travel tips with three-year-old twins

Travel Like a Pro with Twins in Tow | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

If you’ve noticed I’ve been absent on the blog over the last little bit, it’s largely because we’ve been traveling. First we went to Colorado to visit my husband’s family, and then we made a sad and unexpected trip to my parents’ house when my grandma suddenly passed away. All of this time with family was wonderful, but I also have to admit that traveling with two small kids is often also extremely stressful. I find myself gritting my teeth and wondering why my shoulders are so tight in the days before flying with our kids. I was especially anxious this time, because the last time we flew, last October, Etta screamed bloody murder through an entire 2 hour flight, completely inconsolable, refusing movies, snacks, and screaming “DON’T TOUCH ME, MOMMY!” every time I even tried to help her. Then, of course, she perked up right in time to land, and cheerfully bid farewell to every single passenger as they deplaned, while they gave her looks that said “see you never, demon child.” To everyone on that flight: I am soooooooo sorry.

Since I haven’t written about traveling with twins since the girls were babies, and since this trip actually went darn smoothly, I thought it might be time for an update on some of the things that work for us when traveling with the toddler and preschool set. (If you’re traveling to Disney in particular, check out this post on doing Disney with two toddlers and only one small backpack.)  Continue reading “travel tips with three-year-old twins”

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why babywearing rocks, especially with special needs

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of babywearing (that would be the hippietastic term for strapping your kid to your body with some sort of carrier, wrap, or sling)– I’ve been doing it from the start, and even though my kiddos are now giant almost-two-year-olds, I’m still at it. In fact, I just traded in some of my fave carriers so I could get one that works better for wearing toddlers. People see me with Claire in a carrier, especially, and wonder how/why I wear such a heavy kiddo (probably around 30-32 lbs, though she hasn’t been weighed in a while) around, so I figured I’d share why.

Because of her spina bifida, Claire has disability in her lower body. Her legs are weak, and she doesn’t have great sensation in them, either. This means if I want to carry her on a hip, the way most people tote toddlers around, I’m entirely supporting her with my arm. She can’t “cling” with her legs to help support some of her own weight. Where I can pretty easily sling monkey-child Etta on a hip and she clings to me like a little suction cup, Claire is 32 lbs of weight, which I end up trying to support with my left arm. It doesn’t work out. I can barely do it just around the house, walking from one room to the other, or trying to juggle her and fill a sippy cup at the same time. Carriers solve that problem. I can strap her on in a sling or carrier and have the kind of hands-free ease I have with Etta on one hip.

Also, since Claire doesn’t yet walk, and even though she’s close to walking, she likely won’t be strong enough for extensive walking for a while yet, having her in a carrier allows me to hold Etta’s hand and have her walk beside us while also carrying a diaper bag for us to get into and out of places without requiring a stroller. As a twin mom, I have long been pretty dependent on a stroller to go anywhere on my own, so it’s nice to be able to get out without it once in a while.

So, now you know why I’m still toting my tots in slings and carriers!

I figured I’d also share my thoughts on the various carriers I’ve tried over the last two years.

Moby Wrap

wearing infant in moby wrapThere are other wraps out there too, like the Solly Baby Wrap, and even Ergo Baby has gotten in on the wrap game (cool feature: it folds into its own attached pocket), but the wraps we had were Moby. I loved them in earliest infancy, and Etta the colicky newborn spent days and days strapped to us in a Moby. They’re soft, stretchy, and comfy, and though the wrapping process seems complicated, you quickly get the hang of it. I think the stretchy but tight support probably feels fairly womblike for baby, and my kids found it very comfy and soothing. However, the thing is basically just yards and yards of stretchy material, and I never liked putting it on in public because it would basically drag on the ground as I got it on. It felt like a process. It was also pretty hot to wear in a Southern summer after the girls were born. Verdict: If you’ve got a little baby who wants nothing but to be held all the time, this will be a lifesaver. However, the lifespan of a stretchy wrap is short, so you may prefer to skip this type of carrier in favor of a ring sling.

