picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Other parents’ judgement? That’s the leash-t of my worries.

I love Today’s Parent. I don’t always agree with everything in it, but it’s always a good read, and gosh-dang-it, y’all know I’m a sucker for any kind of child development material!

The topic of this month’s “Debate” column is “Should you use a leash to control your toddler?” and I felt it missed the mark. I was frankly offended by Nadine Silverthorne’s assertion that “parents who use leashes look lazy,” and although Amy Morrison’s “Yes” column made a great case for leashes, I was saddened by the caveat that she never actually used one herself due to fear of judgement – a fear that was clearly justified!

Since Today’s Parent hasn’t been able to find anyone willing to admit to actually using a toddler leash, I feel compelled (anyone surprised by that?) to add my own two cents!

Although I use the term “toddler leash” facetiously among friends, it is not at all the same as an animal leash. There is no “obedience training” involved and it is not a punitive device used to jerk back a disobedient pet to ensure compliance born out of fear of a repeat performance. A toddler “leash” or harness is a safety device that allows your child the freedom of walking a few steps away from you while giving you the means to respond effectively to any unexpected danger.

Toddlers value independence above all else. The “Terrible Twos” exist because it is around that age that children first learn to do for themselves, at their own pace, and heaven help the parent who says, “Just let me do it for you!” Is it really fair to strap your fearless little explorer into a 5-point stroller harness just because he or she is too dazzled by the wonderful world around him or her to stop dead every time you shout, “Freeze!”?

Going back to the statement that toddler leash-toting parents “look lazy,” I asked my own mother, who, as a full-time doctor and mother of 3 in the 1980’s is the least lazy person I know (Case in point: She recently returned to work on crutches 9 days after breaking her hip in a skiing accident), what she thinks of parents who use toddler leashes. She responded dryly, “Karyn, if I hadn’t used a toddler leash, your brother Chris wouldn’t be around today.”

When Ben was a toddler, I kept his lightweight harness in my diaper bag, ready to throw on him any time the situation warranted. If I was going to be wandering the Eaton’s Centre or downtown Toronto, or taking a trip to a train station or waterfront with a 2 year-old, you bet your bippy I’d have that leash at the ready!

Ben with leash 2

Ben, on leash, walking by a river in Germany.
©PicklesINK 2013

It was the best option for both of us – Ben was free to explore without being stuck in the stroller or having his hand held (just take a minute to imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have someone much taller than you holding your hand up above your head until it falls asleep, gripping it hard enough that you can’t pull away) and I had the security of knowing that I could stop him if he suddenly bolted towards a hazard.

Ben with leash 3

And Ben, off leash!
©PicklesINK 2013

There are certain situations in which even the most anti-leash parent would be unlikely to argue that a safety harness isn’t a good idea:

Ben with harness on sailboat

Ben on a sailboat with a lifejacket and safety harness.
©PicklesINK 2013

(For the record, the harness Ben is wearing in the preceding photograph is actually an adult boating harness intended for sailboat racing – safety devices ain’t just for toddlers, y’know.)

And how about in the case of special needs children? If you don’t think that’s appropriate, take a minute to walk a mile in some other parents’ shoes by reading the testimonials on this website from users of special needs child-to-adult harnesses. Or take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

I’ve got the best harness in the world. When I first got it I didn’t like wearing it, but now I love my harness. I never get lost and I don’t have to keep holding hands all the time and its comfortable to wear. Big kids and little kids should wear a harness because you are never too old to be kept safe. And I love the colours.

– Tyler, Australia, Age 9, http://www.childharness.ca/testimonials.html

There are important guidelines to follow when using a toddler harness:

1. The whole idea is to give your child the freedom to explore on his or her own terms, so try to follow at his or her pace and guide your child with your words (“Time to go this way! Come on!”). Your child is not a puppy, and the harness is not an choke-chain, so do not jerk him or her back to you.

2. If you aren’t holding the harness, tuck it firmly out of the way, and take it off completely if your child is playing on something like a climber or slide where it could become a strangulation hazard.

