Category Archives: baby travel

Why Car Seats Might Be One of the Worst Things for Kids’ Health

I absolutely hate removing my car seat from its rightful spot in the back of the car, mostly because it’s an endeavor that that usually leaves me sweating and exasperated enough to have to dial for back-up to get it back into the car correctly. I also hate it because it’s confirmation that, yes, my car seat is just as nasty, if not more so, than I had imagined.

And it’s not like I don’t try to keep it as clean as possible. I brush my kid’s car seat free from crumbs and other debris nearly every time we use it. And about once I week I probably take a rag to it to try to rub out obvious stains. But it’s when I actually get the time to do a deep clean that I start to really get grossed out. Because for as much as moms focus on  health and cleanliness for our babies, spending small fortunes on products like hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, and immune boosting vitamins, the car seats we put our kids in day in, day out are crawling with germs.

Or at least I know mine is.

My first step in de-grubbing the car seat is always just to get the darn seat out of the car, which comes with its requisite huffing, puffing and pushing, pulling to get it free. Immediately, I remove the cover and hose it down while aggressively going at the crumbs smooshed into every corner and crevice with a hand-held scrubber brush. (Sometimes I also just throw it in the washer.)

Once the cover is hanging up drying somewhere, I move on to the actual seat. It also gets the hose and a soapy water rubdown. I’ve learned that I need to actually flip the seat upside down and spray the bottom as well to be sure it gets really clean. Why? Because sometimes stuff like this is hanging out under the seat:

Ewwwwwww!

Yes, that is a Wheat Thin stuck to some gunk that probably was milk at some point. I still don’t understand how this stuff managed to harden into a solid and adhere itself to the underside of the seat, but it did.

Next, I move on to cleaning up the back seat. Also disturbing:

Yuck!

This stuff actually required scrubbing to remove it. But it’s curious to me how much stuff ends up under the seat given how much seems to end up either in baby’s belly or all down the front of him.

And of course the door:

Not so yummy

It sort of freaks me out when I think about how many germs the typical coffee cup contains, you know, the ones that kind of hang out in people’s cubicles never getting a truly thorough washing. So, when I see this, my inner germ-a-phobe comes rushing to the surface. Can this really be healthy for our kids?

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Filed under babies, baby travel, car seats, cleaning, daily life, health, hygiene, transportation, travel

My First Stroller Derby

One of my summertime projects has been to get back into running. See, I signed up to run the Army Ten Miler this fall with a group of mommies like me who have wee ones and soldier husbands. Our team is called the “Military Mommas” and to motivate us through those 10 undoubtably painful miles, we’re raising money to support the Fisher House Foundation, which provides housing for military family members while their soldiers undergo medical treatment. (Click here if you’d like to donate.) While the charitable fundraising is helping pump me up for the run, it’s not doing the work for me, so I decided to sign up for the Save the River 5K last week as a fun way to log some miles.

This particular 5K is a little event–about 300 participants–and anything but competitive. It’s one of those small-town events where it’s ok to walk, kids and grandparents are totally invited to participate, and strollers are more than welcome on the course. I used to be a runner, but it’s been a good five years and change since I could last call myself one, so this low-key event was so my speed (or lack thereof). Given the baby-friendly set up, I decided to take the wee one along for the run and fun.

I run with baby and the buggy from time to time, but this was my first baby-in-tow race and I definitely learned a few things about being a mom on the run:

