (somewhat) 

I am not the kind of mom who can craft and get messy with her kids. If you can stay sane while your kid redecorates your house with paint, chalk, or glitter I say "Respect!" I just can't do it. My toddler and I cook together, both my kids spend tons of time playing outside with me, my husband takes them to music class, we have a great time.... but we don't do art projects.

The great thing about sending my kids to "school" is that they are equipped to let the little monsters be "creative".  The lovely teachers are willing to set up for, and clean up from, 7 toddlers using finger paint and play dough - bless their hearts.  They also have lots of great big toys like a water sensory table and a huge play kitchen.  Those are fantastic things for kids to play with, but I live in a condo that feels filled to the brim even without those behemoths.  As a result, I get the best of all worlds: children who have a wide variety of play experiences, a house that one can walk through while only tripping on a couple toys, and I don't have to scrape paint off the ceiling... win, Win, WIN!

They get all those diseases out of the way

Kids being sick all the time is a common concern voiced by "helpful" strangers (ok... and also my mom) about group child care.  And yes, their first year in day care was constantly full of runny noses and mystery rashes. But, keep them home until preschool, smugly proclaiming how healthy your kids are... And it turns out science says, they'll just get all those same diseases their first year of school. There's just no way out of the cesspool of disease that is early childhood. I figure since no one expects anything out of you when you're a new parent just back to work, you may as well cash in on those low expectations and stay home with your constantly sick baby then.

All the kids have working parents

Finally, all the children my children interact with live in households with two working parents. From before they could remember, Mom and Dad took them to school and then went to work.  There is no confusion as to why Mom and Dad can't stay and play with them.  They don't go to playgroups with a nanny where other children came with Mom or Dad. I'm sure at some point when they're older they'll ask why we have to go to work, but given how normalized it is in their world I'm guessing it's going to be a lot later. Frankly, my almost 3 year old has "why" and "what" on repeat already, so if we can cross one off the list - score!

I have a nanny/am a SAHM/have magical children who sit quietly while I work... Are you judging me?

Nope!

If you found a child care situation that works for you and your family I salute you because this stuff is HARD no matter how you slice it. I know that when we're being honest with each other, we've all had the experiences so universal, they are cliches. Like... wanting to run away from our children and join the circus when the toddler has spilled her third full cup of milk in one meal despite repeated warnings to be careful, or when you've bounced the baby for 2 hours to finally have him blissfully drift off to sleep only to start howling because someone rang the door bell and woke him up. Conversely, I know you've stood in your child's room watching her sleep at night, shedding a tear at the thought of how fast she's growing.

So no, if you love and care for your children I have no grounds to judge you no matter how you do it. Just know that day care is not an "only if you must option" for child care.  It is, in fact, a great option for many families.  As for my family, it will forever have a special place in my heart as the place that loved and cared for my children for those hours of the day that I could not.

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!

Toddler Playmat - Educational and may spare your kid's noggin!

We've discussed on this blog how much of a lifesaver a baby play mat can be.  Play mats for older babies and toddler's aren't quite as critical but can be a great addition to your house.

We have the Edushape Edu-Tiles 36 Piece 6x6ft Play Mat. We put it out right around the time our first baby started crawling.  It provided a softer place for her to fall over as she developed her gross motor skills and is reasonably comfortable for adults to sit or lie on while playing at eye level or being climbed over. They can be especially helpful if the adult has bad knees or is pregnant.

In particular we picked this brand over something like Skip Hop Zoo Playspot because we liked that the tiles fit together without additional extra pieces, which would just get lost with time in all likelihood. Moreover, this flexibility allowed us to split the one mat between the living room and her room, given that neither space was big enough to support an entire mat all its own.


In addition to being soft and colorful, it also let our daughter basically teach herself letters and numbers and taught her about putting together puzzles!

Finally, this is a great item to register for - you won't need it right away, but probably faster than you can say "grow".