Ring Sling

wearing a newborn in a ring slingSoon after the girls were born, I got some linen, ordered some rings, and made myself a ring sling. I loved it for belly to belly carries when the girls were tiny, and believe it or not, still use the sling with my toddlers to carry them on my hip hands-free. I think ring slings are some of the most versatile carriers on the market, and while learning to get baby in safely and comfortably may seem intimidating at first, it’s pretty easy to figure out (YouTube helps!), and you’ll soon be a pro. Ring slings can be kind of pricey (looking at you, Sakura), but I really don’t understand why. You can easily DIY your own, like I did. Verdict: a ring sling is one of my fave carriers. If you only get two carriers, make it a ring sling and a soft structured carrier like an Ergo, Beco, or Boba.

Mei Tai

wearing baby in a mei taiMei Tais are like a step between wraps and slings and more structured carriers like the Ergo. The one I had was an Infantino Wrap and Tie. A popular but pricier option is the BabyHawk Mei Tai. Pros: affordable, easy to use, fairly comfortable for smaller babies. Cons: I don’t think these are very comfortable with a baby over 20 lbs or so, because you carry all of the weight with your back/shoulders instead of on your pelvis. Verdict: a good, affordable carrier, but not in my top 3.

Baby Bjorn

IMG_8559The Baby Bjorn original carrier is polarizing among hardcore babywearers because many say it doesn’t properly support baby’s hips, even when baby is facing in, and they are often used to wear babies on the front facing out, which many say is also bad for baby’s physical development. Here’s the thing: we had them. We liked them a lot *for a while*. They were easy to get babies in and out of, but by 9 months old, our kids were getting too heavy to be worn comfortably because of the lack of waist belt on the Bjorns– I could feel all of their weight burning between my shoulder blades. It was at that point that we saw the light, sold the Bjorns, and discovered the wide world of better soft structured carriers out there. Baby Bjorn has since released the One carrier, which looks to have adopted some of the features from carriers I like better, but I haven’t tried one, so I can’t speak to them. Verdict: Because there are other carriers that can be used longer and more comfortably (for parent AND baby), I don’t recommend a Baby Bjorn.

Soft Structured Carriers

There are a LOT of soft structured carriers out there. The differences among them are subtle, and I really think it’s hard to go wrong. If there’s a baby store near you that would let you try on different carriers, that may be a great way to figure this out. The things that rock about these carriers are the wide, padded waistbands that shift weight to your pelvis rather than your back, allowing you to carry baby comfortably even into toddlerhood. Also: they generally have padded shoulder straps for added comfort, a sleeping hood and wide, supportive seat for baby, and can be worn on the front (best for smaller babies), or the back (best for older babies and toddlers). Some require extra inserts to do so, but generally these carriers can be used from birth through toddlerhood. I have tried a few and am interested in a few others, so here are my thoughts:

  • 20140318-112643.jpgErgo. Ergo’s soft structured carrier is probably the most popular on the market, and for good reason. They are comfortable and easy to use, and fit a wide range of people– my husband and I each had one, although I believe it is more comfortable on my 5’8″ frame than his 6’3″ one. I still have and use an Ergo with my girls (age 2), but do find that the shell/seat is a little shorter/narrower than is comfiest at this age. Note: if you want to use this from birth, you will need to buy a separate insert for infants. If you don’t plan to do much babywearing after age 2, this carrier could very well be the only carrier you need.
  • IMG_7227LilleBaby. I found a LilleBaby on sale and decided to give it a try. It’s almost exactly like an Ergo with the added feature that it can be used to carry baby on the front facing out. If you have a kiddo who isn’t happy without a great view of the world, this carrier is a great option. Another feature I liked was the higher shell with the optional neck support to support bobbly babies without completely covering them with the hood. It’s just as comfy as an Ergo as far as the straps and waist belt and weight distribution go. It also doesn’t require an extra insert to support babies as small as 7 lbs. I didn’t *really* need this in addition to the Ergo, and neither of my girls is crazy about front facing out, so I passed this carrier on to my sister in law, and I know she will love it.
  • Beco Gemini. I have not personally used a Beco Gemini, but wanted to list it as a quality option here, because I have used their other carrier (below). It looks a lot like a LilleBaby carrier in that it can be worn with baby on the front facing out,  has the extra head/neck support that can be folded up and down, and does not require an insert to carry infants. One thing that sets it apart is the shoulder straps can be worn crossed across the back, which is just a nice feature for keeping the straps from feeling like they’re sliding off your shoulders, and helps support the weight more evenly.
  • 20140318-112658.jpgBeco Soleil. I recently bought a Beco Soleil after selling one of my Ergo carriers. It’s a lot like the Ergo, but the seat is wider/more padded and the shell is taller, which provides more comfortable support for older kiddos. Also, the straps can be worn across the back for more even weight distribution. A Soleil can be used from newborn through 45 lbs, but does require an extra insert for the infant days.  My toddlers and I are both more comfortable in it than the Ergo, but I still like and use the Ergo too.