  1. Learn to be loud. Chances are you’re not going to be the first up at the starting line–stroller pushers tend to wind up near the back of the herd–so find your stride becomes first about just finding a clear path. You don’t realize how much extra room you need to maneuver when you’ve got your front traversing wheel locked into a stationary position for a better ride, so moving through the crowd becomes a little more difficult, especially when the people ahead of you are doing their own thing. Many thanks to my friend Eva who was clearly a good 30 seconds faster than I and was alerting people to watch out behind them that a stroller was coming through as she passed them. I actually heard someone call her a bitch for doing it–mostly because she passed them, I think–but I thought she rocked because as much as I wished my Baby Trend Jogger had a horn, it didn’t. And god knows I didn’t have enough breath left to do my own shouting–on your left!
  2. Don’t run alone. Misery definitely loves company, so I count myself lucky enough to have a couple of friends do the race with me because I think I can officially say it would have been rough to do it alone. Somewhere into mile 2, I know I definitely looked at my friend Lesley and said, “This sucks.” But having a running partner (or two or three) was a lot of fun, too. I know as Lesley and I came into the last half mile we decided to pick up the pace and as we were sprinting toward the finish, our heavy breathing was definitely punctuated from time to time with encouraging words to each other like, “We can do this.”
  3. Water breaks are for sissies. There were two water stations along the course. I wasn’t thirsty when I ran past the first one, but when I saw the second I was dying for something at least sort of cool. I let go of the stroller handle to grab a cup and as soon as I did I realized that there was no way this water thing was going to happen unless I stopped. Not only was water splashing out of the cup, but I felt like I could barely steer the stroller. And seriously, stopping was not an option because I was never going to get the baby rig going again if I did. Next time around I’ll definitely have a water bottle with a squirt top stuffed into the cup holder.
  4. You’ll make insta-friends. When you’re working a stroller at one of these races, you automatically start picking out other stroller runners and kind of naturally gravitate toward each other. I had seen two mommies with their strollers before the race that sort of caught my eye, mainly because they had the same stroller as I did, their babies looked to be about the same age as mine, and they looked like they could tear up some asphalt with three wheels. (Turns out one was a half marathoner and the other was a triathaloner.) As I headed into mile 3, I saw the two of them up ahead of me. They got hung up at the water station, so I ended up passing them. But after the race, the two mommies wheeled over to me to congratulate me on my finish. I was kind of blown away–my face was too red to have made my finish look easy–but I thought it was really cool of them. Turns out we had more than just the strollers in common–their husbands too are military–so it was a fun way to meet some new people.
  5. It’s more fun that you think it’ll be. I set out with no goal other than to finish. But just being with the crowd on a nice day on the River turned out to be quite a bit of motivation. I ended up finishing in the top quartile–if you want to check out the rankings, you can find them here–despite what during my running heydey would’ve been an embarassing time. But out of all the fun runs I’ve done over the years, I definitely won’t forget this one because it felt awesome to hear someone yell, “You’re the first stroller!” as I ran over the finish line. Of course I would’ve felt even better about my final results had there a 1 minute handicap, but it was enough to know I at least finished in front of the only dad I saw with a stoller at the start line.

So, it was a lot of fun and just what I needed to help me get a little closer to be ready for the big 10 mile trudge in the fall. Many thanks again to my running buddies–definitely couldn’t have done it without you–and to Save the River for organizing such an awesome event. Definitely signing up for the stroller division next year!

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Filed under activities, babies, baby travel, daily life, fitness, health, military families, mommy care, moms, photos, strollers, workouts

On the Road (Again)

I’ve been more than 1,700 miles since Friday, so I haven’t had too much time to post. My apologies.

While I most often travel with my wee one in tow, this time, given my rather packed schedule, I decided not to bring him. Although I know I made the right decision–and was lucky enough to have a Mimi that would take care of him in my absence–I kind of missed him. I mean, I was totally relieved he was hanging at the River with the grandparents as I got up at 4:30am for my flight out of Syracuse or waited for my delayed flight from Birmingham or ran through the Atlanta airport to catch my next flight or arrived close to midnight in D.C. These are travel realities that quickly become travel nightmares with wee ones.

But while I was down in Alabama, I got a chance to catch up with a mommy friend who showed me my next mommy must-have: the CARES Child Aviation Restraint System.

Her daughter is two and they were headed up to New Hampshire for a week. Given that her sister-in-law had all the gear she’d need once she got there–car seat, stroller, port-a-crib, life jacket, toys, etc.–she really didn’t want to haul a car seat on the plane with her. Even the more streamlined convertibles are giant and a pain when you’re lugging a bunch of stuff. So, this contraption, is basically a 5-point harness system that works with the existing airplane seat and seat belt to keep your kid strapped in. The bonus is that it weighs like a pound and can be stuffed into your purse. (So much better than a 20-pound car seat that needs its own set of wheels to be maneuvered around the airport.) The sheer convenience, to me, makes this worth the $75 that the contraption costs. And when you consider that you’re already paying for an extra seat at this point, I think it sounds pretty darn reasonable.

But more than that, it works. My mommy friend, in the middle of an absolute travel nightmare (yes, she was in Atlanta), had this comment to share on Facebook:

“For all travel savvy moms out there, the Kids Fly Safe aircraft restraint by Cares is fantastic!! Completely eliminates lugging a big car seat through the airport and is a breeze to install!”

So, glad to know that at least one part of her journey was easy. But if you’re a mommy looking for more info, here’s a news segment on airline safety for infants and toddlers that features the seat safety harness. I’m not about ready to poo-poo the lap baby, as the segment advocates–has anyone checked out ticket prices lately?–but I thought this was a fantastic option for a tour de toddler.

