Understanding the Confusing World of Baby Car Seats (A beginners guide for the pregnant and overwhelmed.)

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You are having your first baby.   You have a car.  You like your car. You just ventured into the world of car seats, and are terrified and overwhelmed.  You’re in the right place.

Of all pre-baby decisions, the car seat one was overwhelming and I hated it!  I came into my 1st pregnancy clueless (and pretty uninterested in everything because I was dealing with other big events in my life) and my brain imploded when I got to brands of car seats and understanding whether the car I had just bought would even fit children in it.

My goal here is to ease some of your fears and start with the absolute basics in human speak, then, once your anxiety is back at a normal level and you are ready to move on armed with the basic knowledge, you may google yourself to your hearts’ content.

 

I also want to advise you right now, if this is your first, sign up for the pregnant chicken newsletter, (CANADIAN TOO!) you will receive advice oriented newsletters PERFECTLY TIMED throughout your pregnancy and she has just such a great way of demystifying, normalizing and explaining everything from your body, to the overwhelming process of buying baby gear, creating a registry and getting a stroller.  She also has a great sense of humour!  My mum died in the middle of my pregnancy so her advice was amazing for me.  (I know, morbid and blunt but that’s what it was!)

Then, you won’t find yourself crying at the base of a mountain of car seats, stammering out the following “I just want to fucking drive from A to B with a kid in the back! THAT IS ALL!”   To this day I haven’t gone back into the same store.

Okay? Let’s go. Let’s start with the baaaasic beginner stuff.

First car seat you get is what is called an infant/baby rear facing car seat, often referred to as a bucket seat by your friends.

According to transport Canada, this is Stage 1.  They have a handy diagram.

 

Tadaaaa!  This is what those bad boys are.   There’s two pieces to a car seat.

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The base, which plugs into your car seats.

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And the seat itself, which you unplug from the base and carry around with you.  Do not let the stock photo deceive you.  The baby will not be this chill.

Baby Girl Toddler in Car Seat

The car seat weighs about 10lb give or take a few pounds.  You can customize car seats A TON.  Some brands are smaller, some bigger.  Some narrower, some wider.  Some lighter, some heavier.  You can get lost in the googling and details.  Go for a mainstream brand so that when you get a stroller and all the other crap  baby gear, you won’t have issues with compatibility.  Chicco or Gracco are mainstream.

When you buy a stroller, there is usually one extra attachment (usually called an “adapter” – so just google the brands of your car seat, stroller and the word “adapter” together in one search) you can buy for whatever brand infant seat you have, that allows you to attach the car seat to the stroller.

 

For example, I have a Bob Stroller.  If I wanted to attach the car seat to it, I need that silver metal bar there, which is about $60 and is called a chicco bob stroller adapter.

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Another consideration is your car.  In all honesty, you will be fine with a 4 door car and a car seat! You’ll receive pressure (or good natured jesting) to upsize to a minivan or suv.

I spent SO MUCH TIME stressing, looking through male car forums for advice on what car seat brands would fit my sports car.  Really, the difference between brands comes down to centimetres.  However, if you have unique needs like a really small / compact car, just do some googling, the car seat lady for example has some great links, as you can see in the image below.  My favourite overall comparison of different brands of car seats is here at Car Seats for the Littles – this is a great review.  

Consumer Reports also has a great “terms to learn” part that will help you survive reading the instruction manual and thinking wtf is the latch?  Where is the recline indicator?  WHAAAAT?  Go here and flip through the terms to learn slideshow in part 3.    There is also a good car seat buying guide here, but honest, the more information you gather, the more confusing it will get.

It’s kind of like buying a wedding dress.  the more you research, and the more you try on, the more confusing and stressful the process becomes.

Pick 3 brands max, look at the specs and ease of use, weight and size, make a decision, and stick with it. 

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When you put the baby in the first few times, it’s terrifying.  They are so mad at you if they are not sleeping, and expect a protest. Though newborn protests are pretty cute 🙂 And if you feel like a novice putting babykins in there the first time, don’t worry, you’ll see your  partner experiencing the same novice feeling when they drive you all home for the first time at about 20km under the legal speed limit. It’s very sweet.

Installing the car seat is worth just enjoying, grab a tea or coffee and prepare to get up in that shit (or ask your partner.)  THANK GOD FOR GOOGLE because it’s the only way I could figure it out.  But my mind was still blown by how tight and secure my friend (certified car seat specialist) managed to get those seats in there, so it’s worth double checking your handiwork with someone.

Installing a car seat base using the LATCH system (lower anchors in your car seat) most cars have them these days and it’s very easy!

 

Installing an infant car seat base with the shoulder / lap belt.

An accessory I would not go without is a car seat canopy, car seat cover, whatever, there’s a gazillion names for them, but they look like this, and they’re great for napping babies and preventing the winter chill from getting in.