Other soft structured carriers that may be worth checking out even though I haven’t used them: Moby GO, BabyHawk Oh Snap, and the Tula Baby Carrier.

Ultimately, if I were starting over with baby gear, this is what I would get: a ring sling and a soft structured carrier. I’d use the ring sling in early baby days and for convenient hip carries into toddlerhood, and the SSC for more extended babywearing or for doing things like cooking.

*Note: this post is not sponsored. Every sling I’ve tried I made or paid for. None of these links are affiliate links.

bufflogals in toyland

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The picture of the girls playing that inspired this post. Etta is playing with a Janod pounding toy, and Claire is playing with a Plan Toys shape sorter.

A friend asked on Instagram if I’d consider doing a post about the bufflogals’ toys, and her wish is my command.

She noticed that the gals’ toys are generally wooden and rather atypical from what is generally on the market for babies and toddlers. This is by design. I want our home to be peaceful and happy, stimulating but not overstimulating, full but not cluttered. And if it’s not too much to ask, I want the stuff we bring into it to look good! This extends to the choices we make for our girls’ toys. While I have only begun to educate myself on things like Montessori and Waldorf, my general inclination and instinct is that their toys should be about them using objects to educate and enjoy themselves, not just being entertained by lights and music and bells and whistles. For us, this means nothing that lights up or makes sounds, pretty much nothing battery operated, and very little plastic. Again, this isn’t because of any particular ideology, but just the result of me following what feels right for me and my kids. I’m not in any way saying other sorts of toys are bad, but this is just where we’re at and what we want for our home.

Etta and Claire have two main play spaces, their room and our den. In each space, it was important to me that the toys be arranged where they could get them out themselves (and eventually, put them up themselves), and to have things displayed and accessible rather than buried in a bin under a million other things. Things they can see actually get used, whereas things in a giant pile get forgotten.

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Here you see the girls’ play space in our den. The shelf and tent are both from Ikea, and my mom found the chairs at a flea market. They have a little white table that goes with them, but it’s being used as a side table until we find an actual side table to go next to the couch. Also pictured is the Little Wheely Bug, which I found for a steal at a local consignment sale. Etta’s just now able to really start to use it at 15 months, and it’s the smaller size. The green-sided walker was a Christmas gift, but I have to say, I’m not as crazy about it as I thought I’d be, as it seems more prone to tipping, though they still sit in front of it and play with it. I REALLY love the walker wagon Claire’s kneeling with, which is a brand called Janod from Oompa.com, which along with Amazon is one of our main toy sources.

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Here’s a closer view of the toy shelf. You can see the small Plan Toys shape sorter, a Janod puzzle, a couple of Melissa and Doug sorters, some Ikea pots and pans, and our collection of musical instruments. Etta demonstrates one of her favorite activities, taking all the books off the shelf.
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This is the contents of the musical instrument box. Most are Hape, purchased via Amazon. The shaker eggs aren’t actually toys but legit musical instruments, but the girls love them.

