A Review of Assorted Baby Products

  • Considering that my better half and i live in a tiny basement apartment in a city not known for large… anything, we were accustomed to living our lives with careful consideration of any objects brought into the house.  Readers who’ve known me a for a long time know that this is a substantial change from my impulse-buy bachelor days.  
  • Change, however, is a thing that’s said to happen when babies are involved, and suddenly we find ourselves host to all manner of new products, some we’ve sweated the purchase of, others we’ve clicked buy on and hoped for the best.  
  • Consider this an addendum to my corporate-friendly thoughts posted earlier.  Highlights and commentary on design choices follow*:
    • Ergobaby 360 Carrier: This replaced the other carrier below, and everything about its construction reflects well on its higher cost; the materials and features are excellent and well-considered.  That’s not, however, the same as saying i agree with their choices.  

      In particular, the lift-the-baby-then-secure-the-carrier method is uncomfortable at first, and maybe something that not everybody can even do.  Basically you lift the baby onto your chest, ideally leaning back a little while standing (it’s awkward while sitting), support them with one arm, don one strap, switch arms, do the other strap.  Then, let go of the baby (!) and reach to connect a buckle at your shoulder blades.  Now, the baby can’t go anywhere at that point—the straps can’t go back over your arms if they’re raised—but this is more of a high-wire act than i’d like, and beyond that simply lacks the convenience of front access.  It seems to me that it would be easy enough to design an accessible fastener that only releases when the weight of the payload is held by your hands.  

      Apart from that, for a $150 carrier, charging $20 extra for multiple locations of washable drool covers is a bit ridiculous.  Despite all that, it’s comfortable for both of us for long walks or subway rides or bouts of xmas shopping, and his legs are well-supported with a clever forward-swung sling portion of the carrier.  His considerable weight is distributed partially to the waist, which helps as well.
       
    • Infantino Carrier: We bought this almost on impulse at Target, because it was so inexpensive and it served us extremely well while he was little.  People with smaller babies probably would get longer use out of it.  Ultimately, worn front-facing, it provided inadequate support to his giant fat thighs as he reached the 15-20lb mark.  The four-buckles-for-him, two-for-me system was easy to put on, though, and we miss being able to be securely wearing the carrier before inserting the baby into a stable location.  The downside was (again as he got heavier), the weight was all on the shoulders, which required better posture than i have and meant it got uncomfortable after an hour.  
    • Munchkin Diaper Pail: This has a fun little gear mechanism that operates the sphinctering of the tubular diaper baggie. It sometimes skips due to too much torque on account of being too full, but in general, the sphincter twists shut very effectively, which means that our tiny bedroom with like, half a window, does not smell like diaper. It doesn’t consume consumables excessively, either.  Here is where i say ‘sphincter’ one more time for fun.  At work, i frequently describe mechanisms or concepts using this word, because it’s both funny and scatological and extremely descriptive.
    • Fisher-Price Jungle Gym: A hand-me-down, and a lifesaver of one.  We don’t have this version, and there are clearly a few out there, but there was a good two month period where he couldn’t help but burst out laughing every time those butterflies fluttered overhead. Moreover, it’s a solid framework upon which to hang whichever little toy he’s most into, as he’s progressed from staring at it to beating the crap out of it. It’s on its second use, and as he wrestles it and i trip over it, it is slowly losing some of its rigidity.
    • Thule Urban Glide 2.0 jogging stroller: This is our only stroller, which is a decision we are mostly good with, except when we find ourselves in a tiny store or café, or on an orange line car at too busy an hour (read: we really prefer to keep our stroller off the T).  Put another way, it’s deceptively huge.  It’s long, obviously, but the wheelbase sneaks up on you, and it’s the thing that snags, or runs over strangers’ toes.  Someday we’ll have a cheap smaller one for stuff like that.  