3. When it comes to wrist straps, just don’t: If you can manage to get them tight enough to stay on, they’re just a broken wrist waiting to happen.

4. And of course, make sure that you come prepared with pithy rejoinders for those inevitable judgments, such as,

“Well, the breeder suggested that we try this first, but if his behaviour doesn’t improve soon, it’s off to obedience school!”

“Dear God! You’re right! This isn’t my dachshund Olympus – it’s my neighbour’s kid! I can’t believe I did it AGAIN!”

Or the classic, “You know what they say about people in glass houses.”

As Nadine Silverthorne points out, it is our job as parents to teach our children “the rules,” including the expectation that when we say “Freeze,” they will. I say that even more importantly, it is our job to know our own children and to keep them safe whether they are listening or not.  The call-and-response method that she describes is an excellent training tool, but at the toddler age it is simply not foolproof. There is always potential for distraction, and the use of a toddler leash can ensure that a moment’s  impulsiveness doesn’t turn into a life-altering tragedy.

~ karyn (aka that horrible, lazy, toddler-leash-using mom everybody love to judge!)

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phil&teds Excellent Adventure

Once upon a time, I bought the greatest stroller known to man, the phil&teds Explorer Sport with double attachment. Greatest. Stroller. Ever.

Phil&teds stroller with carseat attachment
©PicklesINK 2012

I loved that stroller. I took it everywhere and recommended it to everyone who would listen (at least those who asked me about it…I didn’t run up to random strangers like a crazy person and scream at them to buy this stroller. Much.).

Molly fast asleep in the stroller
after a long day at the zoo.
©PicklesINK 2012

When we planned our trip to Germany this summer, we originally planned to bring 2 cheap umbrella strollers to the airport but at the last minute decided to take the phil&teds instead, thinking that it would be more useful in our travels. Unfortunately, fate was not on our side and it came to pass that a terrible dragon, in the form of a careless baggage handler, wrecked it during the flight. Actually, my guess, judging from the type of damage, is that he – and I say he not out of sexism but because it was taken from me by 2 young men – dropped it to the tarmac while carrying it down the stairs before the flight ever began.

They snapped the handle clean off!
©PicklesINK 2012

At first I hoped to keep using the broken stroller, at least for the trip, and did managed to get a bit of use out if it in the first few days with packing tape holding the handle together.

It could still safely carry liquor!
©PicklesINK 2012

Unfortunately some new damage quickly came to light – I think the front wheel assembly must have been bent too so with continued use the tire popped. Despondent, I gave it up for lost, figuring that my kids were a bit older and I could probably get by with a cheap umbrella stroller until they outgrew strollers completely (see the October 2012 issue of Today’s Parent for a good debate on topic of strollering your toddler or preschooler), and I would be better off taking a cash settlement.

I even composed a haiku in its honour:

Careless baggage guys/dropped my stroller down the stairs/Condor owes me big.

After a fair bit of frustration and some back-and-forthing through social media and then email with Condor Airlines, it came down to a choice between a significantly depreciated cash value versus full reimbursement for a replacement stroller so I opted for the replacement – which means I was able to purchase the brand new just-released phil&teds Navigator in pretty robins-egg blue!

Things that I loved about my Explorer:

– SO maneuverable

– double stroller without the double width

– double attachment let Ben jump in and ride when he needed to and didn’t get in my way when he didn’t

– driveable in all seasons and on all terrains

Things that I loved less:

– stiff wire brake needed a lot of force to flip on or off with foot (and not doable in sandals – ouch!)

– deep fabric footwell caught crumbs and dirt and you had to flip stroller upside down and shake get them out

– long dangly tails on harness straps

– waist straps that you had to dig out from under your kid to buckle

– very small sunshade that didn’t really shade at all

– no clip to prevent stroller from opening when folded

– soft fabric back of seat was oh so tempting for kid in double attachment seat to kick or push, earning a “Hey!!” or just a wail as they woke up from the kid above

– permanently attached seat cover cannot be washed

Don’t get me wrong – these were all minor annoyances and certainly did not detract from this being the BEST STROLLER EVER MADE.

Until now.