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In case you are wondering wtf minky lining is, it’s not a cute small furry creature, it’s a soft fabric that is popular with baby goods.  It has an absurd name, much like many baby goods.  Welcome to the world of goo goo, poo poo, goochy woo stuff.

 

JJ Cole has great winter (read Canadian) baby car seat covers that are very warm and protect from the elements (and make you feel a bit jealous of your own kid.)

*Just ignore the happy mom / baby / car seat photo.  Lies all lies.

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You buckle your feisty little creatures in with a five point harness.  I started off clueless, so I wound up using the car seat lady website which has good links like this one on buckling up a baby safely  which was surprising to me, because you pull those suckers (straps) tight!  You bet that went down really well with a feisty baby.

If you are still overwhelmed, just remember, it’s 2016 and we’ve come a looooooooong way from the car seats you rode in, in 1985.  For perspective, please peruse this fascinating perhaps slightly disturbing, history of the car seat, courtesy of good house keeping magazine.

 

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You, in your car seat, in 1985.

 

What to do with a Baby and a Toddler in Calgary (in the winter) – Activities for families in Calgary

A great list of 30 unique ideas for families with young children visiting Calgary during the winter – baby and toddler-friendly.

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What authority do I have?  Well, I’m the mother of a 3 year old and a 1.5 year old.  We’re all pretty active and go stir crazy inside, though I confess – I DO like my crafternoons by the fireplace as well!  All of these activities are tried, tested and true with my family.  We’re still learning a ton, especially about layering in winter.  Neither of us parents grew up with particularly outdoorsy families, and our skills in any winter activity are

All of these activities are tried, tested and true with my family.  If you want me to blog further or do a “field report”  on any of the experiences below, please leave a comment! We’re still learning a ton, especially about layering in winter.  Neither of us parents (Carina and Trevor) grew up with particularly outdoorsy families, and our skills / knowledge in any winter activity are pretty low.  But we have the right attitude and I think that’s all that matters!

XC skiing, skating, even toboganning.  Our skills are down there with our 3 year old – but that’s the joy!  We are experiencing all of this together and designing the family that we want to be.  

This is a good chance to comment on a sentence that stood out from a book I am reading, Tools of Titans (highlight recommended btw.) In one part of this book, there is a discussion on discovering who you are, versus creating who you are.

You don’t just go on living life and all of a sudden “discover” that you are a certain type of family or a certain type of parent.  It’s about designing and creating it, so that one day you “discover” you are precisely that.

And you know what?  This list of ideas all started with a pinterest board I started in 2010 that I titled “My Ideal Life” and in it, was an active, adventurous family.  I liked the idea.  Even though I hadn’t a clue whether I wanted kids, or how to do half of the activities on the board.  🙂

The biggest piece of advice I’d offer, especially with the outdoors activity stuff, is go into it with zero expectations.  Your kids may love it, or they may melt down 10 minutes in, and you find yourself driving 40 minutes back home, debating whether or not to surrender and just give them the damn iphone in the back seat to gain a moment of peace.  You may spend 20 minutes getting them into a snowsuit and then they announce they have to pee.  You may get to a hike and realize their snowboots are all of a sudden 2 sizes small, let alone impossible to get on when they do fit.  Been there, done all of that in the last two weeks.

The key is not to let expectations prevent you from doing things.  Because if there’s one thing we know as parents, our kids will also surprise us. One snow shoe could be terrible and leaving us questioning “why bother?”  Actually no, it’s more like “F*** why did we do this!” Yet, the following week, we have a magical time and our 3-year-old surprises us with her endurance and fortitude!

As you read every family blog where it seems they are out in these amazing winter adventures in and around Calgary, remember that there was a meltdown or two in there, and what seems like a day out, was probably just a short trip.  But regardless, they still did something epic and we still find ourselves looking at their instagram or facebook feed with admiration and a secret longing to design our lives more intentionally.

THAT is the goal of this post, to encourage you to stop liking others’ instagram posts and start creating your own – to embrace the beauty that is winter (sorry, I write this with ALL of the enthusiasm of a kid that didn’t grow up around snow and is still, to this day at 34, mesmerized by it.)   Design the type of life where you don’t have a ton of time to spend on Instagram liking other people’s photos and feeds, because you’re too busy creating your own adventures!

Alright, off of that soap box.  What is the point of today’s post?

I was asked by a work colleague for a list of ideas for a family visiting Calgary in January (deep winter!)  There are SO many on the internet and most of them are copied from the same few sources, so I tried to add some really unique ideas to this post, and went back through my own journals of what we’ve gotten up to in winter.   I will confess, my list does have a bit of an outdoor activity focus (assuming it’s above -15c, my threshold for enjoying winter with small children.)  I also believe that outdoor time buys you EXCELLENT NAPS AND APPETITES (read: you time!) so it’s a win-win situation. 