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I really love these alphabet blocks from Janod.
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The Janod walker wagon in action. As you can see, it can support Claire’s weight, and even without anything in it, is super stable for kids just starting to walk, not prone to tipping.
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We’re big fans of this collapsible tunnel, a gift, which folds nicely when we’re not playing with it.
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Here the girls are playing with our one and only noisy toy, the flowers, which are Lamaze brand. You can see the Hape shape sorter and some Melissa and Doug food. Our Ikea baby gym, now useful as an object to pull up on, is in the background.
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Little Wheely Bug in action, with a push from sister.
A rare exception to my no-plastic rule: this Little Tykes rocking horse. It's perfect for little toddlers because it's low enough that they can get on and off themselves, and the seat has a back, which keeps them on it. And I think it's not bad looking.
A rare exception to my no-plastic rule: this Little Tykes rocking horse. It’s perfect for little toddlers because it’s low enough that they can get on and off themselves, and the seat has a back, which keeps them on it. And I think it’s not bad looking.

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Here you can see the girls’ very messy room, and the toy shelf their daddy built for them. In the bin on the bottom left are wooden blocks that belonged to me as a child, and in the bottom right are little things we’ve collected along the way, like Ikea stacking cups, a Melissa and Doug pull toy, their Kathe Kruse dolls, and their Taggies toys. You can also see some soft books, a Melissa and Doug bead maze, a Skip Hop stacker pull toy, and an Ikea stacker toy. (Also, please note that Claire has pulled herself into a kneel, a big deal, which is why this picture was snapped in the first place.)

Basically, what I look for in a toy is this:

  • Is it kid powered? If it requires batteries, I don’t want it. (I took the batteries out of these toy keys before I ever gave them to the girls. They still love them.)
  • Is it used BY the kid, or does the kid just watch it go?
  • Does it help hone skills or encourage creativity or imaginative play?
  • Does it make noise? I’m fine with instruments the girls use to generate noise, but I don’t want to hear bad midi files of classical music. I’d rather put on my old iPod, which I’ve loaded up with tunes for the kiddos.
  • Is it possible to find this made of wood or other natural materials?
  • And, generally, is it fairly gender neutral? I’m fine with the girls playing with dolls, etc, as they get older and ask for such things, but in the meantime, I see no reason to push them toward gendered objects.

Some brands we like: Hape, Manhattan Toy, KidKraft, Plan Toys, Janod, Melissa and Doug, Haba.

A few people who have visited our house have asked how we got all the grandparents and other relatives on board with this plan. The truth is, I grew up with these sorts of toys, so my parents were all about it from the start, and everyone else has been pretty happy to shop from the Amazon wish list I keep constantly updated for Christmas and their first birthday.

the bufflogals’ best baby gear: a one year retrospective

From the top, let me make it clear: no one sponsors me. These are just the things I like after a year of this baby gig. These are all things either we purchased for ourselves or received as gifts at our showers.

Still, I know what it’s like to be hunting blogs looking for REAL information on baby gear, to be Googling “how to register for twins,” totally overthinking the baby gear, so I thought it might be helpful for someone out there to share the stuff that really got us through this past year, as well as the stuff that turned out to be not worth the hype. Let’s start with…

STROLLERS:

The thing I probably obsessed over the most was the double stroller. A double stroller is CRUCIAL for a twin mom, because you basically can’t go anywhere alone without it. I read lots of reviews and lots of message boards before settling on the Baby Jogger City Select. Mostly, I love it. It worked great when the girls were in their infant car seats, because I got the adapters. It was so easy to unfold the stroller, pop on the second adapter, and click the seats into place. I also love how smooth it pushes, how easy it turns thanks to its compact size, the giant basket, and the off-road-able wheels. Dislikes: you have to take off at least one of the seats to fold it, and really both of them to get it to fold down to its smallest size. Also: it takes up almost the entirety of our Pontiac Vibe’s hatchback.

The gals enjoying an early days walk with their car seats snapped into the Baby Jogger.
The gals enjoying an early days walk with their car seats snapped into the Baby Jogger.
Baby Jogger with the seats facing backward and fully reclined.
Baby Jogger with the seats facing backward and fully reclined.

