I distinctly remember the first time I was forced to interact with a car seat. I’ve teamed up with Tesco this week to share what it is about car seats that I find so harrowing. My nephew was an infant and I was pregnant with my first child. My sister-in-law, a seasoned mother of two, was getting out of her car, deftly juggling her iced tea, a couple of diaper bags, her purse and her toddler, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help. She quickly responded that I could, “Get Leo out of his car seat” and then smiled as she added, “It’ll be good practice”. I quickly regretted offering my assistance.
Then I remembered that I would soon become a mother and have to do hard things like this so I took a deep breath and opened his door, determined that I, a woman who had successfully four-pointed her Master’s program, could retrieve him out of the car. I ogled the harnesses and clamps and straps and I (remembered) realized I had no clue what I was doing. I had no clue how to begin tounbuckle this car seat and no clue how I would ever survive the demands associated with being a parent. I could blame my terror on hormones, but I’m pretty sure I felt this way pre-pregnancy as well.
I backed away from the car seat and told her I would just carry her bags into the house instead.
Now, two children later, I’m a car seat pro. Sort of. Okay, maybe I’m not a pro, but I at least buckle in, tighten straps, unbuckle straps, loosen straps, heave a kid in, and heave a kid out what feels like a thousand times each day. I’m at least car seat experienced and car seat comfortable.
I still panic. Car seats are intimidating, yo.
I panic about whether or not I buckled the car seat straps together (even if I know I already buckled the car seat straps together). I panic about when I should move my children from rear-facing to front-facing. I panic about the financial costs related to ensuring my children are in the correct type of car seat during each growth stage, about whether the fabric of their coats protects them from the climate while preventing them from being too puffy. I panic about whether or not the straps are tight enough and sometimes I worry about whether or not the car seat has reached it’s expiration date.
I worry about whether or not I’m worrying enough about whether or not the car seats are expired.
I panic about keeping my children safe in the car, even if I did manage to worry enough to do all of those things correctly.
Sometimes I just panic about the amount of energy I need to expend in order to get my kids in and out of the car, regardless of where it is I even need to take them. There are many days that I do not take a trip to the store because the thought of taking my kids in and out of the car sounds like too much effort. Because it IS too much effort. Carrying, lifting, pulling, strapping, unstrapping, lifting, carrying. Those are the steps of taking my toddler in and out of the car, and sometimes those steps seem insurmountable. At the very least, inconvenient.
Sometimes in a moment of clarity, I reflect on the fact that our kids are so much safer than they were back in the day. It wasn’t too long ago when kids literally swung from seatbelts in the backseat or played with their dolls on the floor of the car, their parents up front, unbelted. In these moments, I attempt, again, to take a deep breath and let go of the fears. As it turns out, letting go of the fears is one of the most difficult demands associated with parenting. Even harder than pulling that car seat strap tight.
As a working mom, I have a love/hate mentality about leaving my kids in someone else’s care for what amounts to about 40% of the time my child is awake, each week. Sometimes there are things I think should be done differently, sometimes I question how well I really know what is going on there when I’m not around, and sometimes I have concerns about the sheer volume of donuts my child may or may not be consuming. It’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to get panicked inside, feeling like I may not be doing what’s best for my children, by sending them there. Because no one that I’ve found will take care of them exactly like I think they should. Of course, if I stayed home with my kids every day, I’m quite sure even I would not be able to take care of them exactly like I think I should. I am trying to take a step back and look at the big picture, and when I do, even with my cynical and critical eye, it sure seems like there is a lot to be grateful for. I need to remind myself of this.
They create stability and routine.Everything has a time and a place at daycare. Shoes always go in the cubby, coats always get hung up on hangers, and show-and-tell is always on Thursday. There is allotted time each day to play with baby dolls and listen to stories and create mini-masterpieces and no one leaves the lunch table without asking to be excused. This isn’t in the fake sort of way, like we have at home. They really mean it, and they follow through. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, daycare usually incorporates a catchy song that accompanies each time and place. My kid whistles while she works.