With the Navigator, phil&teds have stared deep within my soul, discovered all of the things I found mildly irritating about the Explorer, and FIXED THEM. Every last one of them. The Navigator has a one-touch toggle brake; a firm plastic footwell with vents for the crumbs to fall through; a new tail-less harness system (I didn’t even know you could do that!); a harness system that while still having shoulder and waist restraints, only has 2 clips; a hard plastic back to minimize those “Hey!”s; and a detachable, machine-washable seat cover. They even fixed the bar that goes across the front – I took it off originally because my kids were biting chunks of foam off it, and apparently this issue was not unique to me because the new incarnation has a fabric sleeve.

It also has the biggest freaking sunshade I’ve ever seen (Ben and Molly like to pull it all the way down to enclose them in a kind of sunshade cocoon) – and again, since they either have secret video cameras recording my life or else someone in R&D is my creepy long-lost brain twin, they KNEW that I always put stuff like my keys or wallet on top of the sunshade while I walk around and I’ve lost a cell phone as a result, and built freaking POCKETS into the sides of the sunshade so that when things inevitably slide off, instead of falling to the ground they get caught in the pockets.

New stroller with double attachment.
Note the stuff on the sunshade –
No, I will never learn.
©PicklesINK 2012

Another really neat feature is that it assembles completely without tools – I took it out of the box, popped the wheels on, and was ready to go. It also handles like a dream, even more smoothly than the Explorer did, and all this at the exact same price I paid for my Explorer originally.

If I have one complaint, it’s the the colour is not as bright and the fabric slightly coarser than I expected, but since I ordered it online without seeing it in person, I can’t really blame phil&teds for that.

Ben and Molly heartily approve.
©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly heartily approve of the new stroller, and if it has half the staying power of the last one (barring being dropped down a flight of stairs onto asphalt) it should last through a few more kids after mine. Thank you, thank you, thank you, phil&teds, for making my stroller dreams come true, and thank you Condor Airlines for making things right.

~ karyn

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Bavarian bits and pieces

Our German adventures continue. The whole family has arrived, so Ben and Molly now have two cousins to play with and they are all getting along famously.

Ian and I headed into Munich the other day to pick up his brother from the airport and get an estimate for my favourite-phil&teds-best-stroller-ever-tragically-broken-by-Condor-Airlines-and-yes-I’m-still-bitter from the Kinderwagen-Shop und Werkstatt. They seemed to have encountered this sort of situation before because they had forms and everything. They declared the stroller un-repairable and wrote out the estimate, charged us €10 and sent us on our way with their sympathies.

We stopped for lunch at a sort of hole-in-the-wall type side-walk cafe that Was. Just. Amazing. I had Schweinesteak mit Pfeffer-Sahnesauce und Spätzle (pork tenderloin with peppercorn gravy and German noodle/dumplings). I wish I had taken a picture of it but alas I was so hungry that I didn’t think to do so until after I had devoured it. Next time.

During our journeys we encountered vehicles representing both air and sea:

The very definition of the shaggin’ wagon.
©PicklesINK 2012

Really, does it get any better than a fuchsia, butterfly-covered, fringe-hung windshield Mercedes camper van?

“Up on the shore they work all day;
under the sea we play away!”
©PicklesINK 2012

And it’s a little hard to tell in the through-the-car-window shot but this is a camper trailer completely hand-painted in The Little Mermaid motif. Why? Why not, I say?

Ben and Molly have been enjoying the civilized life, lunching al fresco on the balcony.

©PicklesINK 2012

Although on reflection, al fresco is not really appropriate, is it? Google, how do I say “al fresco” in German? Google Translate informs me that al fresco (Italian) translates to al fresco (German). Thanks for a whole lot of nichts, Google.

Interestingly, the change of scenery seems to have had a profound effect on my picky eater – Ben has been very open-minded here when it comes to food. In the last few days he has tried, unbidden, salami, fruitcake, and various German pastries. Long may this trend continue! And if not, at least now we know that the solution to picky eating is international travel. I think Molly’s vote is for the French Riviera next.