For the last few weeks, the stroller getting the most use is our new one, a MacLaren Twin Triumph the girls got from their Nana and Papa for their birthday. It folds super small, is very light weight, and has worked great for getting the girls into and out of daycare and stores and even on a picnic. It’s definitely a bumpier ride, but the gals actually love that–they like to make little sounds and hear their voices go up and down as they bump along. It’s about a third of the price of a BJCS, and if you had a Double Snap and Go for the infant car seat days, would probably make a great choice as a main stroller, provided you aren’t into a lot of off roading.

Enjoying the botanical gardens in the Twin Triumph.
Enjoying the botanical gardens in the Twin Triumph.

BABY CARRIERS:

If I didn’t have twins, I have a feeling I’d be a babywearing-obsessed hippie mama. It’s just *so much easier* to strap a baby to your body and go about your business than it is to haul a stroller around. I may get a little jealous of singleton moms who can wear their babies all the time. I’ve tried: a Moby Wrap, a linen ring sling (that I made!), a BabyBjorn, a BabyBjorn Air, a mei tai style wrap and tie carrier, and an Ergo. Here’s what I thought of them:

  • Moby Wrap: was excellent when Etta the attachment baby was a tiny, clingy newborn. Once I got the hang of tying it properly, we loved it. She always felt super snug and super secure, even when she was super duper tiny. Still, getting it on and the baby in place felt like a bit of a production, and I almost never wore it outside the house. Also: you’re basically strapping a hot water bottle to your body using yards and yards of fabric. It got hot hot hot in the Arkansas summer after the girls were born, and I can’t imagine wearing it a lot outdoors in the heat.
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  • Ring sling: Once the girls were able to hold their heads up and sit on a hip, I loved it especially for hip carries, but it was great from the start, even with a front hug hold with a tiny baby. I wore a baby in it on my hip for an entire holiday party (when they were about 9 months old), and I still use it now that they’re one. If forced to choose between the Moby and the ring sling, I just might choose the ring sling, because while I’ve unloaded my Mobys, I’m still using the sling. I ordered my rings online and made my sling using these instructions.IMG_4370
  • The BabyBjorns: I loved these when the girls were about 6 months to 9 months. I may have wondered to myself why this carrier has so many haters, and why anyone would pay all that money for an Ergo. I found it easy to get on and off, and easy to get baby in and out of. Being able to face them in or out was especially nice. But by about 9 months, they had reached a weight that really started to take a toll on my back, and the way the Bjorn put all the weight between my shoulder blades wasn’t helping. I have since unloaded the Bjorns.IMG_8558

    How you fly with baby twins.
    How you fly with baby twins.
  • My mei tai carrier was an Infantino Wrap and Tie I got on super sale. I liked it, but not as much as the Moby or Bjorns, so I gave it to a friend. I can imagine it would have had similar limitations as the Bjorns, being hard on my back as the babies got bigger.IMG_4274
  • The Ergo: like the one ring of baby carriers. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have skipped the Bjorns and the mei tai and just gotten an Ergo. Much like the way a backpacking pack has a waist strap to help you carry the weight on your pelvis instead of your back, the Ergo shifts the weight of baby to a much more natural, comfortable position. I still use this carrier all the time, and I know people still using them well into toddlerhood. Don’t screw around. Just get one. Or, if facing baby outward on your front is really important to you, consider a similarly-designed Beco that offers that option. You can even get an infant insert that allows this to be the only carrier you need from birth through toddlerhood.

    A very bundled Etta in the Ergo on a snowy day.
    A very bundled Etta in the Ergo on a snowy day.

If you are trying to not get ALL THE CARRIERS, here is my recommendation: get a ring sling and an Ergo or Beco Gemini (like an Ergo or Boba with the added option that baby can face out when worn on your front) or Boba. The ring sling will be great for tiny baby days, or when they’re older and you do hip holds, or when you don’t want to haul a big soft-structured carrier around. The Ergo/Beco/Boba will continue to be comfy as baby grows, even into toddlerhood.