      Having said that, this thing is awesome.  It bounces cheerfully over the uneven brick and cobble sidewalks of the South End and up and over mismatched, nonexistent, or blocked curb cuts, without jostling the (probably sleeping) passenger, thanks to pretty nice, simple shock-absorbing and big, forgiving wheels.  It drives great while running, too, rolls extremely smoothly, but that’s not the same as it requiring no effort; up hills, and especially into Boston’s inescapable winter wind, it’s an additional burden.  Good.  

      The adapter for the (see next) car seat was simple and robust, and also led too short a life.  Now that he’s out of that, though, it’s a lot more fun for him, as he’s got more to see than just the sky (not that he doesn’t love the sky), although he’d probably still prefer it if the stroller had 10-15˚ more uprightness available.  The wind/rain cover is also excellent and means that we can go out on the coldest days with just the (amazing) LL Bean sleeping bag thing that my mom got him and don’t have to coax him into more garments.  

      The wheels come off easily to fit in our car, in addition to the nice folding mechanism (one quibble—the closure latch is just a cheap plastic hasp and tooth that is sometimes a wrestling match.  It seems to me a swinging, detented hook might be better on release.
    • Chicco KeyFit car seat: We got nearly five months out of it, and i’ll always remember it as the thing we brought him home from the hospital in.  He was straining against it almost from that day.   It was a matter of weeks before we were pulling out the inserts for newborns, he was confined and overheated through the hot, humid summer, and practically bursting out of it when we switched to the next car seat.  We used the snuggly winter cover thing exactly once.  It is, however, extremely robust and well-designed, and one of many things we feel extremely wasteful about for having used so little.  

      In general, infant car seats should be easier to carry one-handed (they probably are with lighter babies).  The handle needs to get closer to your body, and there needs to be a way to not be bouncing it off your knees as you walk down the block.  Perhaps i’d be willing to move the handle left or right and trade an addition of ballast for a more convenient center-of-mass.  In smaller cars like ours, some help in clicking the seat in, visual aids, detents/feel features would be nice.  It’s not hard, but sometimes, due to the long cramped reach with an extended heavy object, the insertion-and-click winds up being heavy and jarring for the dude.  
    • Graco 4-in-1 car-seat: He was content for 45 minutes in the old one, provided the car was moving steadily.  With this one, its maybe up to an hour. It’s definitely more comfortable for him to get in and out of, a lot less yelling.  This is a heavily, heavily upholstered thing that i haven’t spent enough time with yet to truly understand.  It is worth mentioning that it’s huge, and that it’s cost me a click of my seat in our Mini Countryman.  The buckles are a little chintzier than the Chicco one too, and get lost and twisted a bit more easily.
    • Qooc Food Processor: This is a relatively new addition, which is fun for me to play with, because someone clearly put some effort into the product design on it.  Especially noticeable is the big, blue, lightpiped, rubberized control knob.  It’s a good, simple UI feature, even if the ‘power’ glyph on the front is maybe not the right choice, given its function (left = steam on, right = blender momentary-on).  i’m more disappointed on their behalf that they almost got the light pipe right, but there’s some LED bleed out the side of the knob.  Bummer.

      The retention of the blade on the bottom of the pitcher is sufficient, but unconvincing—the nut holding it should have a light detent.  Other than that, they did a good job implementing proper food-processor-type safety interlocks with simple, inexpensive parts (i have some experience with this (whaat, it comes in purple now!)).  If it were me designing it, i might have put thru-hole drains in the bottom base under the pitcher for cleaning purposes, too. Chopped-up carrots, especially, are pernicious little bits of debris.  The material chosen for the included spatula discolored almost immediately against carrots.  This thing comes with a lot of parts, too.  It’d be nice to have some means of storing some of them.  Cribbing off our shop at work, i am organizing it (as well as our bottle+formula station) using cheap cafeteria trays.   
    • Baby Einstein Take-Along-Tunes music box: Our better fake child bought this for him based on her extensive babysitting experience, and she was not kidding.  This simple, cheap little thing has comparable effectiveness to a pacifier.  Push the button, music and lights, calm baby.  It’s hard to believe that seven classical-music tunes played with probably the firmware equivalent of .MOD files (look it up if you’re not enough of a nerd) work so well on little folk.  The scant downside is that it consumes AA batteries surprisingly quickly.