“Dahling, my public awaits.”
©PicklesINK 2012

Even everyday errands are more fun in a foreign country – we visited the dairy shop to get fresh cheese (carved off the giant wheel before your very eyes) and yoghurt (preservative-free, spooned into 1L tubs from a vat and guaranteed to last no more than 2-3 days).

©PicklesINK 2012

And of course there are frequent visits to the Getränkemarkt to exchange empty juice, fuzzy water, and beer bottles for full.

Smells like The Beer Store, but they sell juice too!
©PicklesINK 2012

And, finally, we have been spending plenty of time at the playground and the Kurpark (more on those later). In the latter Ben found the perfect stump on which to pretend to be The Lorax. I’ve got to say, while I was not particularly shocked at how much of the book Ben could recite,

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.”
©PicklesINK 2012

I was a little more taken aback at how much of it Molly knew.

“I yam the Yorax! I ‘peak for the fwees!”
©PicklesINK 2012

~ karyn

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Back on solid ground

Travel day has come and gone. Apparently some people pack a week in advance, which I think is just plane crazy (heheheh). Why would you stretch that kind of stress out over the course of a week when you could just concentrate it all into a 6 hour period and be done with it? In the end I only forgot one thing, Ian’s tripod, so well done me!

We checked in and checked our baggage and then met up with my family for a lovely, leisurely dinner near the airport…a little too leisurely, perhaps, as it was followed by a full-on run across the terminal to our gate interrupted by a brief interlude of pretended calm to clear security. But we made it before they had even finished pre-boarding and got shuttled right on, set the kids up with the iPad and Innotab and sat back and tried to catch our breath!

©PicklesINK 2012

©PicklesINK 2012

Ben and Molly were absolutely amazing on the plane. Ben fell fast asleep within about 10 minutes of take-off. Molly held out for a while longer but eventually succumbed to sleep as well. Ben slept soundly until they turned the lights back on for breakfast. Molly was a little more fitful (and by “a little” I of course mean “a lot”) – she wound up sleeping for a couple of hours in my lap in various positions that were I’m sure very comfortable for her although not so much for me! She woke up after a few hours but was mostly content to snuggle and stare until “morning.”

When the kids woke up, they discovered that they could both fit in one seat and spent the next couple of hours watching shows on the iPad.

©PicklesINK 2012

As I mentioned in my last post, I was fully prepared with a backpack full of activities to keep the kids going through the whole flight if necessary. So here’s the summary of what we actually used:

©PicklesINK 2012

So yes, perhaps it was overkill, but I think it was still worth the backache for the peace of mind!

Finally, one important piece of advice that I picked up for traveling with young kids: Don’t be afraid to take a good stroller – it will be a great help getting through the airport and you can check it conveniently at the gate. Make sure you bring luggage straps, specifically bought for the purpose, so you can fold it and then secure it tightly:

All wrapped up in a nice, neat little package! ©PicklesINK 2012

That way all the baggage handlers have to do is pick it up and carry it to the hold and there’s no chance that anything could possibly go wrong and damage it. Then when you arrive at your destination, they will just bring it right back to you at the gate so you can pop it back open and use it right away!

😀 😀 😀 LOLZ J/K!!! 😀 😀 😀

Okay, for REALZ now! Make sure you use an el cheapo $20 job and don’t bother with the luggage strap crap since the airline will rip it off and leave it behind on the baggage cart anyway (which you know because you can see it through the plane window) and crush your very favourite phil&teds double stroller to a pulp and then send it into the “bulky items” baggage claim for you to pick up only after you wrangle your 2 exhausted and hyper kids plus 5 carry-on bags through immigration and customs on foot!

Snapped clean off. How did that even happen? It’s not a flimsy stroller! ©PicklesINK 2012

Squashed metal frame. The frame is also bent out of shape so that the seat back no longer lies flat. ©PicklesINK 2012

But we made it through relatively unscathed (except for my stroller…sniff), Tetrised the luggage into the car, and made the 4-hour drive from the airport to the house and settled in with some lovely European-style pizza (mmmmm…) and some German pilsner…

…and a good night’s sleep. More on that later.

~ karyn

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