My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

No More Baby Seats!


Those of you who have read my earlier posts about baby safety gates and baby safety rails (here and here) probably expect that another inanimate object with "baby" as the first part of its name might prove to be something of an adventure. You would not be wrong in that assumption.

The Story:

My nickname for my niece isn't "Pipsqueak" for nothing. She was a tiny little thing when she came home, and since then a lineup of kidlings usually shows her to be at head (or more!) shorter than most girls her age. It's not that she isn't growing -- the kid's shot up over 3-1/2" in just the past 7-8 months! -- it's just that she's, well, let's say "altitudinally challenged" and leave it at that.

Maryland has lots (and lots and lots) of laws governing the care & feeding of young humans, among them a set of guidelines that requires use of what is generally referred to as a "baby seat" in vehicles for children who seem to always be bigger & heavier than Miri.  She probably wouldn't mind that too much, but all her grownups have been very aware of 1) the amazing hassle of moving baby seats between vehicles, 2) the usual total lack of appropriate anchoring facilities (e.g., LATCH systems) on school buses & similar vehicles, and 3) the unfortunate reaction most kids have to one of their number using a "baby" anything when everyone else is using "big kid" stuff.  (For example, when we first moved to Chile it took a while for our household goods to catch up with us, so for the first couple of weeks of school I often had to use one of AJ's bottles, minus rubber nipple, as a drink container -- and I can still clearly hear the taunting in my mind half a century later. Definitely not a memory any of us feel the Pipsqueak needs or deserves.)

And then, after a couple of years of her uncle's half-joking suggestions to hang her upside-down with weights in her hands & feeing her lots of fattening foods, Miri's pediatrician recorded an official height & weight that met all the criteria for graduating to a booster seat.

Within days of that doctor visit, AJ took a run out to the big Buy Buy Baby store in Gaithersburg to check out the two booster seat models her research said were among the best available (she chose that store in particular because she had a coupon for 20% off any purchase). Of course, once there she discovered that the store had been preparing to move to a new location so they had purposely sold out of almost everything, then postponed the move and were now scrambling (unsuccessfully) to restock. I did some online lookups and found some good deal, but AJ was adamant about seeing the different models in the flesh before buying one.

Eventually the planets all realigned and my sister's minivan disgorged a ginormous, roughly chair-shaped box along with her request to help swap out the old baby seat for the new convertible booster seat.

I figured out which tab was the first virtual domino that would allow us access to the contents of the box, then held the booster seat up while AJ fought it out of its plastic bag. We were happy to find bonus items in the box: a self-adhesive window shade (not really needed but nice) and a protective cover/convenience pocket for the back of the passenger seat directly opposite the Pipsqueak's feet (nice and needed). We then began taking turns reading through the installation process a step at a time, double-checking each other (there are several non-compatible installation options) and marveling at each discovery of just how much engineering goes into the design & manufacture of these things.

All went well until it was time to adjust the shoulder straps, which had been tightened to the max for shipping. Try as we might, we simply could not locate the correct half-hidden doodad to pull, push, squeeze, yank or otherwise manipulate in order to loosen those fakakte straps. (One happy side effect is that I can personally vouch for the strength of the Britax Pioneer; at one point I was literally suspending myself in mid-air with my feet on the door frame, hanging from those straps in a futile effort to pull them loose.)  Just to keep things interesting, a thunderstorm chose that moment to wander through the area so in desperation we undid everything and carried the seat into the house.

While the five of us stood looking at the seat on the floor in the middle of the family room, AJ had a brainstorm -- instead of pulling on the big obvious red "pull here" handle we'd assumed was the right adjuster thingy, the other seat had a half hidden little metal lever that loosened the straps, so maybe, just maybe, even though it was a different brand...? Sure enough, just behind the obvious "pull me" handle (which turned out to adjust the angle of the seat back), under a tiny slit in the seat cushion, there was a little metal lever that, when pushed just so, allowed us to easily adjust the straps. We plunked the Pipsqueak down into the seat right there on the floor and got everything set to the right length & tension, and as soon as the storm passed we carried the seat back out to the van and had the thing firmly reinstalled in its new home in something like 45 seconds.

