One of my least favorite things about holiday travel is having to take the car seats with us when we fly. Hauling them through the airport is the pits, but reinstalling them on the other side is, I think, best described by Dante in his little-known account of the tenth ring of Hell, in which a smug parent is doomed for eternity to fruitlessly search for the LATCH clip in the cramped backseat of a four-door sedan while contorted such that her spleen is now touching the backs of her front teeth. And it’s snowing outside and her butt is getting cold.
I think we can all agree that the physical installation of car seats is terrible all around, but perhaps the worst part for me was that even when it was all over and done with, I was always left with the sinking feeling that I might not have done it correctly. Did I manage to somehow attach the seat to the car using some clips and straps? Sure. But did I use the correct clips and straps, and did I use them in the right way? Who knows. And here the not knowing was even worse than the doing.
Cue the experts, who not only perform the physical labor of car seat installation with smiles on their faces and at no cost to you but who also recently showed me how to do it all myself, so now I can clip my kids into cars with confidence and know I’ve done my very best to keep them safe.
Nothing ruffles a parent’s feathers quite like a well-meaning bystander pointing a finger and proclaiming UR DOIN IT WRONG. It’s hard not to puff up against criticism when we are, for all intents and purposes, trying our hardest to do what’s best for our children.
But to assume that we always know what’s best is to perhaps be too confident for our own good. You know your child best, yes, no argument there, but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Being open to the idea that there’s room to improve can mean raising your parenting bar and bettering your own personal best. Besting your best. Being the best you can be. And when that happens, everyone benefits.
A year or two ago an online acquaintance commented on a photo of one of my kids in his car seat, politely informing me that his chest clip was way too low and should be lined up with his armpits [instead of the unprotected internal organs that would get mashed like boiled red potatoes in the event of a crash]. She was super kind and respectful and did not go so far as to relay any graphic potato-related imagery, but I was nonetheless appropriately embarrassed and horrified, and from that moment on I became ever vigilant about properly restraining my boys within their car seats. I knew about the pinch test and proper strap-to-shoulder height and how much to freak out when two-year-old Fox started unclipping himself as we merrily rolled down the freeway at 65 mph (i.e., a lot; much freakout, very panic). I thought I was doing my job. I thought I was on top of things. I may have awarded myself a virtual trophy for Outstanding Achievement in Car Seat Strapping-Inning. I at least knew I was doing the best I knew how. But…I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
As it turns out, there’s more to car seats than simply containing your kid so he can’t get out (although that’s certainly a handy feature).
This post is sponsored by AAA and was written in support of its 10th annual Child Car Seat Safety program, as well as National Child Passenger Safety Week, aka Now’s a Good Time to Check Out Your Car Seat for Proper Installation and Use Because UR [Probably] DOIN IT WRONG.
Keeping your kids safely in the seat is only half of the equation; the other half is keeping their seat safely in the vehicle.
Confession: I never really bothered to learn proper car seat installation because I’d shoved that into the Husband Job column along with things like cooking food over fire and handling substances of unknown origin. And even if I had read up on my car seats when we’d first bought them, we’re at the point at which I’d switched over to auto-pilot, just assuming everything was as ship-shape as it had been on Day 1, even though my kids hadn’t borne physical resemblance to their Day 1 selves for eons. Go figure I’d have to do things differently when my newborn babies are suddenly 51 and 36 inches tall and weigh much more than 7 lbs (which I know for sure because the car seat techs at AAA put them on a scale to make sure they were in the right car seats for their sizes).
A few weeks ago I was invited to a free one-on-one car seat check with AAA Northern California, who will inspect your car seats for free too, and you should definitely, definitely, definitely take them up on that. (If you’re in Northern California, Nevada, or Utah, find your car seat inspection location here. If you’re somewhere else, use this link to search for AAA resources in your area.)
I went to the event assuming they’d give me a little pointer or two–raise Wombat’s strap height a few inches to accommodate his recent growth spurt and maybe suggest I consider washing my car more than once a year?–and then send me off with a hearty high-five for having kept Fox rear-facing past his third birthday and give me my trophy for Outstanding Achievement in Chest Clip Positioning. Instead, I came away from the event with a list of important safety tips about things I’d never even been aware of.
Note to self: It’s hard to win trophies in categories you don’t even know exist.
In a follow-up post I’ll brain-dump all the important info I learned that day, but right now, here at the start of National Child Passenger Safety Week and the kickoff of AAA’s 10th annual Child Car Seat Safety program, I want to encourage every one of you who drive with children to get an appointment for a car seat check by a professional. While my list of tips may be helpful on a general basis, it will be based on my particular combination of car seats, car, and kids, so it’s not enough to just read what I write (or what anyone else writes) and apply it to your own situation. Go to AAA, let them give you a personal assessment, and leave feeling confident that you’re doing your best for your children.