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Pimp My MiniVan

When our little bundle of boy was born, we had two vehicles. One was an SUV that we used mainly for long road trips and hauling stuff like my husband’s military gear and the dog. The other vehicle was a Volkswagon Jetta that was perfect for city travel because it was good on gas and a dream to park.

Move over, stationwagon

But all it took was one big trip to my parents’ house with baby gear plus all of the normal stuff for us to realize that the Jetta, for all its practicality, was rather impractical for us at this stage in our lives. So, when a friend of ours who was set to deploy, offered us the chance to buy his Volvo SUV for what he owed on it, it sounded like a great deal.

And it has been. The only thing that’s been a surprise is the fact that serious dudes with a serious interest in cars seem to especially appreciate my family mobile.

I don’t know much about cars. I don’t dabble in the aftermarket business at all. So, I had no idea I had some crazy pioneer Pioneer GPS/sound system or mad tires and rims. I’m not even sure the dude we bought it from knew all this.

But I’ve been learning. On top of the fact that we, on a whim, bought the safest SUV on the market, I’ve also learned, for example, that I have some serious low-profile tires and enviable rims. I usually know when a black guy with chains tells me he has the same ones. What size they are, I have no idea. But it’s instances like the one the other day that confirm it all to me:

So, there I am, pulling into Petco to buy some hyper expensive canned dog food because my dog craps out cow pies otherwise. I pull into a parking spot just as a dude is pulling into the space next to me. I see him nodding as I get out of the car and as I walk around to yank my kid out of the car seat, he says, “Nice ride.”

All I could muster out was, “Thanks.” But what I really wanted to say was something like, “Yeah, boo, the Graco My Ride 65 is how we roll.”

It is absolutely hilarious to me that I have milk stains literally coating the inside of my right, rear, passenger-side door and yet dudes who know stuff about cars always comment on my car, assuming I know what I even am riding on. I mean, seriously, if you weren’t into cars, you wouldn’t know that I apparently have fancy tires and rims. They aren’t tricked out in any sort of way or anything. In fact, for the first month, because of the low-profile tires, I thought I always had an under-inflated tire. (Shows you how much I know about cars.)

And yet, they do.

But there’s something about me that gets infinite amusement out of the fact that I’m carting my milk-stained munchkin around in a hot ride. Even though I’ve only committed to the SUV, I’m totally thinking that if I ever get to the minivan stage–hey, remote opening rear doors are pretty awesome–I’m totally going to have to pimp it out or lose some real street credit in the drop off/pick up lane at school.

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Stroller S.O.S.

Getting a flat tire stinks. But when you’re a mommy like me, getting a flat tire–or two, in my case–on your stroller really sucks.

In some ways, I shouldn’t be surprised. I am hard on my stroller, putting it through its paces week in and week out. It is baby and my primary mode of transportation; so, for more than a jog around the neighborhood a few times a week, it’s called into service for nearly every errand, from grocery shopping to the post office to the dog’s daily walk. I dare say that between the nanny and me, we probably put 20 miles a week on it, at least–and that’s excluding runs, which if I’m honest, I am not nearly consistent enough with to count in my weekly mileage.

And then there’s the terrain. It would seem that rolling over sidewalk wouldn’t be all that stressful on a stroller, but city strolling has little in common with a walk around a new neighborhood development. There’s a reason it’s called an urban jungle.

An average outing for me with the stroller involves negotiating stairs. I usually avoid bumping down our front stairs, if I possibly can, which are scary steep in heels and pretty much death defying with a stroller with a baby in it. So, I usually try to go out through the backyard, which has far fewer stairs but a number of other obstacles, including lifting the stroller over the toe-kick on our back gate and maneuvering it between the cars and over the gravel in our parking spots.

Offroading in the city

Then there’s the back alley, which is in itself an adventure because you never know what kind of rodent carcass or trash, broken glass, abandoned TV or mattress or other matter of debris you may encounter. Not only that, but the terrain is atrocious–half brick pavers, half pavement, it’s all pocked and pitted making for a seriously bumpy ride for baby.

Once out to the main street, it only gets marginally better. In my neighborhood, there’s all manner of sidewalk cracks, curbs, and increasingly construction.

When I lay it all out like that, it’s no wonder I had a tire blow out given all the bumping, thumping, and thudding along. But two in one week seemed a little much. The stroller gods certainly had it out for me.

But one of the problems with having a tire malfunction–other than it can put your stroller out of commission–is figuring out how to fix it. I so wish there was such a thing as AAA for strollers.