Put your toddler to work! (i.e. how to cook dinner with your toddler) - Guest Post

I am thrilled to introduce today’s guest blogger - Miranda. Recently, we’ve started cooking with our toddler and Miranda has given us some great tips on gear, safety, and of course fun! We thought we’d share her wisdom with you too.  Though she is not a city dweller, this blog welcomes good ideas from all sources. And with that, take it away, Miranda!

 ____________________________

First off, I want to thank Dina and Lee for letting me to contribute to their blog. I’m so excited to be able to share some thoughts on cooking with toddlers!  Although, to be fair, I have only ever cooked with one toddler, my 2.3-year-old daughter, Mabel.

Why cook with your toddler?

First, it must be said, she does not make cooking easier. I do not ask her to cut the mushrooms or beat the eggs so that I can simultaneously perform some other task. I
ask for her help and then guide her, sometimes more than others, as she takes 100 times longer than I would have.  Cooking with Mabel is messier, slower, and a lot more complicated than cooking alone.

So, if it’s such a hassle, why do I bother to include her? For one, she loves it! She’s at the age where she wants to help with anything - the more grown up, the better. Involving her in cooking dinner also lets me cook while she is awake and reserves precious nap time for other things. Including toddlers in cooking is also widely thought to help with picky eating.  I am, so far, blessed with a child who will eat most anything (fingers crossed, knock-on-wood), but it still pleases me to no end when she tastes each ingredient in a dish and declares “Mum!” (i.e., yum).

How to make cooking with your toddler pleasant

I try to strike a balance between including my child to the fullest extent possible, keeping her from harming herself, and producing an edible meal. Between her continually developing skill set and my recognition and accommodation of those skills, no two dinner preparations are the same and what works for us may very well not work for you. I do, however, hope that the following thoughts provide some direction or at least a jumping off point for your own adventures in cooking with your toddler.

Plan ahead

In order for the actual cooking to go smoothly, I usually have to do a little game-planning ahead of time. I might knock out a couple of tasks that she definitely can’t help with and I know will bore her. I might assemble needed ingredients and tools so I don’t have to leave her alone for significant periods of time. Mostly, I try to make sure I am confident in my grasp of whatever we’re making so I can be relaxed while we’re cooking together.  Stressing about getting a recipe right while engaging with a toddler is, for me, impossible.

Incorporate Safety

Another thing to keep in mind is safety. I am not an overly protective parent.  I know my child will, at some point, cut her finger, burn her hand, and drop something heavy on her foot. I know this because I have done all these things, and more, many times over.  To some extent, it is just part of cooking. I do try, however, to keep her from permanently damaging herself.

  • - She has been taught, and is continually reminded, never to touch the cutting board while I am chopping (yes, she is close enough to touch the cutting board while I chop).

  • - She needs to ask permission before she nibbles stray bits off the counter (lest she accidentally ingest something like jalapeno seeds).

  • - I never leave sharp knives or hot pans within reach (although the extent of her reach continues to surprise me).

  • - I have found that having an induction cooktop is very helpful to my peace of mind. There is no open flame and nothing gets hot except the pot and the glass directly beneath the pot leaving the rest of the cooktop cool.


Set the Scene

When I began including Mabel in kitchen activities I would lift her up and let her sit on the counter next to me.  This was better than nothing, but not by much. For one thing, we had to have a conversation about how she needed to not wiggle or grab things every time I needed to turn around. It also put her at an awkward height. She could watch while sitting on the counter, but she didn’t want to watch, she wanted to DO.

Next we tried putting her in a clip-on high chair that was clamped to the overhang of the island. (We have an Inglesina Fast Table Chair. The Inglesina is great because the cover comes off easily and is machine washable.) This was a much better solution. She was contained; I could put her in the chair and she couldn’t scoot over to where I’d left the knife. She was also at a good height for seeing and helping. It wasn’t perfect, though, largely because it meant I needed to work while standing next to her at the island. She would get very upset whenever I walked over to the stove to stir a pot.  This was clearly a problem.