OTHER GEAR:

  • Baby Gowns. Everyone told me I just had to have gowns to make middle of the night diaper changes easier. Except to me, gowns were just always a hassle. Feet were always escaping, and worse yet, the gowns kept me from being able to put the girls in the swing and the bouncer, both of which were the keys to us getting any sleep in the early days. And you know, no matter how sleepy I get, I can still snap snaps or zip zippers. 
  • Bibs. People love to gift bibs, but not all bibs are created equally. After a year, I have concluded that you only need three types of bibs. My first bib love was the Aden+Anais dribble bib. It doubles as a burp cloth and is a great thing to have in a diaper bag for on the go feeding. The second type I loved are just plain terrycloth teething bibs. They were GREAT in the spit-up days, and I still put them on the girls on runny-nosed days (they make great nose wipes that are always handy because they’re around baby’s neck) or on particularly drool-y days. The third, and as far as I am concerned, the only bibs worth buying for your solids-eating baby are Bumkins bibs. They’re cute, they’ve got a handy pocket to catch drops and dribbles, and they’re super easy to wash in the sink because they’re super thin and they dry quickly. Also, you can machine wash them without them falling apart, unlike some of the laminated type bibs we tried. Seriously, don’t waste your time on other bibs.
    Aden+Anais bib.
    Aden+Anais bib.
    Terry bib.
    Terry bib.

    Bumkins bib.
    Bumkins bib.
  • Swaddles. It’s true that babies love to be swaddled, but not all swaddles are created equally. I tried the Miracle Blanket, but I’m pretty sure it’s smarter than I am, and I could never get it on right–arms always escaped. Similarly, I loved the Aden+Anais muslin swaddle blankets for just about everything except swaddling– it’s not always easy to get a baby swaddled in them correctly. Ultimately, what worked the best for us were the Halo Sleep Sack Swaddles. I even ended up cutting the swaddle part off of one of the sacks so I could swaddle Etta’s arms and still put her into the bouncer.

    Swaddled and ASLEEP in their Halo Sleep Sack Swaddles.
    Swaddled and ASLEEP in their Halo Sleep Sack Swaddles.
  • The Nosefrida Snot Sucker. Let me be blunt: those bulb syringes you’re supposed to use to clean out a baby nose? They suck. Or rather, they don’t. And when you’ve got an exhausted, germy baby who can’t sleep because she can’t breathe and all you want to do is sleep, you will do anything, even things that seem kinda gross, to get the snot out. The NoseFrida uses the suction you can generate with your mouth to suck that gunk right outta baby’s nose. Couple it with a few squirts of saline before you suck, and you’ve got a magic nose-clearing machine. I promise, there’s a filter and a whole lotta tubing that insures none of that gunk gets anywhere near your mouth, just out of baby’s nose. Baby will breathe easier, and you’ll all be able to sleep. Get one.
  • THE BABY BJORN BABYSITTER BALANCE SEAT. This is my number one most favorite baby thing. Etta, especially, needs to have the heck bounced out of her to calm her when she’s upset and often to help her get to sleep. I can really make the Bjorn seat bounce with my feet– like, head-bobbing bounce. Also, they’re good looking. I know, we’d all put our kiddos in the ugliest thing ever if it meant less screaming and more sleep, but the Bjorn seats are just really good looking. Even better, they fold completely flat, which makes them super handy in a small apartment or house, and even better for toting them around. When the girls were still largely lumps, we’d take the seats with us to friends’ houses so we’d have a place to park babies while eating and hanging out. The covers are also super easy to remove and wash, and the seats have a high weight limit. We’re still using the heck out of them after the first birthday, and I know we’ll be using them for a while yet, but, thanks to a good design, the girls were also secure in the seats even as little tinies. I am not even the least bit exaggerating when I say I’m not sure we’d have survived the first year with twins without these seats. Best baby gear we own.
TINY Claire in the BabySitter.
TINY Claire in the BabySitter.
Slightly older and enjoying some porch time.
Slightly older and enjoying some porch time.
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Just last week. Knocks her out every time.