They get my kids to do things I wouldn’t be able to by myself. I can’t recreate the peer pressure of eleven other kids at home. The motivation to clean up, or stay in their seats during mealtime is often the result of being a part of the group, and being able to participate with their peers. There was a brief period of time when Baby Grouch would linger and let the other kids pick up all the toys, while she just looked at them and stared. “Nope”, she said with her eyes. “You guys can do it”. At home I utilized a few strategies to work on this. I was a broken record and said, “Clean up. Clean up. Clean up.” I told her she could do something fun, but only after she cleaned up her toys (and hoped that what I offered was a motivator that day). I physically held her and made her sit until she cleaned up the cheerios she spilled on the floor. But that gets tedious and would be ridiculously impossible to do all day, every day. Sometimes I just cleaned up the blocks for her. They did not have this problem at daycare. Once she figured out that she wasn’t allowed to move on to the next group activity without doing her share, she became a cleaning speed demon.
They teach social skills in an authentic setting. I can’t recreate Johnny stealing Toddler Grouch’s light up bouncey ball or Susie giving her a hug and asking if she is okay when she falls and skins her knee. She says hello, she shares, she waits to take a bite of birthday cake until she sings to her friend and they take a bite first. It was a weird feeling when I realized my one-year-old had friends that I knew nothing about, other than their first names and fuzzy images of their faces. But it begins that early, folks. They play very well together, but of course sometimes they fight. My daughter got put in time out the other day for going on the slide and then putting her feet out, purposely kicking another kid at the bottom. I’m glad this happened. On one hand, I’m glad she got annoyed enough to fight back – I think she needs to be more assertive – sometimes she is so laid back she is the one who gets pushed around. I also want her to learn how to do so appropriately, and I know they help provide her with words to use so she can assert herself with her speech, rather than with physical force.
They clean up my kid’s shit. Seriously they wipe their asses. A lot. Not to mention spit up, puke, snot and other bodily fluids. I usually don’t mind changing diapers, but I am not under any illusion that my kid’s diapers are full of rainbows and flowers. My kid’s shit always stinks.
They put in a ton of hours. Our daycare is operated by a mother/daughter team, and they are open almost every day, and rarely have a sub. They open at seven-fifteen and close at five-thirty. They have no true coffee breaks or lunch breaks. During the winter, they must be sure to have the driveway shoveled, and, since the daycare is in the basement, they also have to shovel out the area in the backyard surrounding the windows, per fire code. Living in Michigan, this equates to a lot of time and energy. They run their daycare like a preschool, and have weekly and monthly themes, they have activities planned for every day. They organize, and clean and sanitize equipment on a regular basis. My kid is in a safe and orderly environment.
They provide sensory stations so I don’t always have to. They have fingerpainting and bubbles and sprinklers and moon sand and glitter glue. They turn paper towel rolls into pencil holders, hot air balloons and binoculars. They turn handprints into butterflies and flowers. They are probably so grateful for the existance of Pinterest. The kids play outside almost every day, in the summer and in the winter, and they return my child with relatively clean hands, even after she spends an hour digging in the dirt and rocks (one of her favorite things to do). My kid loves to stick and scoop and smash, and I love that she does this so often there, so I don’t have to clean all of that joy off my floor every day.
They go above and beyond. For every birthday and holiday, they make sure my kids feel special. They have birthday crowns and the birthday kid gets to lead group activities and get sung to. They have holiday parties with special outfits and special games. Our daycare sometimes gives little presents for big occassions. They pick gems from the “birthday box”, they get wrapped presents to open at Christmas. I’m paying them about three dollars an hour and they are using part of that money to buy my child things she loves – baby dolls, books, one of those horseheads attached to a stick. They don’t have to do this, because they are already making her feel special in the other, more important, ways. My kid is a teeny bit spoiled.
They provide a needed service, and sometimes a needed break. I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I go for a jog after work before picking up my kids. In my head, daycare is for when I’m working, so I sort of think of it as free babysitting at this point, even though they as a business have determined the hours and rate that I am paying for. I’m a better mama when I take care of myself, and it couldn’t happen unless I felt like my kid was in a safe place.
They love my kids. In their own way. They play with them. They hug them. They want them to grow into good people. They know them inside and out, in some ways maybe a little more than I do. At least a little differently than I do. And they get that same feeling of happy-sad when they grow up that I do. Sometimes, though, if you care about someone a lot, they don’t always measure up to your expectations. This can lead you to be tough on them. Which brings me to my next point.
