We swore we would avoid the myriad of big, ugly, plastic contraptions that tend to clutter the home of the newly-babied, but reality has set in: This baby wants to be upright and he wants to be entertained — constantly. I had (perhaps naive) visions of puttering about the apartment while Oliver slept blissfully in the Ergo carrier, but A) he doesn’t like it enough to spend considerable amounts of time in it (he’ll almost never sleep it); and B) I still have to put him down somewhere in order to shower, use the washroom, fold laundry or cook hot food.
Enter the Big. Ugly. Plastic.
Somehow, in a household averse to cheap eyesores of clutter, we now find ourselves the not-so-proud owners of a play gym, a Bumbo seat, a swing and an exersaucer. How ever did this happen?!
It started innocently enough, when Oliver was about six weeks old and began to show interest in batting and/or kicking at toys that were dangled above him. I bought a small clip-on toy arch to attach to his stroller and bassinet, and he loved it. We started using it at playtime (holding it above him while he lay on a towel on the floor), and I suddenly realized that if we had a device with a free-standing toy arch (i.e. a play gym), I could probably buy myself just enough time to prepare my breakfast in the morning.
And so it was that I searched on Craigslist until I found this mat, in nearly new condition, for only $20 (it still had the $99.95 price tag on the packaging!). The mat has admittedly been a huge success, buying me anywhere from five to 25 minutes of Oliver Entertainment. It has adapted well to his ongoing development, and I anticipate that he will continue to use it in the months to come. It also stores flat so it can be tucked out of the way, thus minimizing the proliferation of ugly clutter. I give the mat an ‘A’ for its entertainment value, although I’m still not sure that I’d have wanted to shell out $100 for a so-called “musical” toy that plays only four-bar snippets of the same three nursery rhyme songs over and over again. We’ll probably hang on to this for the next kid, since it’s been so useful and is in such good condition.
When Oliver hit two months old, he began to be frustrated with being flat on his back all the time. I swapped the stroller bassinet for the toddler seat, and our daily walks became a time of enjoyment and discovery. I knew that he would also want to be more upright at home, so I started looking for a seat of some sort. We somehow came to the conclusion that a swing would provide more entertainment than a bouncer/lounger seat (I think we had visions of him sleeping in it for hours at a time, à la Happiest Baby on the Block), so I set out to find a gently used swing, with the caveat that it must be able to run on power; not just batteries. We soon became not-so-proud owners of a very well kept one of these. The swing has been of limited use, and it’s clunky and cheaply made. Our child will not sleep in it, nor will he while away an afternoon staring intently at the colourful mobile. At first, he’d happily swing for as long as a half hour, but now it buys me at most 10 minutes, and that’s only if he also has toys in hand. In retrospect, I think a vibrating bouncer seat would have been just as effective, with the added bonuses of a much smaller footprint, greater portability and a built-in toy arch. We will be re-selling the swing (hopefully for what we paid for it) as soon as Oliver outgrows it.
The Bumbo seat was a natural extension of the “something to help him sit more upright” thought process, and was the only item I actually purchased before Oliver was born. I happened to find a secondhand one in the “coveted” lime green colour, and I’d heard that a lot of kids love them during the three to six months pre-sitting stage. Oliver, it turns out, is one of the kids who doesn’t. Even though we only ever use the seat while we are directly supervising and interacting with him, he will sit in it for just a few short minutes before he arches his back and begins to fuss. I was hoping to use the Bumbo and tray as a pseudo-high chair (before we buy the real thing), but I guess it is not to be. The verdict: we’ll keep it for now, as sometimes it’s nice to be able to have him sitting up and facing us when we play — even if only for a few minutes — but I suspect we’ll be re-selling the Bumbo once his pudgy thighs outgrow it. If we decide we want one for the next kid, they are easy enough to come by.
Finally, the exersaucer — the Biggest. Ugliest. Plastic-est thing of all — and the one thing we swore we would never buy. But then Oliver hit four months old and wanted not only to be upright, but to be able to easily explore (i.e. grab, manipulate and chew) the things around him. And I still needed a way to entertain him while I showered and cooked. So we caved and bought one of these. I found the absolute cheapest used (but functional) one I could, and spent an hour sanitizing all the surfaces and toys. It is hideous, cumbersome, cheaply-made, clunks loudly when it bounces, and comes equipped with the most incredibly obnoxious collection of sounds, songs and phrases; but lo and behold, Oliver loves it. The first time I put him in there, he hooted excitedly and grabbed at everything within his reach. He is able to rotate himself around to play with the various activity toys, all of which are developmentally appropriate for him at this time (i.e. he is able to use them as intended). So for Oliver, this toy is a win; however, J and I despise it and cannot wait until he outgrows it. I might even consider giving this one away for free, just to get it out of our home :). I’m really glad that we bought it secondhand so that we don’t feel compelled to hang on to it for the next kid.
The next thing on our list is a highchair, and I cannot bring myself to buy yet another Big. Ugly. Plastic. Thing. Unfortunately, the higher quality and more aesthetically pleasing alternatives (such as this lovely wooden chair) are prohibitively expensive, and very difficult to come by secondhand. We want a chair that can bring Oliver right up to the table (no plastic tray), as we feel that is better aligned with the baby-led weaning philosophy. It’s looking more and more like the solution might be found at good old Ikea, but we really need to have a look at the chairs in person before making a decision.
Which highchair do you use, and would you recommend it?