Sunday, November 22, 2009

These are the people in your neighborhood

It was a beautiful New England fall day yesterday. Lots of folks were out and about in our neighborhood, and by the end of the day, I was reflecting on the riches living locally has brought to our life.

We started the day at shabbat services, a 20 minute walk from our place, where we reluctantly turned down a spontaneous lunch invitation from some friends, also walking distance from shul, because H and I had plans to have time together, just the two of us. After services, while we were out, H and I ran into a neighbor family we haven't seen in a little while and got to catch up a bit. Later that afternoon, after we were back home, a great friend of H's from daycare (the daycare that's about 5 blocks away) and her mom just dropped by to see if maybe H wanted to play. The neighbor whisked both kids off to the park while Angela and I finished getting ready for our outing that night. I then went to pick up H at the park, touched base with H's daycare friend and her dad, and ran into yet another family we know well and caught up with them a bit, letting them know if they wanted to hang out tomorrow they should touch base with Angela. H and I then walked along the bike path over to grandma's house in Davis square, running into two more families we know along the way, one family from the park, and one of Angela's co-workers and her daughter, who we know both from Angela's work, and from the fact that her daughter's daycare plays at the same park as our daughter's daycare, so our kids see each other several times a week. After dropping H off with her Grandma for their weekly sleepover (we know, we're spoiled), I waited in the square, listening to some great music for a few minutes while Angela got baby R settled with a sitter. When she caught up with me we hopped on the bus to a friend's wedding (which was delightful). This is a friend I met several years ago at grad school, and then we ended up on the same train home one day, and realized we lived in the same neighborhood.

Choosing to live with our work, daycare and religious community located right here in our neighborhood, choices we made because we didn't want to own a car, and choices that were not always easy to make, has provided such a rich sense of community. As we go about our days, we have so many opportunities to connect with friends from the many overlapping spheres of our life, simply by doing what we were going to do anyway. Some of the folks we ran into yesterday are close friends, the kind you really can call on in an emergency. Some are just friendly acquaintances. But even the less intimate connections, when they are so frequent, and so effortless to make, contribute to a deep sense of community and place. On our walk from the bus coming home from the wedding, I couldn't help but think that Mr. Rogers got it right.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Carseats for the Carfree

Do you really need a carseat for your kid if you don't have a car? Even carfree families need to drive or ride in a car sometimes, in a rental car on vacation, a cab to the airport, or carpooling with friends. Our kids are in cars enough (mostly during out-of-town trips) that it makes sense to have seats for both of them. But which seat is the right one? This is a difficult question to answer. Most of the available carseat information addresses seat safety under the assumption that the seat will be installed permanently in one car, ideally by the police or at the fire station by someone trained in safe installation. Unfortunately, that information doesn't help parents who need to carry the seat around to carshares or taxis (lighter is better), install both quickly and correctly (fancy or confusing straps? Not going to happen) and will need a seat to fit in many kinds of cars. Throw in the prospect of shelling out tons of cash for a seat that gets used just a few times a year, and it gets very frustrating.

Kids, who are legally required to be restrained until 4'9" and 80 pounds in MA, will need multiple seats before they can ride with seatbelts alone. Our approach has been to borrow an appropriate infant seat and then, once H grew out of that one, purchase a relatively light, cheap, and relatively easy-to-install convertible seat that works both rear and forward facing. We purchased an Evenflo Titan which has served it's purpose reasonably well. However, this seat has some drawbacks, the most obvious being that its shoulder strap height rear-facing does not accommodate a child until anywhere close to the AAP recommended two years of age, and suffers a similar shoulder strap height problem forward facing.

In consultation with some smart parent friends, we have tracked down some great suggestions for carseats for the carfree.

