If your child is anything like mine was during his first year, simply going across town for the afternoon is a challenge. My son hated his stroller from the time he was 6 months old. He would wail to get out, and scream to be held. No toy bars, dangling items, pacifiers, or snacks helped to keep him happy in what he seemed to view as his little rolling prison. So I embarked on a mission to find helpful transportation products, ones that would give my weary arms (and ears) a break. Along the way, I became an expert on items that are useful for hauling a kid around New York City. Some of my favorite finds are described below:
From infant car seat to big-boy stroller For a long time, I thought we had lucked out. Until halfway through his first year, my son’s favorite spot was inside his infant car seat. I think he loved the snugness, and as a last resort, he even slept there peacefully through several difficult nights. This preference of his had a clear benefit — it made getting around convenient, thanks to the ease of fitting an infant car seat onto a stroller base. There are basically two options for a base: a fairly heavy carriage, such as the kind that comes with a travel system (including those made by Graco and Peg Perego), or a stripped down stroller frame (like the Snap’N’Go by Baby Trend or the Kolcraft version). Appreciating its simplicity, I bought the Snap’N’Go ($60). I also purchased an umbrella stroller (a Maclaren Vogue, $250) which we started using when my son outgrew his car seat (far too soon, because of his height). That is when the trouble started.
Front carriers and slings I began to take a baby carrier with us on all outings, as insurance against the mournful sobs of my stroller-bound son. There are two camps of infant carrier devotees: those who prefer a front harness carrier, and those who would rather use a sling. I think the harness carriers are more comfortable and easier to use, and my favorite is the Baby Bjorn ($80). Unfortunately, I lack shoulders of steel — when my son reached the 15-pound mark, I had to abandon the Bjorn. Sadly, my little boy still despised his stroller.
Hip carriers Enter the easy-to-use hip carrier. You hold the baby on your hip as you naturally would, supported by a sling and two straps — one that goes around your waist and the other over your shoulder. This leaves your hands free and distributes about half the weight to your hips. It is much more comfortable than a front carrier for a heavy baby. A hip carrier is easiest to use once a child is able to sit up, but can be used earlier if some arm support is provided by the adult. Most types can be rolled into a small pouch and thrown into a diaper bag or stroller basket. For some unknown reason, these wonderful products are not offered in Manhattan stores. One Step Ahead (www.onestepahead.com) has an inexpensive but sturdy model called the Ultra EZ Baby Carrier ($25), and you can also find various other versions (Sara’s Ride, Hip-Hammock, Cuddle Karrier) for sale over the Internet.
Backpacks A backpack is another option for a restless child, especially since most kids enjoy the view from on high. A frame carrier can be used once a child is able to sit up, and on through toddlerhood — if your back can handle it. They range from basic varieties (such as Instep or Evenflo models, $30-$70) to more complicated versions that have better weight distribution. Kelty makes many good high-end carriers that are popular with city parents, but in my opinion they are too unwieldy. I prefer Evenflo’s Trailblazer ($100). It is light and comfortable and has many valuable features (such as shoulder strap adjusters, a chest strap, a padded waist belt, and a sun/rain hood). Note that backpacks are very personal items. Before you buy, try on many different types. I recommend browsing without your child first to narrow the options. Instead of an agitated baby, take a few heavy books with you to place inside the packs, to provide a sense of weight distribution.
Stroller/backpack combinations While I really liked the Trailblazer, I decided to purchase a stroller/backpack combination instead. With one quick motion, these packs convert to strollers — the wheels are built-in. The backpack option makes using stairs a breeze. When I get tired, the stroller is a wonderful alternative that my son actually enjoys for reasonable stretches of time, probably because the seat is farther from the ground and more upright than most strollers. However, he does have difficulty sleeping. Both Kelty and Instep make worthy versions. Even thought the Kelty ($150) seems more robust and is easier to convert, I purchased the Instep ($60). It is slimmer, lighter, and less expensive. It is not as comfortable as the Trailblazer backpack, but with the stroller option, it does not need to be.
Sit ’n’ Stroll car seat/stroller Another problem with using the umbrella stroller for outings, other than my son’s obvious desire not to be in it, was that taking taxis was no longer an acceptable choice. While many people carry children in cabs without using child restraints, I prefer to play it safe. Once my son outgrew his infant car seat, I purchased the Sit ’n’ Stroll. This is a brilliant item for city life, a toddler restraint that converts to a stroller. The child never has to come out of the seat — just push down on a lever to reveal a set of wheels. In stroller mode, my son tolerates it about as well as he does the Maclaren Vogue. Not only does the Sit ’n’ Stroll admirably perform its primary functions, it can also be used as a comfortable booster seat in restaurants. My son has even fallen asleep in it after a meal, leaving me free to converse with friends. This product also makes air travel much easier, fitting neatly into most airline seats. The Sit ‘n’ Stroll is not perfect, but it is unique. One problem is the straps — they are somewhat difficult to adjust, and a tall child will probably outgrow them before the seat’s weight limit is reached. Nevertheless, I love it. It sells for $200 at many stores. Extras A few add-ons can produce a much more enjoyable all-day outing. High on the list is an attachable stroller blanket such as the Toastie Toddler coverall ($100), which makes it easy to keep a child warm. Jeanette Benway's Cozy Rosie ($50-$56) is a Polarfleece stroller blanket that attaches to any size stroller (including jogging and doubles) with Velcro fasteners, so unlike ordinary blankets it can't fall off or become entangled in the stroller wheels (www.cozyrosie.com). Just as important on bright days is a good sunshade. The Pepeny shadecover ($40) ties onto strollers in many configurations and folds up nicely into a tiny pouch. Also helpful are Robeez shoes ($22 per pair at www.robeez.com) — for those of you whose tots refuse to keep their socks on. These durable leather booties come in dozens of adorable patterns that children love — including puppies, kittens, cars, trucks, and flowers. They are excellent shoes for learning to walk since the flexible leather soles allow children’s feet to move freely. Adults can effortlessly put them on, but little wearers cannot easily remove them. For me, this has meant no more socks thrown into the middle of an intersection! Finally, for eating out, we often rely on the First Years On-the-Go Booster Seat ($20). It self-inflates to provide a stable seat with a secure three-point harness for a child who can sit up well. It straps tightly onto any chair and is remarkably portable, weighing less than 2 pounds and measuring less than 2 inches thick when deflated. If a high chair is unavailable, this will allow a much more pleasant dining experience than keeping your child in the stroller.
Resources In searching for the best products to fit your needs and tastes, I suggest doing your homework. There are Internet resources that allow customer feedback: www.babiesrus.com, www.babycenter.com, and www.epinions.com. You can read rants and raves from other parents about each product you are considering.
A toddler changes his tune If you are in the midst of the stroller blues, take heart. They do get better. My son, now 18 months old, has finally outgrown them. Nevertheless, we still use many of the products I purchased; as they make traveling much easier. And, if we are lucky enough to have another child, I will be prepared. Of course, then I will have to look into double strollers!