I hope this will give you some creative indoor and outdoor activity ideas when you are in Calgary with a baby and small toddler, as well as some fantastic bloggers to follow and websites to use as a resource.

Stay warm and have fun!

 

1.) Telus spark has an incredible section for young children, The Creative Kids Museum – with admission you have access to the main science centre (and) the childrens’ area.

2.)  Try out the lunchtime mom + baby yoga offered at the Holistic Institute of Health and Fertility in the south (Deer Run.)  Then, pop next door to the Cornerstone Cafe for the most amazing cafe food you’ll ever try (I love the vegetarian wrap.)

3.) Also in the same neighbourhood is a drop in yoga program, for both parents and toddlers OR toddlers unattended!  www.yogabears.ca – fish creek is also within a 5 minute drive, with Annie’s Cafe, and the Ice Caves (see list.)

4.)  Go west (1 hour) to Grotto Pond & Grotto Canyon on Highway 1A – this is a favourite destination of ours, because our children tend to tap out in the car before we get to Canmore (1 hour 20 min.)

Grotto Canyon and Pond are just a few minutes after Exshaw on Highway 1A.  YOu can take Highway 1 west most of the way until the 1X turnoff to Exshaw before Lac Des Arcs. Trail Peak Guide to Grotto Canyon

 

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Skating with my 3 year old on grotto pond in December 2016!

 

Natural mountain lake skating at Grotto Pond (ice rink in centre, loop around outside)

Posts by Tanya Koob on Grotto Pond.for Grotto canyon which is do-able for young children – so if your toddler or baby meltsdown, you have a plan B activity right there ready to go! We bought out sled along and skated with the kids in the sled, and then on the hike, we had b aby in a backpack and toddler walking.

for Grotto canyon which is do-able for young children – so if your toddler or baby meltsdown, you have a plan B activity right there ready to go! We bought out sled along and skated with the kids in the sled, and then on the hike, we had b aby in a backpack and toddler walking.

5.) In Calgary, Bowness park / lagoon has amazing skating on the river and fire pits to warm up beside.A sweet cafe is nearby, and if you love alernative / health food stores, the Light Room in Bowness is worth visiting.  Post from Family Fun Canada.

6.) Delta Lodge at Kananaskis – Fantastic family friendly resort with an icerink outside of the hotel and a massive outdoor hot tub that kids love.  Right beside the ice rink is a rental place, with xc ski, snowshoe, walking and bike paths.  You can also rent chariots with winter attachments there for risk-free activities.  Great blog post.

7.) Calgary Zoo Lights – Until January 8th –  you can buy a day admission pass, go at 4pm and stay until the park closes and the zoolights switch on, or go later (after 5 and just pay for the zoolights portion)

8.) Nomad Gear Rentals bring the rental gear to you and fit your children!  Or if you want to stay in Calgary, use Nomad Gear Rentals to rent a variety of gear for yourself and the kids, and explore Fish Creek Park, especially the Ice water falls and caves near to Annie’s Café just off of Bow Bottom Trail.   We just used Nomad this past week to try our 3 year old out on xc skis for the first time and Andrel was lovely to work with.  Rates are competitive with other local rental shops!    Winter Rental List including skis, xc skis, fat bikes and snowshoes.

9.) To warm up, Calgary farmers’ market is a fantastic place to go with a playground area, and adults can enjoy coffee and eat food since the foodcourt is adjacent to the playground area. I highly recommend the spinach and leek gallette (gluten free) from the little fresh crepe place!  At the playground area you can access free fire truck and car-shaped strollers that fit either one or two kids!  Combine that with an ice cream or macaron and this is my secret to getting shopping done there!

 

10.) A beautiful forested part of fish creek is Bebo Grove (at the end of 24st SW) Reviews of Fish Creek Park and favourite spots on Yelp. 

11.) Toboganning at Confederation park or St. Andrews hill (near University of Calgary)  great blog post by Family Fun Canada (another great site to check out.)

12.) Grab hot drinks and drive by the spectacular Christmas lights at Spruce Meadows (deep south of city)  – on until January 8th.

13.) Indoor / outdoor winter crafts:  Winter Playdough sensory activity.  Make natural playdough, go outside and collect pine cones, pine needles, etc and bring them back and make pictures by pressing the items into the playdough and letting it dry.

14.) Go to Calgary Central Library (downtown) to visit a fire truck! there is a full sized firetruck in there (Engine 23) stacked with books. On Fridays they have readings for children by local firefighters.

15.) Also downtown:  Visit the lovely Devonian gardens on the upper floor of the core shopping centre, which also has a playground.

16.)  IMHO, the best wave pool is Southland leisure centre (great baby area and toddler slides) and you can pay for 1 hour. They also have drop-in times for the Kinder room, active play and tots for $5.20 per child.

