Our Favorite Baby Gear

In the spirit of answering frequent questions, here’s an article about our favorite baby gear that we’ve used for our two boys.

Lots of friends are hopping on the baby train these days (choo choo!), and since my friends know I love to give advice, they keep asking for tips and suggestions for what to buy for baby. If you’re in this situation, read on for some of our favorite baby gear!

The Number One Best Item of Baby Gear We Ever Bought:

The Skip Hop Pronto Signature Changing Station.

Seriously. Buy it. Actually, if we know each other and you’re expecting a baby, don’t buy it. Because I will buy it for you. It’s that good.

Your kid is likely to be in diapers until about age two, so you will need to change diapers on the go for at least that long. We’ve used this on a daily basis (with only a brief hiatus between when our oldest was potty trained and our second was born).

I don’t like having a “diaper bag” that’s huge and heavy. If you pack this thing right, it’s your diaper bag all in one, and you can toss it into any bag you want to carry. I LOVE IT.

Our Favorite Baby Gear for Sleeping

I’m not going to make a specific crib recommendation. Basically, a crib is a crib is a crib. As long as they’re to standard and safe, and you like the look, then great.

One thing I will say about a crib: we got one with a storage drawer underneath. It has been VERY helpful, especially in smaller living quarters.

For a mattress, I recommend a good, breathable mattress with a firmer infant side and a softer toddler side. We purchased our Simmons Nature’s Beautyrest mattress at Rose ou Bleu in Montreal, but I’m sure they’re available anywhere baby mattresses are sold.

  • Pros: It’s firm enough for baby (as recommended), and the other side is softer for toddlers.
  • Cons: Honestly can’t think of any.

A travel crib is a must if you’re planning to hit the road with baby. We absolutely love our Guava Family Lotus travel crib. It’s been with us to three different continents and has yet to disappoint. When not serving as a travel crib, it sits in our living room as a playpen and easy “baby jail” when we need to leave little one unsupervised for a quick minute.

  • Pros: It has a zippered side that opens up, so it can double as a playpen. It is very light and extremely easy to set up, and it comes with a practical carrying case.
  • Cons: You have to buy the fitted sheet separately. It should NOT be put in the dryer, as it shrinks terribly. Also, the mattress is quite thin. We bought the additional quilted sheet which we put under the fitted sheet, providing more plush.

A rocker or bassinet is a great thing to have, for a safe place to put baby down in the living room or kitchen. We used our Fisher Price Rock n’ Play for both our boys, and it was a big hit. Our kids napped in it, as well as sat and watched people move around them.

NOTE: The Fisher Price website lists this as a sleeper. It is NOT a safe place for unsupervised sleeping, as the baby does not lie flat in the bassinet. This is fine for naps or as a hangout spot when baby is awake.

  • Pros: Baby is sitting up a bit and can look around when not sleeping. Baby also feels nice and snuggled in the bassinet. Our boys loved the warm cozy security of being in here. It folds up for easy storage, and the cloth cover is washable.
  • Cons: Baby is sitting up a bit, so not a safe place for overnight or unsupervised sleeping. Our boys napped in this in the living room, but always slept in their crib at night. I’ve also read complaints that the hard plastic support causes baby’s head to flatten. Dude. Don’t put your baby in here for hours and hours. And do tummy time. Jeez.

Our Favorite Baby Gear for Baby Carrying

When our oldest was born, we lived in a city and used public transportation a lot. Pushing a stroller around was not so useful, we pretty much exclusively carried our Bug until spring finally sprang.

For out and about carrying, we love the Ergo Baby Original carrier. We used it for front carrying when they were smaller, and back carrying when they were larger.

  • Pros: Comfortable, lightweight, and with an available infant insert which allows for use right from birth. It works for front carrying, as well as hip and back carrying. It’s also washable and has a handy pocket for storing small things like tissues or your phone.
  • Cons: It is only for facing baby towards you (no front facing). I’ve read, and our osteopath said, that front facing carrying is not good for the baby’s hips, so we were happy to use this. Both our boys liked it.

For indoor baby wearing, or for baby wearing on the airplane, we liked the Moby wrap. If you’re going to be sitting, this is more comfortable than wearing the Ergo carrier.

  • Pros: Soft, flexible, and easy to use once you practice a bit. Baby is comfortable, and it’s pretty easy to nurse baby in one of these, too.
  • Cons: It’s a stretchy wrap, which is not recommended for back carrying. It also gradually stretches out after being worn for a while, and baby can start to sag.

Our Favorite Baby Gear for Playing

Here are a couple of our favorite toys/games for entertaining baby.

Chico picked up the Tiny Love Take Along mobile, and both our boys loved it from the start. We attached it to the rock n’ play, and the music was honestly not as annoying as I thought.

  • Pros: Nice music, cute animals, goes for about 30 minutes.
  • Cons: Needs batteries, and the music gets stuck in your head.

For a fun place to park the kid when you need to get things done, or when their older sibling is screaming that “SAMMY KEEPS TOUCHING MY TOOOOOYS,” an activity bouncer or something of the kind is fun to have. I can’t speak to any one particular model, but I believe my parents have the Fisher Price jumperoo in their attic in the States, ready to break out for grandkids’ visits.