      If i were so bold as to redesign this perfect product, i suppose i might spread out the flashing lights so they’re more visible from more places. And maybe scallop the bottom so that it’s harder to inadvertently mute the speaker on carpets and blankets and things.
    • Car back seat mirrors. We’ve tried two, neither of which have done that great a job of hanging onto the Mini’s center headrest. Currently it’s this one, which is fine except the logo on it is deeply hideous. All of the strap arrangements on these are varying degrees of horrible, though. Feels like it could be done with more of a sleeve or sack sort of arrangement, or even bendable hooks.
    More likely to come later.
  • *These are Amazon affiliate links, for the lulz.  Doubt that works out for me.
  • The Tale of a Hobo and his Son

    A long time ago when my better half and i were first dating, i up and quit my job, because it didn’t satisfy me.  It paid well, but i was finding myself bored and frustrated.  Since i was planning on doing some traveling anyway, i just up and quit, and explained to her that i would just become a hobo.  The unemployment didn’t last very long, really, but the epithet stuck.

    Years later, i find myself away from my job again, embracing my former hobo ways and teaching them to my infant son with varying degrees of success.  Put another way, being on paternity leave is weird.  It’s weird to be sitting at home in the middle of a workday, knowing my desk, my job, and my colleagues are all chugging along, but feeling no pressure to deal with any of it.  Very happily, i don’t have to, and have instead this brief opportunity to just have this one thing to do, to take care of the little guy.

    So what do we do with our days?  They fill up, that’s for sure.

    • It seems likely that anyone who watched a video of me playing with the man would probably wind up questioning my sanity.  Actually i’m pretty sure that if i saw myself, i’d wonder just what the hell i was thinking.  It becomes quite literally anything-for-a-laugh.  During the morning, it doesn’t take much, and as the meter runs low toward the end of the day things become a bit more desperate.

      roger_rabbit

      Not that he’s remotely difficult, but i guess there’s a natural tendency towards being  eager to please your little guy, so i find myself jumping up and down, hiding, crawling, singing songs (both correctly and with made-up lyrics that go increasingly off the rails with every passing verse), making faces, making noises, wandering the house, staring at the sky, waggling toys, picking him up, moving him around…

      Whatever works.

    • We spend a decent amount of time exploring the city, too.  Lately there’s been a pretty marked increase in the time it takes us to get us out of the house, what with our little man needing an increasing number of layers which he doesn’t want and tiny hats and gloves which he doesn’t want.  In general though we try to be prepared to bounce, to go out and bring the man to his mom for lunch, to go to the North End to get more coffee (because someone tried to murder our coffee maker and someone decided to try being nocturnal for a night), to go meet friends playing hooky, go protest the end of the republic, or systematically walk down streets we’ve never been on, or go hit up all those lunch spots that i never get to while working because i just don’t spare the time.  He’s got the time, i’ve got the time.  Until days like today, where the howling winter winds were not his favorite thing.  Maybe our exploring will just be the Copley mall from now on and he’ll grow up having expensive, horrible taste.
    • Napping.  My assignment for these weeks is to get the kid from being a lap sleeper to being actually put down for naps.  Reckon i probably get a C+ on this right now, in that i get him down, but he sleeps shittily.  So to make amends for this we are back on the lap later in the day where he sleeps soundly and adorably.  And i read Twitter or something.  But we’re working on it, grudgingly.  Even though he’s enormous, there are worse things than having a little dude snuggle on you.
    • The nice thing is, cleaning and other household mundanity passes for entertainment for him.  So long as i’m talking about what i’m doing, he is fascinated by it.  Especially if there are moving things, lights, noises, a change of setting.  He doesn’t know it’s work.  Also he’s great at home improvement:
      IMG_0564
    • Lifting.  Dude is 22 pounds at just over four months. You spend a lot of time picking him up, putting him down, holding him up to let him try standing (the sooner the better,  man, except don’t), lifting him up to play with you.  It’s a lot to ask of a busted shoulder.
    • Watching the cat has also become a thing in the last week or so, and the feeling is mutual.  Our selectively-aloof cat has become very invested in our little man’s well-being.  If he’s yelling, you can bet she’s either checking on him, visibly concerned, or coming to let me know i’m a lousy parent, often both.  She looks in on his bassinet, curls up on his toys (and i don’t think it’s just territoriality anymore), and gently sniffs him when he’s not flailing.  This, at long last, is a good kitty.
    • And then of course there is troubleshooting.  Does that grunting mean he’s pooping or has he learned to fake it (yes, he has) for some reason?  If we’re stuck on 93 for a further 15 minutes and he’s blowing up and i can’t get off, just what can be done (i don’t dare try plugging in the pacifier in motion, but playing with the car’s interior lights moves him away from redlining for a little bit)?  Is he cold in the carrier or just twitchy because he wants out (it’s always the latter)?  Is he bored with this toy (possibly) and is a change of setting needed (a reliable tactic)?