17.) Snowshoe in west bragg creek with your family!  (baby in backpack, toddler in sled or kids’snowshoes you can rent)  – get a wrap and hot chocolate at cinnamon spoon.

 

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Snowshoeing on New Years Day in West Bragg Creek with our 1.5 and 3 year old! (we plan on getting her some snowshoes!) 

 

18.) Go for a walk and Make maple syrup taffy in the snow. Recipe here. 

19.)  Go to Plant in Inglewood and buy the jar of supplies to make your own terrarium – there is one they have for kids! Or you can pick your own plants, rocks, mini figurines (sweet little mushrooms and gnomes) for about $50 you’d get everything you need!  Great article on kids’ terrariums on CBC! 

20.) Fish Creek library has an incredible play area including a closed of area for babies, a stage with moving backdrops, costumes, reading forest and sensory toys for both toddlers and babies on the 2nd floor, it is worth a visit!  There seats for the adults to relax while the kids play!  It is across the parking lot from Southcentre mall.  The Calgary Public Library also has a rotating schedule of sing along, counting and stories  depending on which library in the city you go to.  http://events.calgarypubliclibrary.com/programs/online-registration

21.) If you would like to shop, Southcentre mall in the south has a beautiful mall & there is a prechool where adults can drop off their children while they shop:  http://greendoorschool.ca/  Or you can rent a police car or firetruck (one or two children capacity) with built-in smart screens to keep the kids entertained while you shop.  I recommend starting at Analog Coffee and also visiting Rocky Mountain soap company for amazing natural, toxin-free products produced locally in Canmore.  The lemongrass bubble bath and lavender bum / diaper spray  is a favourite in our household!

22.) Indoor Crafts: Put snow into a large tub, and have a “snow painting” activity, or pick up a snow painting kit from Canadian tire and go outside to create art (not the yellow snow kind!)

23.) Try out skiing or tubing at Canada Olympic Park, you can pay for certain amounts of time if you are not sure how your child will react to a.) skiing b.) cold.  The 2-hour preschool age package is $14.99, younger is free.  For equipment, 2 hour rentals for preschool age is $9.95. The foot pass is $9.99 for adults to use the magic carpet to get the little ones safely up the bunny hill if you’re daring enough to try skiing with them 🙂  Rentals are

The foot pass is $9.99 for adults to use the magic carpet to get the little ones safely up the bunny hill / assist them  if you’re daring enough to try skiing with them 🙂

If they tap out on the ski hill, there is the bobsled track nearby or indoor skating in the Winsport complex.

24.)  Buy some snow shovels for kids from the loonie store and some “pretend” gemstones  or other treasures, draw a treasure map, and bury them in the snow for the kids to find with a bucket. The little ones love dropping.  Search ” winter activities, toddler” on pinterest to get started with an insane list of ideas and create your own activities / inspo board.  Pinterest is amazing for parents. Here is my own Kids’ Activities Board on Pinterest.

25.) Pick up a free copy of calgary’s child magazine at most grocery stores or anywhere where free magazines are distributed http://www.calgaryschild.com/family-fun/1581-115-things-to-do-with-kids-in-and-around-calgary they have a great events listing and amazing lists of ideas for activities.

 

26.) Visit Gasoline Alley  at Heritage Park (especially if you have shiny car fans in your family) and the old tyme candy / toy stores in the central plaza, then lunch at the Selkirk grille.  Glenmore reservoir is also nearby, you can walk along the path there.

27.)  Grab lunch and watch planes take off from the YYC airport runway (there is a great viewing area at the end of the runway) – the Edward Laborde Airplane Watching Area 

28.)  If it is nice out, check out one of Calgary’s many great playgrounds, Calgary Playground review has an excellent list! 

29.)  Round up everybody and Go for Dim Sum – our favourite is the family friendly Central Grand Restaurant downtown in China town (kids will love the koi carp fish pond at the entrance where you can feed the fish.) Avenue magazine has a great article on dim sum op tions in Calgary and advice if you are new to the experience (and its delicious food) which is in a kid-friendly format of “little eats” and is bought to you via steaming bamboo pots on carts. Children can also choose their own desserts at the desert area.

30.)  Go to a loonie store, pick up little figurines (animals, etc.) and build a winter car race track (for the little guys) or a winter forest for the animals (get branches and stick them into the snow) – kids have fun scavenging for rocks, branches, etc.

Favourite Calgary bloggers or websites:

http://www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com/ Great outdoors activities ideas for families w/ young children and also reports on conditions from different areas.   Family adventures in the Canadian rockies is a facebook group worth joining with a great community happy to offer suggestions based on the area of the city you are in.

Calgary Playground Review http://calgaryplaygroundreview.com/ 

Great infographic on dressing babies for cold weather