Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Car Seat Dilemma

A friend of mine recently remarked that he suspects that as our kids get older, we mentally erase all the things about them that drive us a little crazy.

He was speaking, at the time, about the fact that his kids now do things like sleep through the night. Whereas only three or four months previous, he and his wife were up every three hours to feed, change, or otherwise tend to them.

He was pretty happy to be out of that phase, though he could barely recall it. And at the same time, he was feeling nostalgic for a time, not too long ago, when his kids couldn’t move.

That seems like a strange thing to look back on with fondness – one would think that most parents can’t wait to see their kids learn to walk, talk, feed themselves, etc.

And we do. But there’s a trade-off. A horrible trade-off and no one talks about.

It all starts with a car seat.

There are three main types of car seat – one for infants, one for toddlers, and one for kids over forty pounds but under 100 pounds. Which is strange to think about, since I spent most of high school dating a girl who fluctuated between 106 and 97 pounds. Seriously. What are they feeding these 100 pound kids?

This is me digressing.

Most infant seats are good up to 20 or 22 pounds, and some height or another. I’ll make up a number and say 29 inches. Regardless, my kid was finally outgrowing her infant seat, so I set out in search of a replacement.

I hunted through The Baby Bargains Book, which we got less than a year ago and found that a) it didn’t cover a lot of seats, because b) it was out of date, and c) they wanted me to buy The Toddler Bargains book, of course.

So I hit up the Consumer Reports web site, thanks to my parents, who are avid Consumer Reports readers.

Their site presented me with a couple of lists of highly-rated seats, which I printed out and took to the store with me… only to discover that most stores don’t carry these seats any more. They’ve been replaced with newer, untested models of the same seats.


After staring at the car seats for twenty minutes, and comparing them to my list, I finally gave up and bought the new model of one of the seats that came highly recommended.

Here I need to talk about my cunning plan.

When Kara and I announced to people that our adoption was, at long last, entering its final stages, people were amazingly generous. We got gifts of toys, books, clothing, and the one million bits of baby flotsam that you don’t even know you need when you become a parent.

Among those many gifts were gift cards – and even after being parents for six months, we still had a few cards left.

One gift card was for Baby’s R Us, where I found the first car seat. The second card was for Wal-Mart.

At this point, I had a seat, and I was ready to buy it. So I picked up a massive, massive box and dragged it to the front of the store. While the nice lady at the counter rang it up, I handed her the Baby’s R Us gift card.

Then I pulled out one of those one-use credit cards you can get these days. The kind where you can put, say, twenty-five bucks on ‘em, and they can be used anywhere? One of those.

Then I realize I hadn’t activated it. So I whipped out my cell phone, grateful that no one was in line behind me, and activated it.

I bought the seat. I carried the seat out to my car.

And then I realized I couldn’t get the thing INTO my car.

I have a two-door Nissan 200SX. It’s a little small and sporty, but the trunk is nicely sized, and I can get just about anything into it.

Unless it’s an infant car seat.

So I stood out in the parking lot for twenty minutes trying to figure out what to do. I could get the box into the passenger seat, but I had to buy two of these things, so that didn’t do any good.

Finally, I shoved the driver’s seat all the way forward, crammed the passenger seat all the way down into “bed” mode, and slid the box behind the driver’s seat.

This was not an awesome solution. My seat was now so close to the steering wheel I had to fold my knees up a bit to even get into the car. But I figured Wal-Mart was nearby and the drive wouldn’t be TOO awful.

So I went to Wal-Mart. I got into their baby department. I found a sign that indicated it was the EXACT match of the seat I had just bought – but the floor model was NOT the same seat. Nor was the seat in the very beat-up box under the sign.

My seat was an Advance. This seat was not.

I called over a Wal-Mart employee, who scanned the sign, which said there were two “Advance” versions in the store. She went to check in the back. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited… and she finally returned, and said she couldn’t find the seat, but there was another seat nearby that was probably pretty good, and it was on sale…

I thanked her for her time, and went back to Baby’s R Us. Where I bought a second seat from the exact same cashier, who, to her credit, didn’t ask why I was back so soon.

The second seat did, indeed, fit into the passenger seat, and I made my very cramped way home.

Once home, I discovered that, due to huge piles of snow covering up parts of my driveway, it was just about impossible to get the seats out. But I did it, after fifteen minutes of struggle.

On the bright side, installing the seats was a snap. They work great with seatbelts, and I managed to get them into both cars without injuring myself.

Mihret went into the seats nicely as well, as they adjust in a simple and easy manner.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what I had just given up.

Our infant seat.

And here’s where having a rapidly aging kid came back to bite me.

Don’t get me wrong – infant seats are the very definition of not fun. Most of them weigh a little less than ten pounds, and once you throw a twenty-pound child into the mix, the seats become heavy and awkward to carry.

A bit like throwing a couple of good-sized watermelons into a picnic basket and lugging them around.

But here’s the trade-off.

Babies sleep a lot, and those just moving into toddlerhood sleep only a little less.

With the infant seat, we’ve always got a way to “control” the baby. Kiddo is getting tired? Put her into her seat, rock her back and forth for a minute, and she drops off.

Still asleep when you get to your destination? Let her sit in the seat and sleep until she wakes up. It’s like a little thirty-minute vacation from parenting.

Often, when I got Mihret back from day care, she was asleep in her seat. So I’d bring her into the house and leave her, safe and sound, while I shoveled some snow off the driveway. Or put a load of laundry in. Or washed a couple of dishes.

But now, of course, if the baby is with us when we go somewhere… we’ve gotta pop her out of the seat. She doesn’t get to sleep. So, we’re expecting some SERIOUS crabbiness in the upcoming weeks, as she learns that sometimes nap time has to come later.

Plus, she’s still small enough that, even though she can walk now, she’s still not ready to cross a parking lot. So now we have to carry her, which requires both arms, even if we have something else we need to carry.

The whole process is dubious at best.

I suspect that if someone could create something like a papoose, which allowed you to pull the toddler in and out of the car, and then strap him or her directly to your back with the minimum of fuss, it would quickly become a huge seller.


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