    But anyway have i learned anything?  Sure.

    Things he likes*:

    • Standing and walking directly on my chest
    • Watching raindrops in puddles
    • Drooling
    • Flirting with strangers
    • Fish-hooking his pacifier out of his mouth and cursing its sudden absence
    • Swiveling his head wildly while eating and wondering why the food is everywhere but his mouth, shouting something to the effect of it being everyone’s fault but his
    • The sky
    • Our (i have to share it now) stuffed talking Porg
    • Bricks and other sharply-defined patterns
    • Watching the kitty
    • The TV (so we rarely have it on just yet (except we both watch soccer on the weekend))
    • Watching videos of himself on the phone
    • His reflection
    • Most electronic music, Hall & Oates, Bowie, James Brown, They Might Be Giants, ‘Brass Bonanza‘ (you can add a lot of stupid lyrics to that tune), and the Trololo song.
    • Putting the incoming clean diaper on his face (okay, at first he didn’t like it but i wore him down)

    Things he dislikes*:

    • The wind
    • The sun
    • Sleeves
    • Pants
    • Republicans (i can’t prove that)
    • His car seat, which he is now bigger than
    *subject to change

    The Flag of My Enemy

    It’s a pretty typical sight on suburban highways, even here in liberal Massachusetts.  Sometimes you even see them intrude on the streets of Boston.  An oversized, shiny, clean pickup, the soft-hands kind of truck, not the sort that’s ever done a day’s work in its life, its spotless bed sporting only two things, side-by-side American flags set to wave in the breeze as they head out to haul a heavy load of nothing.  And something dawned on me the last time i saw one, something that kinda curdled in my brain and bugged me; when i see this type of thing, the first thing i think is, “That man* is my enemy.”

    Which is a pretty awful thing to think, for a couple of reasons:

    First, let’s consider the fact that it’s gotten to the point where someone that disagrees with me qualifies as an enemy.

    Secondly, let’s think about how much it sucks that the flag of my own country has been stolen from me to the point where i’m stirred to anger by people that wave it.

    It’s a pretty depressing thing, but this is the place that we are in.  It works kinda like this.  Anyone in 2018 so moved to ostentatiously fly the American flag is overwhelmingly likely to be a Republican.  From 2001 on, the Republican Party and its followers deftly moved to equate their views on everything from counterterrorism to taking healthcare from kids, to taking kids from their parents, to rooting for the Yankees with patriotism, and with the flag.  You show the flag**, you’re on their side, almost by definition. And in 2001, we certainly weren’t going to upgrade disagreement to enmity, but by 2003, you could at least understand how we might someday get there.  In 2018, i’m pretty comfortable saying that Republicans are my enemy, in that to the extent that they are fighting for their side, i believe they are fighting for evil, full stop.

    So it surprised me not when one of those trucks roared down a city street after the Womens March and shouted slurs at us.  It’s merely a more overt way of saying what they’ve stolen the flag and made it say.  They took my flag and made it say that it hates gays, that immigrants aren’t Americans, that poor people should go uncared for, and that the wealthy should have dominion over us all.