  • Pros: Safe, fun place to put baby while you cook dinner. It’s entertaining and usually responds to the kid’s movement.
  • Cons: THE MUSIC. It’s maddening. Also, it takes up a lot of space. If you can borrow one of these which you can then return to the owner, that’s probably ideal.

Our Favorite Baby Gear Bits and Bobs

Eating: we’ve used the Fisher Price booster seat for both our boys.

  • Pros: Can be used up to toddlerhood. Easy to clean.
  • Cons: Uses up one of your chairs, but that does mean it doesn’t take up much space.

We also love the Thermos Foogo stainless steel straw water bottle. It keeps water nice and cold.

Some great Ikea products for babies:

Make a Baby List

If you’re expecting and friends and family want to know what to get you for baby, you need a baby list registry. It’s the most practical way to let people know what to get that you really need/want.

Chico and I used babylist.com, an independent registry site that allows you to bring together items from all different websites. If you stick to just Amazon, then you can only choose things available there.

Yes yes, we know that Amazon pretty much has EVERYTHING these days, but not always! Especially if you’re located outside the US.

I’ve got more…

If you want to hear about our bigger purchases (car seats, stroller, hiking backpack, bike trailer, etc.), let me know in the comments below. I can write an article about bigger baby gear we like.

Top Five Tips for Traveling with Kids

A girlfriend texted me in panic: “JANE! I’m flying from Canada to New Zealand tomorrow! QUICK! TOP TRAVEL TIPS WITH KIDS!”

Then she admonished me for not having a handy blog article about this for her to refer to. So Tash, this one is for you.

Just a little background, in case you’re wondering what qualifies me to give such advice. Before my oldest son was one year old, he had been on 19 flights (meaning, I had been on 19 flights with him). My second son is now nearly 10 months old, and he has already been on 8 flights.

Trust me. I know a thing or two about this.

Top Travel Tip #1: Stick to a Schedule

As a traveling adult, I usually recommend you set your watch to the local time at your destination and then try to go by that schedule.

When traveling with kids, though, that doesn’t work. They can’t understand time differences, and they need to listen to their body clocks.

Plan your carry-on gear and activities to go along with your home time zone. If you’re going to be on a plane at bedtime, take pyjamas, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bedtime story books, etc.

Have meals ready for your home time zone mealtimes (if kid-friendly meals aren’t offered on the flight, or if you have picky eaters, pack your own). Gather the kids together for meals at the time their body clocks expect them, and try to maintain something like your home mealtime routine. Get to the bathroom, wash hands, sit down, etc., for example.

If your kids nap, try and get them to settle for at least a rest when they would normally nap. It may or may not work (usually doesn’t), but they might agree to have some “quiet time”.

Yeah, you’re going to have to adjust to a new time zone when you get to your destination, but you can cross that bridge when you get to it.

Top Travel Tip #2: Rules go out the Window

No TV at home? FORGET IT!

Limited screen time? FORGET IT!

Sweets and snacks are verboten? FORGET IT!

Okay, you don’t have to go nuts, but you get the picture. Traveling with kids is HARD, and you’re going to need all the help you can get, even if that means letting them watch hours of cartoons and movies.

If your kid is getting antsy and wanting to watch more TV or eat some of the snacks being passed around by the flight attendants, let them! It makes traveling seem special.

And honestly? Whatever works.

Top Travel Tip #3: Snacks, Snacks, Snacks!

Do you know what your kid’s favorite snack is? PACK TONS OF IT.

In moments of boredom or desperation, a well-timed snack is always handy. You can try to keep it healthy, of course, or increase the sense of occasion by providing snacks you normally wouldn’t at home.

Top Travel Tip #4: Entertainment

My attitude when traveling with kids is that I will not rest until we reach our destination (if then…). For that reason, I arm myself with scads of entertainment options.

Books, coloring, games… you name it. Old favorites work, but nothing beats breaking out something new for keeping attention for longer than a few seconds.

Entertainment includes screen time. Take along some kid-friendly headphones, and take a look through the in-flight entertainment system. There are also games and puzzles we do together.

And don’t forget the iPad! We have a collection of “airplane games” as we call them. My son is only allowed to play these when we’re traveling, which makes them special.

Our games include Oceanhouse Media Dr Seuss books (you have to pay for these), and a few free games, including a Thomas and Friends game, and others.

Entertainment also means moving around. Yes, you don’t want to bother other travellers, but at the same time your kid has got to move.

Don’t let them run wild by any means, but taking walks up and down the aisles, exploring the galleys, and “exciting” bathroom trips are always options. Flight attendants are super nice, and often have games and things available for kids (especially Lufthansa!). The best way to keep your kid from crawling up the walls or kicking the back of the seat in front of her is to let her move as much as possible during flight.

No, not everyone is going to love it, but neither is everyone going to be happy if your kid is staying still in one place, screaming.