The solution was a step stool. You can absolutely use any old step stool but we had the luxury of it being the holidays and grandparents were looking for suitable gifts so we got the “The Growing Step Stool by Little Partners." (I have also heard wonderful things about the “Guidecraft Kitchen Helper” but it just looked too darn bulky for our space.) There are two key features that I love about our step stool. First, it has sides. During the brief period that we were using an ordinary step stool, Mabel nearly fell off the side repeatedly. She would step to the side to be closer to me and step off the edge or she would just lean farther and farther (again, to be closer to me and/or danger) and eventually lose her balance. With the Growing Step Stool, the sides keep her contained. Second, it is adjustable so as she grows we can change the steps to keep her at a comfortable working height. (Note from Dina: we use the strap we discussed in this post to secure our toddler to a bar stool we already had in our kitchen.)

Another thing to consider is clothing protection. I don’t always get out the aprons but I absolutely do when we’re working with something messy or staining. You could certainly use an art smock (I love these from Ikea). But Mabel and I have Mama and Me Aprons and, yes, we’re adorable.

Cooking Tasks Toddlers Can Help With

Here are some ideas of things your toddler might like to help with:

  • - Mixing, whisking, and stirring - You can take turns doing this because if your kiddo is anything like mine, she doesn’t do an adequate job.

  • - Pouring - Anything, all the time, my word she loves to pour!

  • - Scooping/measuring - Sometimes I level off scoops and let her dump them in the bowl. More fun, though, is to put the bowl on a kitchen scale and set her free to scoop until the desired weight is reached. Bonus: lesson in reading numbers with this method!

  • - Cutting - We got her the Curious Chef 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set. Note, toddler knives are not sharp (duh!) so they can only cut some things (ex. grapes, mushrooms, soft-ish cheeses, tofu) and they do not cut cleanly. 

  • - Peeling - Ex. garlic, sticks of butter, onions, hard-boiled eggs.

  • - Washing vegetables - She ADORES operating the salad spinner.

  • - Stripping greens - She can pull and pluck with the best of them, but we’ve also had good luck using a Greens and Herb Stripper.)

  • - Pushing buttons - On the food processor, blender, hand mixer, etc.

  • - Testing for doneness/taste testing (Mum!)

I am also trying to involve Mabel in cleaning up after cooking but that is very much still a work in progress around here. So far, I have found two ways to have Mabel help me clean up. First, I can ask her to put dishes and ingredients away.  Some things are safe for her to put straight into the dishwasher and some things, like baking powder, she can put back in the pantry. This can be a tricky one, though, because most cabinets at her height are toddler-proofed (imagine that!). Second, she loves to wipe down counters. I spray a little cleanser on the counter and then let her have at it with a sponge. She obviously has a limited range and is wildly ineffective at actually cleaning, but see above re: toddlers are not actually helpful.

The Payoff

After all this “helping” Mabel and I both find great satisfaction regaling the other members of our dinner party with all the ways she contributed. The foods we cook together are exactly the foods she will be eating at dinner. There are no special toddler meals in my house, so it’s a great way to remind her of the things she accomplished and of all the yummy foods we used to make dinner (Remember peeling the eggs? Tell Dad about how you cut the cucumbers with your knife. Did you like tasting the cucumbers? I see some more on your plate, have another bite!). Involving Mabel in cooking also helps her understand more deeply that preparing food takes time and effort and, I think, helps her be patient when food isn’t ready yet. And, hopefully, someday, will help her learn to love cooking as much as I do.


    


Miranda is a former librarian, current full time mom, and enthusiastic cook. She lives with her family outside of San Francisco.

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!

First shoes for babies

Babies don't need shoes.  Everyone will tell you that!

"Great!" you'll think, "that's one less thing I need to worry about picking".

Hanging out, eating a Starbucks card... like you do.
Then you'll go merrily about your life... until your baby starts cruising (i.e. standing and walking holding on to something). Suddenly, those adorable footie pants seem like a slippery death device strapped to your baby's feet.