    It’s going to say that until we take it back, and we’re only going to take it back by defeating…  that’s right, our enemies.

     

    *of course it’s a man, why would you think otherwise?
    **an exception: when you’re at the World Cup, you can get away with wearing your flag as a cape, belting out the Star Spangled Banner and drinking Budweiser unironically, and you get it back for just that one month.  The Olympics are also probably okay.

    That Guy

    For once, i have a good excuse for not having written, dear reader.  After what seemed like forever, back in late June, the girl and i had a kid.  Many have said that this would be a notable event in life, and upon reflection, i believe they may be on to something.

    Behold, anecdotes:

    • It’s amazing how much leaving the hospital with the man resembled buying a house or a car, or getting your diploma in the mail.  A huge, momentous thing involving years of effort, buckets of emotion and tens of thousands of dollars, reduced to opening an envelope, or getting handed a set of keys.  In this case, signing a form, and snipping off the anti-theft tag, and off you go.  You have a kid now, and get to/have to go home on your own.
    • Most people’s image of going home from the hospital is probably not chaos.  However, since the dude arrived early, none of his stuff was assembled or positioned.  And since the girl recovered so well and we got to go home early, a full Sunday’s worth of hospital visitors became houseguests, houseguests who even beat us home.  After we were done basking in the glow of everybody being thrilled for us, after the door shut, there we were, in kind of a big ‘now what’ moment, which involved the dude in a little (just-assembled) rocking chair sitting peacefully while we frantically assembled bassinets, put away clothes, ran out to buy stuff we forgot, and tried to piece together a system.  My grandfather tells a story about coming home to a tiny apartment in Queens with my mom and immediately going to the nearest pharmacy and asking, “So, what do I need?”  We weren’t quite that bad.
    • The first few days were near-constant… recycling.  The man?  He’s fine, he’s easy to deal with, sleeps well, eats well, all that stuff, but i swear, i was breaking down boxes on a near-hourly basis.
    • But really, we’re stupidly lucky.  The man has been on one feeding a night since he was 4 weeks old.  He’s largely calm and cheerful and snuggly.  i had just one night of pacing back and forth trying to get him to calm down and go to sleep before i passed out.  One.
    • It should be noted that our sanity is greatly helped by the nice gadgets i wrote about for my employer here.
    • The wicked hot summer has had the unfortunate effect of stranding the girl (with her well-documented love of long-walks) and the dude (who likes sleeping in his stroller just fine) inside for probably half his life so far, which is kinda messed up when you put it that way.  Theoretically the man shouldn’t be able to sweat just yet, but since he’s related to me, he found a way.  Now that he’s finally able to go out in non-blinding/scorching sun, his reaction to seeing the sky and the trees and the skyscrapers and the cars and the planes and the birds is priceless.  Wide-eyed wonder.  We can’t wait to show him all the things.
    • We’ve been very conscious of self-imposed pressure to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  We always pictured ourselves being light on our feet, and ready to head out the door with the critter on a pretty quick basis.  So far we probably deserve a C+ on that.  There’ve been plenty of occasions where we’ve been running late, because the man is sleeping, or because the man wakes up and is hungry, or blows his pants up, or whatever.  And of course, before vaccinations, we didn’t bring him inside places if we could help it.  Despite the increase in difficulty level, we generally head out with one small diaper bag, and have brought him to baseball games, soccer matches, bars, restaurants, beer gardens, and so on.  And we’re prepared to flee from these places if things go badly, but haven’t had to.  He’s a nice baby.  And especially while he’s little, and portable, we want to make sure he’s used to the world outside our basement.
    • Terms for the child, other than his name: critter, man, little man, big man, baby man, dude, babby.  More to come, i am sure.
    • A nice side benefit of having a very big, heavy baby: exercise!  Lifting him up in the air has been scientifically proven by me to help burp him, so as a result, it’s good arm exercise.  Corollary: the cat now feels practically weightless.
    • But really, having a baby is an invitation to tackle a whole bunch of new problems scientifically.  Poop color, poop timing, volume, formula consumption, sleep cycles, eat cycles, contrary to my usual tendencies, i don’t have a spreadsheet for any of this, but it’s all in our head, all the time.  Learning about him all the time is key to keeping him happy and well, and ourselves sane.

