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.
Today was Wombat’s first day of first grade (FIRST GRADE), and we’ve done so much all-caps-excited talking about it for weeks on end that I was completely caught off guard last night by the sudden sneaker wave of sadness that almost knocked me off my feet as I stood staring off into the proverbial horizon of the school year. I was surprised because I’m not really sad about it at all, I swear. First grade will be awesome and he’s so ready to have the company of his friends and to get back into the routine of his classes, and I’m so ready to get back into the routine of working alone and taking trips to the grocery store that don’t feel like hostage negotiations because I’ve got one or more children terrorizing my trek through the canned goods. It’s time.
Maybe it’s just that we had too much fun right there at the end of summer. I was supposed to take all of August off work and have Wombat home with me every day for three weeks of Crazy Awesome Funtime Summer Extravaganza, but then a few projects slid into that space and he ended up spending a lot of time reading in the corner (which was mostly fine by him, thank you very much) while I worked at breakneck pace for the reward of getting my ass handed to me in Monopoly Jr. before it was time to pick up Fox from daycare. Aside from the weekend we went camping, it wasn’t until last week that I was able to wrap up worky things or put them aside for a bit and diligently suck all the marrow from the few days we had left of summer proper. (How in the world that became an acceptable metaphor is beyond me. Gross, Thoreau. Gross.) So we went rock climbing and school shopping and swimming at a pool and swimming at the boys’ first water park and we spent the day at the science museum and washed my car and built a trebuchet and read a million books and ate hot tomatoes from the backyard garden when little brother wasn’t around. When I realized last night that I was losing my crazy awesome funtime summer buddy, I guess I just got a little bummed that it was over, that he was off to a grand new adventure, leaving me behind.
Orrrrrr maybe I’m just sad that I can’t sleep in anymore.
When we were at the California Academy of Sciences on Monday, we saw the planetarium show about Earth’s place in the universe, as illustrated by a simulation of a camera zooming out from the building we were sitting in, going up through the roof, into space, and then out as far as something like 900 million light years away, from which vantage point we were treated to an illustration of how many thousands of galaxies exist, each with however many star systems and however many planets (dozens? hundreds? kajillion billions?) and all the boggling potential those places, those homes(?) could contain. Before the show started, the docent suggested that the back two rows be used for people who might need to make a hasty exit, whether because they were with a small child or were prone to motion sickness or, say, “existential horror.” Existential horror! It seemed like such a funny phrase I figured he was probably joking, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced it’s an actual clinical term for the feeling certain people get when confronted with the vastness of outer space or the infinitude of time, or even the finiteness of time within that infinitude, and probably also the panicked sensation of smallness that wells up when certain people look out to sea, or out into the future.
Last night, Simon turned to me as we were falling asleep and thanked me for “producing such a great first-grader” with him. “It’s weird,” I said, as our entire relationship flashed before my eyes. “It’s just so weird.”
Not missing a beat, he hit me with this certain truth: “It’s only going to get weirder.”
The rightness of that is surely adding to my surprise sadness over sending my firstborn off to his first day of first grade. The first day is special (in a way that the second day and twelfth day and fifty-first day are not) because it marks the beginning of what’s to come, and once it’s started, there’s no way of stopping it. If you can somehow postpone the first day, you should technically be able to stave off everything after, right? The first day of first grade leads to all the other days of first grade, and then second grade follows, and third and fourth and fifth and then middle school and high school, and then it’s out of the house and onto a university campus, and, as a well-dressed pig once said, “That’s all, folks.” Even not compared to the approximately 13.8 billion years between today and the Big Bang (and what was there before that?! *silent scream*), childhood goes way too fast, and it’s fair to say I’ll never ever ever catch up to its carefree clip through my personal timeline.
I’ve been told by more than one motivational poster that today is the first day of the rest of my life, but IMO that’s kind of dumb and obvious and, to tell the truth, doesn’t motivate me so much as simply make me feel guilty for not doing something more noteworthy with my limited time. (Listen, those episodes of ANTM aren’t going to watch themselves.) And yet there’s something about today–and maybe this will be true of every First Day of X Grade?–that feels like the beginning of everything else. It’s a Little Bang, a moment of chemical magic from which Wombat’s universe will expand ever outward.
So forgive me if today I act like I’ve just sent my six-year-old off to college. Or off into deep space. It’s not sadness, see, just a tiny bit of existential horror. And it might be contagious.
Long story short, last August my main source of work dropped the bomb that they wouldn’t have any projects for me for FIVE WHOLE MONTHS *Munch scream*, but it was exactly then that I started a contract position writing articles and listicles and advertorials for one of my very most favorite clients (I love you, CafeMom!) and thereby avoided the dire fate of–OITNB spoiler alert–having to sell my panties on the Internet to make a living. So it is that every week for the past year I churned out somewhere between a couple and a handful of original stories, which is a lot considering I have no formal background in journalism or marketing and I’m also the world’s slowest writer (it sometimes takes me a half hour to come up with a headline that passes modern SEO muster). This I was doing in addition to, starting in January, resuming steady work at my regular job as a book editor, which had not only revived but blossomed into an abundance of projects for an expanded group of clients (*angel choir*) due to my timely realization that networking is kinda sorta actually crucial for a freelancer and not something I could keep hand-tossing away as “oh, not really my thing.”
In the meantime–and here is where I’ve buried my point, despite having promised up there at the top that this would be the short version of a long story–one of the things that fell off my metaphorical cart and was subsequently crushed into bits by a stampede of wild wildebeests was my ability to write here about whatever the
heck fuck I wanted, using naughty words and everything. I’ve missed it, oh how I’ve missed it, and so, yes, this is my version of the standard “gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve blogged / will I even remember how to do it? / is anybody out there?” post, which, as is also standard, I’m using to ease myself back in to what I hope will become regular practice once again.
To catch up for the past year: Wombat sailed through kindergarten (Private School B), Fox survived the terrible twos, Simon is now a drummer in a band, and I…I cut my own bangs. Considering that my idea of living dangerously is peeling a hard-boiled egg directly over the trash can, this is not to be scoffed at.
We are doing well:
And how are you?