They aren’t always nice. There’s a reason I didn’t decide to have Grandma watch the kids. She’s too nice. She’ll put on my kid’s shoes for them, and clean up their toys for them and will give in when my children scream and cry that they don’t want to do something. She will feed my children french fries and cookies and chicken nuggets every single day. She will pamper them. That said, it isn’t always easy to accept that my kids aren’t being pampered all the time. I remember my first heart-punch, hearing how my daughter “didn’t want to do anything for herself” one day. When she was six months old. Seriously? And I know there are times when the ladies might be a bit snippy. Maybe even a little shouty. I’m pretty sure Toddler Grouch didn’t come up with, “Don’t play those games with me”, by herself. It isn’t something you might want to hear, or think about, but let’s face it: they’re human too. As far as my kids are concerned, I figure that learning how to deal with people who are sometimes moody is a valuable life skill. That said, my natural instincts are to swoop in like a bird and snatch up my kids in an instant if I suspected any real abuse. I’d probably peck out a few eyes in the process, too.
They teach kids how to do shit. My kiddo was carrying and setting up her own cot at eighteen months. I watched once, peeking my head out from beind the stairwell and my jaw dropped. I saw her working with a partner to lift and carry her end of the cot, and walk it from the nap room to the storage closet. Then she went back and helped her partner (who was a little older and held her hand and reminded her where to go) carry hers. They get these kids to do amazing things. More things than I will be able to witness, since they can’t record every event or give me a play-by-play of the entire day. I don’t know when my child would have given up bottles, used a sippy cup, put her own coat and shoes on, sang (and danced) the hokey-pokey, the itsy-bitsy-spider, ring-around-the-rosie, counted to thirty, sang the ABC’s, recognized shapes, been able to safely climb up and down stairs, use a fork to feed herself, learn the days of the week, et cetera, if daycare hadn’t taught her. Yes, she would have learned it all, eventually, but she has certainly learned that she can do things independently at a much earlier age than I would have thought possible.
I have vivid memories of Mr. Grouch, in his college apartment, during muggy summer months. I can picture him, stripped down to his whitie tighties, sprawled across his twin bed, with the oscillating fan one centimeter from his toes, the soggy air leaving him too lethargic to move. A sexy, sweaty, beast. The two of us are different in so many ways but in this way we are oh so much the same. Wait, not in the sweaty beast way. Well, actually, yes, in the sweaty beast kind of way. What I mean is, neither one of our bodies can adequately handle the oppressive heat of July, August, September. Our air conditioning runs on high all summer long and we keep our home chilled enough to be able to walk around the house in jeans and hoodies. We do not like to be sweaty beasts.
So, when Baby Grouch was born, in the fierceness that is August, as ridiculous as it seems, we felt the need to put a little heater in her bedroom. You turn on the heater, and then set it to the appropriate temperature, which, in our case, was around 71 degrees, and it has it’s own internal thermostat. At the time of this episode, Baby Grouch was a couple of months old and was sleeping 3-4 hours at a stretch.
The first night she slept for 6 hours, I woke up, in a panic. I got that surge of adrenaline that I had become so accustomed to, every time she woke me with her squeaks and squawks, but this time it was because she was quiet.
IS SHE OKAY?
Shrouded with the fear of sudden infant death syndrome, I hurried to her room, and opened the door and a wave of heat hit me in the face.
Then the REAL panic started.
OMG OMG OMG IT’S TOO HOT OMG OMG OMG I COOKED MY BABY OMG OMG GREATER RISK FOR SIDS WHEN IT’S TOO HOT OMG OMG I COOKED MY BABY “HUN! GET UP! THE BABY’S TOO HOT. TOOO HOOOOTTT!”
I was screaming and yelling and flipped on all the lights; I opened the windows and took Baby Grouch from her crib and removed her from the sweltering room and laid her in the hallway all the while still yelling panicked nonsense at my husband. I unswaddled her and took her teeny tiny body out of the sack. My heart was pounding out of my ears. Just because she feels warm right now, doesn’t mean she’s okay.
She opened her eyes.
OMG OMG OMG “SHE’S OKAY! SHE’S OKAY!” I’m still screaming. Out loud, not just in my head.
This all happened within a matter of seconds and Mr. Grouch wasn’t even out of bed yet. Er…he may or may not have been laying in bed, watching me silently while giving me the, you’re-such-a-freaking-crazy-hormonal-wife-I-don’t-even-know-what-to-do-with-you-right-now look. He said calmly, “I think you forgot to set the thermostat on the heater”. Indeed, I did. It was over 80 degrees in that bedroom (probably 20 degrees warmer than the rest of the house) and for weeks I was sick about it.