    Most of all, though, every new day feels like there might be something that’s new to him, and if he’s excited by it, we get to be, too.  It’s a hell of a thing and we’re so lucky to be there for it.

    On Foreign Dialects, pt. 2

    Continued from On Foreign Dialects:

    Things we learn from the teenager.

    • Shnack, or Shmack, adj.: We’re not sure of the pronunciation and neither is she.  Describing something tasty, a fitting snack, logically enough.  Example: “I know he brings his Hot Pockets to work for lunch, but they were looking shmack, so I ate them.”
    • Brik, adj.: Possible this is only her, and comes from a misunderstanding of the word ‘brisk’.  It means ‘brisk’.  Example: “I hope you didn’t park the car far away, ’cause it is brik!”
    • It’s been a minute: A clever way of saying ‘it has been a while’, but used by default.  Example: “I think I shouldn’t have to watch documentaries tonight, because we haven’t, like, done anything fun, I mean, it’s been a minute.”
    • Troop, v.: To travel a long way, particularly to somewhere you didn’t want to go.  “If Wednesday is a half day, can I just stay home?  I mean, what’s the point of me trooping out there if I’m just going to come back?”
    • Dip, v.: To leave or GTFO, sometimes implying abruptness or that the place you’re leaving isn’t any fun.  “The cat heard a noise outside and dipped”
    • The Plug, n.: The connection, the hook-up, the one who makes things happen.  Example: “Annette’s like, the plug, we can wait for her to get home to get dinner.”

    On Not Going to the World Cup

    For the first time since 2002 (when admittedly i did not pay so much attention), i am not going to the World Cup.  Notably, neither is the USMNT, but Russia is not a nice place they stole it, later other things, from us, and doesn’t deserve more of my tourist dollars.

    In four years, i’m not going, either, because Qatar is not a nice place and they stole it from us and they do not deserve my tourist dollars.

    In eight years, happily enough, i won’t have to go anywhere because it’s coming here.

    Some words about the above:

    A lot of ink’s been spilled about the USMNT fucking it up royally, but this relatively recent article best reflects my assessment of it (which is not of course the same as being most accurate, necessarily, but it’s very well-reported).   For me, Klinsmann always struck me as a button-masher with pretensions, someone who had success at the highest level (and obviously on-the-field) but could never communicate why.  And it grated on me as a lifelong defender that he never seemed to care about running out a good, or even consistent backline.  The best i could say about him is that he asked the right, provocative questions, but he’d also sold us on the idea that he had answers to them.  Arena, on the other hand, might well have succeeded if he took over earlier and the US did not dig such a large hole, but he shared a major problem with Klinsmann (hardly unique to either of them).  They both leaned on certain players as binkies no matter what kind of form they were in or where they fit on the field.  Really, neither of them actually got their best 11 on the field as often as they could have, which is an insane thing for us to have been accustomed to.

    And that sucks for the tens of thousands of Americans who are still going to the World Cup, because it’s an amazing time, it really is, and it’s a damn shame that a big part of it they could have reasonably expected and planned around is going to be missing.  I feel sad for the people who aren’t going to get to sit in Gelsenkirchen and endure the taunting from an opponent who kicked your ass.  Worse for the people who never have the adventure of fording a river of sewage to get to the match in Recife in the 88th minute.  Worst for the people who won’t get to sing and shout madly for 90 minutes at altitude in Pretoria until that goal happens.  For the stories that are still numerous, amazing, indelible, i hope, but disconnected from the drama of the 31 other countries’ worth of frenemies butting heads.  It sucks that all they get to do is be a spectator.

    Past Streams of Consciousness from Past World Cups:

    Brazil [Photos]

    South Africa [Photos]

    Germany [Photos]