"Lies!" you'll scream in frustration, "babies need shoes!... How in heaven's name to do I pick shoes for a baby?!?!?!"

In all seriousness, this is something I found really stressful because I have often been the victim of uncomfortable shoes in my life and at 8 months, I couldn't exactly ask my daughter which shoes were comfy.

Hanging out, demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of "eating"
Thankfully we found our way to Robeez crib shoes (also available at Zappos) fairly quickly. These shoes are soft and easy to put on.  Best of all, they have a non slip sole that works great on hardwood floors.

The brand makes lots of different designs to fit any taste and they come in a variety of sizes too.  In fact my two and a half year old still uses (a much larger) pair as slippers to be worn inside the house in the winter.


Working Through your Toddler (and Older Baby) Behavior Issues - Discipline

As our daughter turned about 15 months old, we realized we needed some idea about what we'd do for discipline. We really had no specific plan besides the obvious points of no hitting, always let her know we love her, and, um... she should do the things we want her to do. This obviously wasn't enough. We'd heard good things about the book 1-2-3 Magic from other parents, and I had some expiring United Airline miles that could be cashed in for eBooks, so we figured it was at least worth a read. (Note: 1-2-3 Magic really suggests a minimum age of 2, so we just ad hoc'ed our own variant that worked until her 2nd birthday.)

Broadly, 1-2-3 Magic is parenting information you have encountered or heard before. The parent counts when a child misbehaves.  If and when 3 is reached without the undesirable behavior ceasing, the parent gives a time-out or similar punishment (something akin to removing an item being banged or otherwise abused). What the book does provide you with is specific answers to questions such as 
"What do I do if we're at the grocery store?"
"What if they say no to the timeout?"
"What if they claim they don't know what they did wrong?" 
Having these answers helps you train yourself so that the system becomes a reflex. Importantly, because it establishes clear, consistent ground rules, the kids learn it by reflex too. This reduces the frequency of ever even getting to 3. Similarly, it helps you focus on the your goals for having discipline in the first place, which can be hard when your child is annoying the crap out of you. Example: What if my child starts playing with a toy during time out and wants to keep doing it after it's over? Answer: Be happy that they are no longer doing whatever annoying thing caused you to count them in the first place.

Explaining and working through the various iterations of count and do a time-out takes up about a third of the book. The next segment is devoted to helping find alternative punishments when timeouts won't do and/or that are more appropriate for tweens and teens. The final third focus is on promoting good behavior (getting ready in the morning, bathtime, etc.). Since she was pretty young when we started, we used those sections less, but it all seems reasonable and we reference it as needed (sticker charts and timers feature heavily). In fact, we have since purchased a Time Timer (to be featured in another post, surely) and that fixed some bedtime problems we had when she got to be about 2 years old

All around it worked pretty well, accounting for the adjustments we made since we started before she was 2.  (Main tweak: extra warnings that we were going to count, which the book cautions against for older kids because that's what the "one" is for.) It took a few weeks for her to get the hang of it, but she mostly stopped the behaviors that got her counted and usually at least paused them for a while when counting got to 2. Now that she is two and a half, just hearing a "That's one" from us usually elicits a "no time-out" exclamation from her as she stops the behavior.

Our two criticisms are relatively small, but worth pointing out:

  1. 1. You can easily skip any set of paragraphs where the book begins to get too self-congratulatory. The authors definitely recognized that they will make their cash by selling a "system" and so there's lots of asides about how many people's lives it fixed or how you can supplement it with other 1-2-3 Magic products (1-2-3 Magic for Teachers, 1-2-3 Magic for Kids, 1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents, 1-2-3 Magic Guacamole, etc.) and the first chapter or two are pretty heavy on this stuff. The book was good, but telling me in advance how amazing it is feels a bit like an infomercial and makes me want to continue reading it less. 