With the first tire problem, a slow leak in the front tire, I tried to pretty much ignore it for as long as I could. I would pump it up with the air compressor, but after about a day and a half, it would deflate. I toyed with using that spray Fix-a-Flat, but I was scared that I would ruin the tire and then be really screwed. Fortunately, the nanny passed a bike shop on one of her outings and 10 minutes later, the problem was fixed.

However, the second flat, occurring just a day or so after the first tire was

Tire trouble

fixed, was a bit more traumatic. I noticed a weird sound coming from the stroller on the way to the gym one morning, but I thought it was it was the strap on my bag dragging on the ground. However, as I came out of the elevator at the gym, I took a look down and noticed that one of the back tires was looking rather pancake like.

Fortunately, there’s a Target in the same building as the gym, so post workout, I popped in there to buy a cheap bike pump to get me home. (Yes, I totally was the person using the pump before I bought it, but I was desperate.) However, the flat was so bad that I had to stop and pump up the tire three times before I got home and the trip is all of 10 blocks or so. So, back went the stroller to the bike shop.

But when I had called around to a few bike shops to find out of if they could fix my tire troubles, the answer I got was maybe. Most shops were confident that they could fix any tire-related problems, but anything more than that and I likely would’ve been out of luck. So, it got me thinking about what I would do if I had a bigger problem, like a wobble in the front wheel or a broken foot brake or something.

Where do mommies go for heavier duty body work on their strollers? If a bike shop can’t (or won’t) do it, what would option B be? I suppose you’d have to try and sort it out with the manufacturer. Just saying it makes me feel like I have a headache coming on. I imagine spending a gazillion dollars to ship the stroller back to the manufacturer only for it to take weeks to resolve the problem. (Where can you even get a box big enough to do that? My stroller box is long gone.)

At any rate, all this stroller drama just served to highlight two things for me. First, I’m glad that I have more than one stroller. I was able to use my umbrella stroller while the jogger was out of commission. It made carrying my groceries home a little more difficult because it has a much smaller basket, but it worked in a pinch.

Second, I’m glad that I didn’t spend a whole lot of money on any of my strollers. I mean, tires are one thing. They can be more or less easily remedied. But I can imagine how irritated I would be if my $400 (or more) stroller had any sort of problem that needed more specialized attention. At least with a value-priced one, the worst case scenario is just buying a brand new one. Not exactly ideal, but, hey, if I had to do that, I figure I still come out ahead in terms of dollars spent on strollers than if I had bought the expensive one in the first place. And with how hard this family is on its strollers, I’m not confident that any stroller is really up to the challenge over the long haul.

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The Ultimate Guide To Traveling with Baby

I have few mommy friends that travel as much as I do with baby, and even fewer that travel that much by themselves with baby. But when I get a chance to connect with the select few who do, I’m always interested to see how they manage on their own. I have found a system that works for me, but I’m never quite sure whether there are more efficiencies to be gained.

So, when my grad school friend decided to check out of the West Coast for a few weeks in favor of a whirlwind East Coast tour with her son, nearly a full-fledged toddler, I was excited to learn that she was planning a pit stop in D.C. Not only could I not wait to see her, catch up on all the news, and, of course, meet the not-so-wee-anymore one for the first time, but I was super curious to see how she managed when traveling long distances with baby.

My friend is a very efficient traveler by nature. But having a baby in tow is definitely challenging this aspect of her. I actually got a message from her a few days before her flight, telling me that she was trying to get all her and baby’s stuff into a suitcase small enough to carry on. It was a very admirable goal, one that I admittedly have toyed around with and failed at achieving, so I was prepared to be seriously impressed (and take notes) if she did indeed edit their accoutrement to fit into a carry-on suitcase.

Despite her greatest efforts, it didn’t happen. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Even if it cost her the $25 or so to check her suitcase, she had plenty enough else to deal with–baby, stroller, diaper bag/purse, and car seat.

When she told me she was going to bring her car seat, I really started paying attention. I have only bothered with bringing the car seat on my travels when baby was in his infant car seat. I could clip the seat into his Snap ‘n’ Go stoller and then leave it all at the end of the jet bridge before boarding the plane. No biggie. But now that baby is bigger, there are no simple clip-in solutions like the Snap ‘n’ Go.

To date, I’ve always found a way to work around lugging the bigger car seat. When we went to El Paso, we rented a car seat from the car rental company. Contrary to rumor, the car seat we ended up with was the exact same one as one of the car seats we own. And it was new–or nearly so. It was still wrapped in plastic and in mint condition when we got it out of the trunk. When we went to Chamonix, the shuttle service from the Geneva airport supplied infant car seats and then we traveled by foot, train, or bus after that, so no seat was necessary. And then when we went to South Carolina, Ian’s mom decided to just buy a cheapie car seat to have for such occasions. It was going to get additional use from some of the other grandbabies that would sometimes visit.