That ordeal in the past, AJ gave me the go-ahead on buying two more seats online. (We keep one in each car because it's LOTS easier than trying to coordinate our schedules to allow moving one or even two seats between three cars.) I didn't find any spectacular deals online but Amazon listed the seat in several different color schemes for about what AJ had paid for her all-grey model using her 20% discount coupon, so one day at work we put our heads together over my laptop and I ordered one in "Concord," the pinkest color available, and one in "Kaleidescope," which is basically multicolored polkadots.  I had just gotten over my cow-loving sister's decision to not buy the "Cowmooflage" pattern (gotta love that name!) and was about to click the "Buy Now" button when AJ realized the polkadots were $50 more than the solid color, so I made the appropriate changes and bought two in the pinkest color scheme available.

Time passed until I noticed a FedEx truck stopping in front of my house on Tuesday afternoon... just minutes after I'd begun spray-painting what will eventually be the Pipsqueak's birthday present (which shall have a post of its own, I promise). When the FedEx guy staggered up the front steps I had to warn him about wet paint underfoot but he was really good-natured about it and in moments I had two very large boxes occupying pretty much all the remaining space in my entryway:

Of course, this is just a couple of hours AFTER my
one-time-per-week recycling pickup...!
I tossed on a tee and some shoes and lugged one of the beasts out to my car, then went running back into the house for the car keys, then ran back out and got the air conditioning running, then ran back into the house again for my camera.  I took one last photo of the baby seat that had been filling over 1/3 of the back seat since I bought the RAV and then got to work.

The first two parts of the three-point anchor system came loose in about 10 seconds each, but I couldn't remember how to get the rear anchor loose if my life depended on it. I finally loosened the strap to its limit, pushed the baby seat to one side, and folded down the back of the car seat to find the doggone anchor -- and discovered that I'd been pulling in the wrong direction, whereupon it came loose with a semi-imagined, "What, you thought I was stuck down there or somethin'?!" There were a few additional panicky minutes during which I was unable to get the car seat back into its original position, so I dug out the RAV's owner's manual and learned that I simply had to hold the release handle a few nanoseconds longer than I'd been doing, and I quickly had everything ready to proceed with the booster seat installation.

I haven't seen this particular patch of vehicular
real estate for years!
After taking a moment to mop my brow and marvel at how the Pipsqueak had managed to get footprints onto the back of the front passenger seat, I mopped my brow again and lugged the baby seat into the house (where I again mopped my brow -- it was frakkin' HOT out there).

They don't show up very well in this photo, but those stains
are definitely shoe-shaped!
I spent the next several minutes prying the Britax box open, then trying to get the booster out of its plastic bag (I'd forgotten how much of a team effort the first seat had been). There was a moment's disappointment when I discovered that the free bonus items that had been in AJ's box weren't in mine, but since the RAV's windows are tinted and the seat's already well-marked I decided the heck with it and went about trying to remember how to install the thing. The process involves de-velcroing the lower seatback pad and folding it up out of the way, sticking your fingers through two small slots to squeeze a hidden switch that allows part of the seat frame to rotate upwards, threading the car's seat belt underneath, latching and tensioning the seat belt, unhooking two tiny plastic hooks to release the rest of the booster seat's pads so the central strap connector can be adjusted by pulling it down & out through one slit and then pushing it back up through another, hooking the seat pads back into place, snapping the rotated section of seat frame back into place, re-velcroing the seat back padding into place, reaching one finger through a tiny slit in the front of the seat pad to push the magic metal thingy inside to loosen the straps (at least I remembered that part correctly!), then latching all the straps into place and giving the whole thing a couple of good hard yanks to make sure nothing's loose.

Needless to say, sweat was dripping liberally onto the booster seat, the car seat, the floor mats and the ground in front of me by the time the installation was complete.

She's gonna LOVE that color...!
Proud at having completed my task, I wiped the sweat off my glasses and lugged that big ol' box into the house before collapsing damply onto the couch with a big, cold drink. I took one last photo of the old baby seat looking slightly forlorn in the middle of the living room, then went upstairs for a shower before heading off to work.

Fare thee well, faithful old friend, you have served the
family well for the past half-decade and earned your rest!
I still have to swap out the seats in Mom & Dad's car, but by now there's enough muscle memory for the process that it should only take a few minutes.

I hope.  :-)

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