  2.  2. The book is pretty critical of treating your child as a "little adult." As both my wife and I were children who very much wanted to be treated as little adults, I bristle at this line of reasoning. That said, they are certainly correct about avoiding verbose explanations in the midst of undesirable behavior. We try to engage in "little adult" conversations once we have some distance on the event when things are calm and the children are able to think and communicate. During a wrap-up of the day (at bedtime or dinner) is good for this. 
These critiques are relatively minor and we are happy to recommend 1-2-3 Magic as a good first-line for developing your discipline strategy with kids of any age. It certainly has provided us the bonus of practically eliminating the need or desire to yell when in the throws of particularly intense frustration at toddler antics. Obviously once you need specialized information (be it by age, or by personality) there are plenty of other books that can help you build your full repertoire of strategies.

Note: This review is for an earlier edition of the book, though given the systematic nature of the book, I do not expect the major themes to have changed much. 

Note 2: Depending on what type of eBook person you are, this may be a good one to have virtual, rather than on paper, so you can quickly search/reference when needed.




Photo credit: Kid Daniel under Creative Commons License.

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.



  

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - Tantrums

Despite the fact that I am a firm believer in the idea that toddlers are easier than babies, I would be lying if I said that everything was smooth sailing once the kiddo hit 12 months.  Obviously, toddlers just go through their own phases and weird behavior issues.  We have faced our fair share and have the reading list to prove it.  So this installment will focus on how we got through some truly spectacular tantrums.

How to deal with toddler tantrums

When my daughter was 21 months old I would have told you that I knew what a tantrum was.  We had a summer of many tantrums when she was right around 1 because her desires outstripped her non-existent language skills by a mile.  Usually, the outbursts peaked right before we hit a language breakthrough (ex. said her first word, learned some verbs, started stringing together simple sentences, etc.).  Once the skill had been mastered, she would go back to being a relatively predictable little girl who thrived on routine.

Then, not to go all cliche on you, and I do think it was largely coincidence... but... we hit her second birthday.  It turns out what I thought had been tempestuous behavior flares were mere match strikes compared to the volcano eruptions she was apparently capable of.  Our 20 minute bedtime routine that had remained unchanged since she was 6 months old suddenly turned into a hour and a half knock down, drag out fight.  We spent an hour one morning trying to convince, bribe, cajole, threaten and anything else we could think of to do in order to get her to put on a pair of pants.  There was screaming and crying on everyone's parts.  And don't even get me started on bathtime. We were completely shocked and lost for what to do.

Cue a lot of frantic Googling and soul searching about whether it was too late to get out of this parenting gig.... and we found our way to the book The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old. I will confess that I approached this book with a very high degree of skepticism.  The recommendation for how to talk to your child in simple exaggerated sentences seemed idiotic and frankly disrespectful to the child. Then again, we were completely at our wits' end and a lot of people seemed to recommend the book.

Upon reading the book cover to cover (it's quite short and easy to get through), I started to implement the suggestions at the next tantrum. Once I expressed my daughter's feelings to her in a way she could understand, her screaming instantly stopped.  I was so shocked and unprepared for that to happen that I forgot what the next step was supposed to be. This method helped us get through the month long tantrum phase (and as all things, it really was a phase) with all of our collective sanities intact.

Though a bit gimmicky, I recommend this book very enthusiastically to any parent out there struggling to communicate with their pint-sized terror.  I also found Dr. Karp's chapter on the "personality" types of toddlers incredibly reassuring.  He allowed me to re-frame my previously somewhat negative view of my daughter's willful character traits and see them as potential positives. There is a lovely discussion in the book around how giving children what they want often results in even worse behavior - a fact I have found to be true.  This has allowed me to strengthen my resolve around enforcing boundaries for my toddler even when, in the moment, this occasionally results in more screaming.  

His writing is so kind and wise that I often find myself referencing his ideas, far beyond the suggested communication method, in discussions with other parents. And when everything is said and done, Dr. Karp is quite forgiving of the occasional bribery tactic and has given me ammunition when trying to convince my husband that at least occasionally he should let my daughter win. We have no lack of willfulness in this house!