Needless to say, I do everything I can to avoid having to sherpa the car seat. And I still feel like I’m totally bogged down. So, I had to find out how my friend managed. Turns out it looks something like this:

Streamlined for sanity

The thing I want to most highlight is how she deals with the car seat on top of the stroller, roller bag, and shoulder bag. Basically she just uses a bungee cord to strap the car seat to the stroller frame. It’s pure genius.

I mean, I think I would’ve have found a bag/cover for the car seat and tried to slide a handle over the telescoping handle of my roller bag. Of course, with my luck, it would be flapping around, throwing the whole bag off balance and making me struggle. But the bungee method is so much more secure. She just nestled a front edge of the seat under the stroller so it had some bottom support, stretched the bungee cord around the stroller and seat, clipped it to the back of the stroller and–voila, voila, voila–momma is good to go.

Granted, even with this innovative thinking, traveling with an infant is still not easy. Most umbrella strollers, which are a travel must given their compactness, have two separate handles over a single bar. This makes steering the baby vehicle significantly more difficult with one hand, especially when you are running to your gate, as I most often am. The other hand is usually busy dragging the roller bag with diaper bag sitting on top.

But we’re all about efficiencies here, so I thought this was some seriously smart travel thinking and figured I should share with other mommies trying to sort out out how they are going to take everything they need on their next trip. Happy packing!

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Filed under babies, baby travel, daily life, infants, newborns, travel

Doing the Diaper Dip

One of the fun things we did with baby–at least for Mimi and me–during our trip to Chamonix was take baby to bébé nageurs swim class at the local aquatic center. Basically it was a Saturday morning free swim deal where parents (or grandparents) could take their babies and diapers would be welcome in the pool.

This wasn’t the first time baby had been swimming. He went three times last summer–twice in the River and once in the Lake–but it was definitely his first time in a pool. For as much as I thought he would be squealing nonstop in the water (he absolutely loves splashing in the tub, sink, or any other vessel of water), I’m not sure that he really loved it–despite the fact that the pool was heated for the comfort of the bébé nageurs.

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Part of the problem was definitely that he was tired; the jetlag was still kicking his dimpled butt. Part of it may have been that it was sensory overload. There were a ton of babies (and parents and grandparents), all moving in a gazillion directions; lots of shrieking toddlers jumping and splashing; tons of really brightly colored toys and mats floating all around; and even a big fountain shooting up from the middle of the pool.

But part of it also was me. Turns out there’s an art to baby swims.

I only learned that after one of the swim coaches (can they even be called that at this stage?) bee lined for my mom, baby, and me. At this point, I had taken baby out of this cool floatie thing–basically it was a thin mat cut in the shape of a fish with a hole in the middle where you stick the kid–and was just sort of holding him on my hip as I walked around the pool. Baby wasn’t unhappy, but he wasn’t splashing like a madman either. So, the swim coach came over and asked if I was familiar with le système de portage. The what?

I mean, I speak French, so I get what it means: a carrying or transportation system. But what was wrong with the way I was carrying my baby? That’s the way I carry him all the time.

But I listened as he explained in that very explicative French way that the proper way to have a nine-month-old baby in the pool was to put my hands under his bottom so that he was sitting in my palms, extend my arms out in front of me, and then begin to walk through the water. He then pointed out that I should pretty much make sure baby was submerged in the water pretty much up to his shoulders so he wouldn’t get cold.

Ok, so I was a little skeptical that there was a huge difference between what I was doing and what he was telling me to do, but I was polite and did as he recommended. Wow, what a difference. Baby went from just sort of being chill in the water–content but not excited–to really moving his arms and legs around, splashing and carrying on.

The guy went on to explain to me that when you hold babies on your hip in the water like you would do on land, they sort of go into a set position and don’t really have a lot of wiggle room. But by basically pushing them out in front of you–they don’t fall over, amazingly enough–they have the freedom to fully ambulate and interact with the water.

I’ll admit that I kind of felt stupid because I had sort of gone, “yeah, yeah, yeah,” to the swim coach and it turned out that he really knew what he was talking about. No wonder every baby in pool (except Aleksi) was just having the time of his or her little life. Their moms weren’t so ignorant as to the correct système de portage. But once I was clued in, everyone–baby included–had more fun.

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