The techs I worked with were friendly and non-judgey and full of expert information. They not only checked my seats but showed me how to properly install and fit and use them myself. “If you work up a sweat when you do it,” one of the ladies told me, “you know you’re doing it right.” That alone made me feel less like the colossal doofus I’d felt whenever I’d tried to install the seats myself before.
(I did, however, feel like a colossal doofus when asked to talk on camera, but that’s neither here nor there.)
When I was approached for this campaign, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Car accidents are the number one cause of death for children in the United States, and three out of four car seats are installed improperly. This is important. This is not about trophies or gold stars, it’s about knowing better so you can do better.
Thanks, AAA, for helping me be a better parent.
(Here seems like a good place to mention that this year AAA Northern California is expanding its impact beyond car seat safety inspections and education and donating 2,200 new car seats to families in need, and making sure they’re being installed and used properly. Yes. Yes yes yes. All kids deserve the best.)
All photos courtesy of AAA and Ian Chin Photography.
Captain Obvious here with some life-changing news! Did you know you could pay someone money to feed your kids dinner and put them to bed while you, yourself, are not even on the premises? While your dear little ones are brushing their teeth and negotiating for an extra bedtime story (or three), you could be halfway across town eating organic beet and farro salad with shaved Parmigiano and enjoying the dulcet tones of no one whining directly into your ear holes. I’ll drink to that.
When I heard about the Clever Girls campaign with UrbanSitter, I pitched myself as the mother of two kids who had never (NEV-ERRR), in six and a half years, hired a stranger to watch my children in my own home. I can’t say whether they felt sorry for me or just wanted to test out their system on a complete newbie, but whichever it was, I’m glad I got the chance to see how the other half lives (or, rather, the other 95 percent) because it was GLORIOUS.
Since I’m guessing most of you are familiar with the concept of *air quotes* babysitting in general, I’ll focus on how UrbanSitter made it super-easy and low-stress, even for a first-timer like me.
The feature I love most is being able to do absolutely everything online. I reviewed profiles, booked the job, communicated with my sitter, and even paid her through my UrbanSitter account. If you’re the type who needs to do face-to-face research, or at least chat on the phone with a prospective child care provider, that’s definitely an option, but for me the digital-everything aspect was downright revelatory. Doing things on my phone without actually having to talk on the phone is my favorite.
The second best thing was that having access to however many dozens or hundreds (or thousands?) of sitters (vetted sitters) meant it wasn’t impossible to find someone on 36-hour’s notice. For a Saturday-night job, I took twenty minutes out of my Friday afternoon to look at a handful of profiles and then sent out one booking request. As soon as I clicked “send,” I got a popup that suggested for a short-notice job like mine was, I might have better luck posting on the job board, and after I did that—it made the basic details of the job visible to all sitters in my area—I was sent email links to the profiles of everyone who was interested and available. Each profile includes personal details, experience/certifications, and rates (everyone’s is different), and it also featured—the most helpful bit for me—a video message. If, in choosing a babysitter, you list “overall vibe” right up there with “clean background check,” the video message is key to finding your perfect match, whether you’re looking for a Kristy, Stacy, Dawn, Mary Anne, Claudia, Jessie, or Mallory. (I haven’t delved deep enough to know if there are any Logans.)
With one click, I chose someone who was about my age, who lives five minutes away (I loved “Hey, we’re neighbors” aspect), and who came across as a smart, competent, nice person my kids would dig. Wombat had veto power, and our sitter, Carolyn, passed his very discerning “must have kind eyes” test, so we were all set. She showed up on time, gave off the just-right vibe we’d hoped for, and immediately got down on the floor with the kids to play.
Depending on your level of neurosis about this sort of thing, you can conduct more in-depth interviews with specific people (I didn’t) and/or connect your account to Facebook (I did) and/or even load your profile with info about your kids’ schools and activities so you can see which sitters have been used by other parents in your community (I will). You can see how many repeat families a sitter has, and you can find a sitter for a full range of needs, from straight-up occasional in-home babysitters to long-term nanny types you can hire to drive your kids around or take them to the park or help you with errands or whatever. (Would it be weird to book someone for an hour to bathe my kids while I go read a book?) You can also rate sitters you’ve used, and of course look at the ratings others have left; if you’ve ever wanted to Yelp a person, here’s your chance.
We had such a good experience, I hope you don’t count on criticism for proof that a reviewer wasn’t paid to say only positive things because (1) I would never sign up for something like that and (2) I have nothing negative to say about our UrbanSitter experience, and that’s the whole truth. We left our kids without a worry, and when we came home, the toys were picked up and put away, the dinner dishes were washed, and the house was calm and quiet, which is more than I can say for the state of things when Simon and I are in charge of the homestead. The kids gave us an enthusiastic report the next morning and asked when Carolyn was coming back. We all hope she liked us as much as we liked her.
Thanks, UrbanSitter and Clever Girls Collective, for getting us out of the house but also bringing us together–the two of us but also the five of us.
To get a free month of membership to UrbanSitter in your area, use code FORFREETRIAL. You won’t be disappointed.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls. The content and opinions expressed here are all my own.