Top Travel Tip #5: Nurse & Baby Wearing

This only applies for nursing moms traveling with babies. My oldest boy nursed for 10 months, and my second is nearly 10 months and is still going strong.

Nothing beats nursing for comforting, calming, and otherwise keeping your baby in one place. Nursing during take off and landing can help avoid ear popping.

During flight, if you haven’t managed to snag a bulkhead row with a bassinet (I HIGHLY recommend you try to!), baby wearing can be a life saver. I always used a soft wrap (we had the Moby wrap) for flying, as I find them more comfortable to sit in than the structured carriers. The most comfortable carrier we found is the ErgoBaby.

Go With the Flow

The most important tip is to remember that your kids are not adults. Meaning, they cannot reason away the fatigue or understand the impact jet lag has on their bodies.

Be patient with them, and try to keep your sense of humor.

I do not think that parents need to hand out “goodie bags” to travellers sitting around them. You don’t have to feel guilty for traveling with your kids, or try to placate fellow travellers with treats.

The best way to keep your seat neighbors happy is to dedicate your energy to your kids. Keep them entertained, have patience, and show kindness and empathy when they are having a hard time.

And have a stiff drink, or a well-deserved cup of tea when you get to your destination.

Happy summer travels!

A Cycle of Grief and Joy

I’m starting this article on January 15th, 2018. It’s been many months since my last post, and I finally feel ready to take a stab at writing again.

On July 15th, 2017, exactly six months ago, my mother, Catherine, died. Those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed her thoughtful comments on many articles. Any words I think of to describe the grief her loss has caused seem weak or trite. It was shattering.

Two days after she died, our second son was born. It wouldn’t surprise me if his birth was brought on by the physical and emotional stress I was going through. Chico, our Bug and I had jumped into the car the day she died, and rushed from our home in Germany to Switzerland. We were only two hours away from her when she died, and just remembering the moment my father called brings back all the pain of that first realization.

When I’ve thought about writing this article, I’ve experienced something of a block. My blog articles are usually quite tidy: here’s a situation, here are some tips, thoughts or facts, and here’s a tidy conclusion.

There is no tidy conclusion here.

And though I am experiencing deep loss and grief, it’s not really about me, either. It’s about my mother.

So I’d like to try and write about my mother.

Catherine was salty.

That’s how John Beach, long-time rector at Emmanuel Church in Geneva and officiant at my mom’s memorial service, described her. By “salty,” he meant she was, as Jesus says in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:13), “the salt of the earth.”

As salt is essential for flavor and life, my mom brought flavor and life to the lives of the people she touched.

She found people deeply interesting, and loved getting to truly know people. When Catherine made friends, they were friends for life.

She also knew how to find the good in everyone. As her favorite bible passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). She looked for truth, nobility, right, purity, loveliness, admirability, excellence and praiseworthiness in everyone she met.

Catherine was a reader.

Mom thought and read deeply and widely on a number of topics: literature, politics, family, religion. In a tribute to her memory, a close friend from university said she was always in awe of Catherine’s life of the mind.

She had a great love for literature, but she also kept herself well-informed about the news and politics. She not only practiced her faith by participating in her church community, but she also read about faith, challenging and pushing herself to live her Christianity.

She was never intellectually lazy.

Catherine was a planner.

Mom always said, “I’m good at logistics,” and it was true. She organized events, travels, get-togethers–even the simplest meals–with grace and ease.

A dinner at my parents’ house, with Mom in charge of the planning, was always a success. Not just because of the food (she was an excellent cook), but also because she thought of everything to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.

She used her skills for her community, taking charge of organizing monthly meals for a local women’s shelter in Geneva for ten years. She was active in her church, in our schools as kids, and at her local women’s club.

Catherine listened.

Most everyone can hear, but very few people really listen. Catherine was one of those listeners.

She not only listened, but she remembered. She heard sadness, joy, anxiety, grief. She knew when to be quiet, and when to offer words of comfort, advice or encouragement.

People confided in my mother, because they knew their confidence would be respected, and that she would, either by words or just by listening, offer help.

Catherine filled our cups with her love.

Mom made all three of her children feel loved and respected. Her deep respect for individuals showed in the way she treated us as kids, and then as adults, and in the way she treated her grandchildren.

A friend in middle school once told me she liked coming over to visit our house, because my mom listened to her and spoke with her like an adult, like someone worth listening to and speaking with.

Her respect and love for us taught us to respect and love ourselves, and to behave that way towards others. She gave us that gift, and set us that example.

Catherine is missed.

For all these reasons, and so many more, Catherine is missed. Her absence is like a gaping hole in my life; a vast darkness where such a strong life light once shone.

But as my dad reminds me: there’s nothing we need to know that my mother didn’t show or teach us. She is ever-present. She appears in my dreams, and I hear her voice guiding me through my days.

Time and life cruelly march on, when it doesn’t seem possible that they should without her. But even in my grief, the life and light of my boys, my nieces and my nephews, bring joy and hope.

Her light lives on in us, and in them.

God bless Catherine.

God bless her. God be praised and thanked for her life, and her memory, and for the example she was, and continues to be