If you are expecting an infant, the Combi Coccoro (reviewed here) might serve you well. It is very light, installs without a base (convenient for folks doing more frequent installs and removals), and even though it truly is an infant seat, it also fits kids up to 40 pounds with a fairly high height limit. Even better, even though it is a light and simple seat, it has a relatively high rear-facing weight limit of 33 pounds, and word is that the shoulder straps are positioned high enough that you actually can get close to that weight (unlike our seat, which even though it has a weight limit of 30 pounds rear facing, didn't have nearly enough shoulder strap height to make that a reality) . That won't get all kids to age two rear facing, but it will get many of them there. This seat is pricey at about $160, but it takes the place of both an infant seat and a convertible toddler seat, so if you were planning to buy both anyway, this might be the way to go.

The height/weight limits on the Coccoro should serve you until your child is big enough for the RideSafer Travel Vest (beware the obnoxious music on this link), which positions regular seatbelts to secure a child from 30-60 pounds. When there is no shoulder strap on the seatbelt, this vest needs to be additionally secured with a tether, and not all cars and cabs have tethers, but virtually all will have either a tether or a shoulder belt available. This is a new version of this vest, and the low-end of the size limit has been reduced to 30 pounds, 34 inches & three years old (used to be 35 pounds). This is a very good thing, because the range has now dropped to where many kids can ride with this vest straight out of a low-end convertible carseat like our Evenflo. In fact, that's just what H will be doing as soon as we place our order. We have word from a New York friend with the older version of this vest that installation works well, their 4 y.o. is happy to wear the vest, and that most cabs there actually have a top tether. Note also that there is a larger size for a child up to 80 pounds, though I'm guessing a 7 or 8 year old might resist wearing the vest. I'm guessing we'll switch to a backless booster when H grows out of the vest.

Another good find for an older child might be the SafeGuard Go Hybrid (reviewed here). The Go Hybrid is a forward facing seat that folds up when not in use, making it a good choice for families where a seat spends much more time in storage than in a car. It isn't nearly as compact as the travel vest, but it does have a much lower starting weight of 22 pounds. It also has a nice high 60 pound weight limit in the five point harness, which is something that carseat enthusiasts love as a safety feature, and can go up to 100 pounds as a backless booster. Thus, as soon as your child can sit forward facing, this seat should see them all the way through their carseat years. One word of warning though on this seat: it must be used with a top tether, which not all cars have, and even when they do have them, the tether attachment can be hard to find (every car is different). If you frequently ride in older cars, or don't know in advance what kind of car you'll be riding in, this might be a significant drawback.

Another option out there that might be nice for the carfree, particularly if you do a lot of air travel, or have a long walk to your carshare, might be the Sit 'n' Stroll, which is both a stroller and a fairly standard convertible carseat. However, those wheels make the Sit & Stroll heavy, so unless you really will be using it frequently as a stroller, it might not quite be worth the hefty price tag ($250) or the extra weight getting in/out of the car. Another feature of the Sit 'n' Stroll, unlike either the Go Hybrid or the Travel Vest, is that is is FAA approved for air travel.

Please let us know if you have experience with any of these seats, or what your solution has been to the carseat problem. We have friends with these seats, but haven't used them ourselves so we can't vouch for them specifically. However, we will be getting the travel vest soon, and will absolutely report back once we've given it a try.

I'd like to thank many friends who provided information & experience for this post, and have clearly done their carseat homework: CCB, Party B, Estelle (who tipped us off to the Coccoro), Shelli (a carfree NY mom and big fan of the Sit n' Stroll and Travel Vest), and Jen (who pointed us to the Go Hybrid). Thank you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Check out

Today, we have an article featured on, "How to be a carfree family." Those of you who are carfree, car-light, or just interested in the lifestyle should check it out and leave a comment. Jeremy Adam Smith also has a great post up, "5 Ways My Son Benefits from a Carfree Life". In fact, you should just go a read all of right now. You can read about carsharing, garden-sharing, sharing with neighbors, unexpected positive consequences of collaboration/sharing, and even sharing pay. There's lots of great stuff up to read about, and more going up all the time.