Looking back, I think about that college apartment in the summer and how we didn’t have central air. I realize that many people, in summer months, allow their houses to reach heinously high temperatures (and some even enjoy it. What??). Some of them probably even have babies that sleep there with them, that are okay.
What panicky sleep stories do you have of your newborn?
So, I’m trying to get back into shape. Pre-baby shape. Which I’m quite sure is a fairy tale notion. My core is a disaster. My pelvis is broken. (Full disclosure: It’s really NOT. It’s just offset enough to FEEL like it’s broken and there’s nothing that can be done except steroid injections, which I haven’t yet tried, but am quite sure I will have to if the pain gets any worse. Inhale. Exhale. Complaining completed.
But, I figure I should do what I can before Baby Number 2 starts cooking, if we are to be so lucky, because if things are this bad NOW, I can only imagine how I might feel after 9 additional months of swelling and enlarging and hormoning.
So, I decided to get off my ass and go jogging. In the heat of May. Something I don’t typically do because I overheat in anything above 55 degrees. My running season is October to April. My aerobic activity of choice is running outside, whilst catching snowflakes in my eyelashes. Once it hits 50 degrees, I’m stripped down to a t-shirt by mile 4. But, I figured I just ran a marathon 3 weeks ago, I should be able to go for a short, 6 mile trot.
Of course, I had the baby with me. “No problem, I have a stroller/jogger! I’ll just bring her!” I thought this was a grand idea until I started to panic about the following:
The baby is going to overheat! I was ROASTING. Granted, I always overheat when I run, but mid-way through I started to panic that Baby Grouch would combust. How much do babies sweat? How much of a breeze was she getting? How hot IS IT out here? How long does baby sunscreen last? When you run you usually feel about 20 degrees hotter, right?! It’s not really as hot as I FEEL, right?!!! I started sprinkling her with ice water out of her sippy cup.
The baby is going to get Malaria! There were approximately 83 billion mosquitos out. I don’t want my child to get infected with Malaria or West Nile or Yellow Fever. I had to walk a few times and dump water on my head and gasp for breath, and each time I panicked because the mosquitoes were swarming my child. I flailed my arms and batted away. An ungraceful, maternal, totemic dance.
The baby is going to get fussy! I started to panic about mile 2.5. How on Earth did I think a LOOP made sense? There was no shortcut home. I’m dying of heat exhaustion and this run is going to take me for-ev-er! Of course at this point, Baby Grouch was sleeping. But, still. What is she woke up screaming? Around mile 4.5 she DID start throwing her hat/toy/burp cloth out the edge of the stroller. I ran over her doll once. At one point I was jogging while holding all three items in my hands. NO TIME TO STOP.
The baby is going to get sunburned! Her arms are showing! She keeps pulling off her hat – her head is showing! The canopy isn’t QUITE long enough – her face might get burnt! The canopy is too long – I can’t see the baby! The baby needs to be covered with a blanket to protect her from the Sun! The baby is overheating, I need to take the blanket off! I figure all the bending over and rearranging, though panic-driven, was probably good core work.
The Baby Is Going to Get Hungry/Thirsty! I was worried about overheating so I offered Baby Grouch the sippy cup with water once every mile or so. This may or may not have been a good idea, seeing as she puked up water and strained squash out her nose about 14 minutes after we got home. My eyes burned as sweat poured into them while giving her a bath, and were still doing so while I cleaned the carpet.
OMG, Running is SO HARD. I hadn’t ran in 3 weeks, and I could feel it. My legs felt great, but my head felt fuzzy and lightheaded and horrible. My face was abraisive to the touch, gritty with salt. I tried to just focus on my legs. I had thoughts like, “Once you stop running, you have to start completely over again” and, “What the hell was I thinking?” and “I’m so not cut out for running”. And, “You can’t stop running because you have the BABY”. Also, I got a blister on my hand, which was a first for me, as far as running injuries go.
I hope I don’t see anyone I know! The temperature outside was ovenlike. I had to take off my shirt, despite the jiggly pouch. And the early 90’s tribal tattoos on my back. I had to roll my capris into bootie shorts, despite the expansive thighs. You know how you look at someone and McJudgingly think, “Why are they wearing THAT?” This was exactly what people were thinking of ME as I was undulating down the sidewalk, pushing the stroller. I crossed my fingers and hoped I didn’t see any students or parents I knew, but I took the risk because if I didn’t cool my chubby body off enough to keep moving, my child my overheat and get Dangue Fever and starve to death.
Ever had a jaunt with baby that scared you to pieces?