Thank you to our fabulous guest blogger for this informative insight into biking with babies and car-free life with children.
By: Elle Bustamante, Bike/Pedestrian Educator and amazing car-free mama of 2 at Tiny Helmets Big Bikes.
Biking with Babies Made Easy
Bicycling is awesome! Remember the freedom it gave you as a child–the wind in your face, exploring new neighborhoods, getting tired and sweaty, and riding around with a big, giant grin plastered to your face? But then we grow up, we buy cars because we need to go farther and faster and that’s what we’re told to do. We lose freedom to responsibility and the bikes get tucked away in the garage to get dusty.
After my second child, I decided I wanted a change. I didn’t want to be schlepping my children around in a car anymore. I wanted my freedom back. I got back on my bike, children in tow, and started pedaling. Those feelings came back and I was happy! It didn’t matter if I was doing a mundane chore like picking up groceries if I was on my bike. Weekend picnics didn’t involve piling into a car, driving in traffic-filled streets, going round and round to find parking, only to be totally exhausted before we even sat down at the park. Instead, we rode. The boys were noticing the world around them, smelling dinners as we passed houses in the evening or pointing out the funny purple house with the tiny dog out front. We were talking and singing and smiling again–no more shouting at the backseat to get them to stop fighting so I could concentrate.
Bicycling not only gave me back my freedom, but also my connection with our community, and a slower-paced lifestyle so I could fully focus on my family. We enjoy the adventure of getting somewhere, we’re not just rushing to the next destination.
The number one comment I hear is always regarding safety. “Is that safe?” The short answer: yes. The longer answer: nothing in life is safe. Living life will eventually lead to dying, in one way or another. Sitting on your chair all day will kill you. Stairs kill more people each year than bicycles. The number one killer of children that no one talks about is cars. Cars are deadly yet no one thinks of the danger as they’re strapping their children down into styrofoam seats with nylon straps and plastic buckles then hurdling down the freeway at 70mph. Mile for mile, bicycling is safer than driving your car. The best way to minimize your risks while riding is to take a class in traffic safety which will help give you the confidence to bike safely and legally.
- Follow the flow of traffic, ride in the same direction as cars.
- Don’t ride on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are far more dangerous than riding in the street because drivers aren’t looking for you there.
- Follow all traffic signs, use hand signals. Ride predictably and confidently.
- Avoid the door-zone (the space next to parked cars, roughly 3-4’, in case someone swings their door open without looking).
- Choose your route. While you might think your usual route is unrideable, check out the quiet neighborhood streets just a block over. It’s a world of difference.
Getting started is hard and possibly even scary. Find a friend who is already riding to help hold your hand in the beginning. Join local bike groups, especially ones geared towards casual riders or families (Kidical Mass). Talk to your local bike shop about their suggestions, although if they give you grief, find a different shop. There are great resources online, (R)evolutions Per Minute is a FaceBook group whose members are always happy to give encouraging words or helpful suggestions for different situations. You are certainly not alone in your desire to bike with your family.
Finding a set-up that works well for your family is the first step. My children both started riding at 6 months old in a trailer behind my bike. I checked with our pediatrician first and waited until they could sit up and hold a helmet on their head. Our trailer, although we found it used on Craigslist, was top of the line and had suspension to minimize vibrations–one of the main concerns regarding riding with very young children. Other people have started with their children much younger and others have chosen to wait longer. This is a decision that is best made between you, your partner, and your child’s doctor.
- A trailer is a fantastic low-cost solution. You can find many used that are still in great shape. Trailers offer protection from the elements, a tiny haven for your child to look around, play with toys, or most often, nap. The downsides to using a trailer is that your child(ren) are low to the ground and separated from you. If they need something, you have to get off your bike to get to them. As children get bigger, the trailer gets heavier to pull and can be fairly cumbersome. You can expect a trailer to last until your child is about 4 years old, give or take.
- Bike seats that are front mounted are wonderful. They don’t fit every bike or rider but there are many options on the market that range from about $75-175. This seat puts your child (usually up to 35 lbs) right in between your arms. It’s perfect for interacting and cuddling while riding. Bike seats that mount on a rear rack have a higher weight limit, usually 45-50 lbs, sometimes higher. It’s easier to ride with a child on your bike as you’re not pulling the added weight of a trailer or focusing on the trailer’s movements in addition to your bike’s. Many people are concerned about dropping their bike with a child in the seat. If that is something that worries you, get comfortable to your bike without the children on board first. Start with your seat low enough for you to get a firm foot on the ground if you start to wobble. In reality, most people don’t just “fall off” a bike, and if they do, it’s most likely that you’re in the process of stopping. These falls are often slow and controlled. If your child is in a front seat, your arms will probably be protecting them. A rear seat often has side-protection. Choose a seat that works best with your abilities and needs. As long as you are comfortable riding a bike, adding a seat isn’t much different.
CARGO BIKES are in a class of their own. These are often viewed as car-replacement vehicles. Children under 4 years old must be strapped into a child seat (according to California vehicle code), those over 4 still need to be sitting on a designated “seat” that is designed for that purpose. Cargo bikes make riding with multiple children incredibly easy. It’s important to test ride a few different styles as this kind of bike is an investment at $800-5000.
- Longtail bikes (Yuba bicycles, Xtracycles) have extra length added to their frame to accommodate 2-3 children on the back.
- Bakfietsen or Long-John bikes look like they have a box or wheelbarrow out front. Children sit up front, low to the ground, making it a very stable and balanced set up.
For my family, we started with trailers until we realized that we wanted to make biking our main form of transportation. We committed to using our bikes for ALL trips that were “bikeable.” At first, we started with a 2-4 mile radius, excluding some routes that we weren’t comfortable on, yet. Slowly, we started finding longer distances doable and ways to get to previously uncharted territory. Our car sat in the driveway for longer and longer periods of time and we started paying attention to our savings for each mile ridden as opposed to driven.
After about 8 months, we made the leap into car-freedom by selling our Prius. Our cargo bike, a Yuba Mundo, made biking easier than using the trailer had been. In a pinch, we’ve been known to borrow my parents’ or a friend’s car and we have a membership to Zip Car, a car sharing program. We’ve found that biking can get us to about 90% of all our necessary destinations and made it 1000% more fun.
You can learn more about our journey by checking out our website: tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com. We document the good days and the not-so-good days, document what has been working and what hasn’t, and write about lots of our fun adventures going bicycle camping and touring. You can also find us riding around Sacramento and at our monthly Kidical Mass rides. We’re happy to answer any questions that could help get you into family bicycling.
Did you know that August is Children’s Vision and Learning Month & Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month? Even though vision problems typically are not diagnosed until the child reaches school-age, we can help our young babies strengthen their eyes, even at an early age!
Our family optometrist – Dr. Jing Han over at Healthy Eyes Optometry in Folsom – has been an amazing resource for us and our children. Even though we live in Sacramento, we have been making the trip to Folsom for the past three years, since we were so happy with their services and flexibility! (Also, they recently opened a location in El Dorado Hills!)
Parent Corner: How to Help Our Children
Since August is a great month to think about how we can help our children’s vision, I got a few parent-focused answers from the experts!
Q: [Elizabeth] What do you recommend for parents to look for to help their baby’s strengthen their eyes from an early age?
A: [Dr. Han] After a couple months old, their babies should be able to track and make eye contact. Parents can check their babies by covering one eye, and seeing if that causes any changes to their mood due to one eye not seeing as well as the other. Also a common way we catch problems in infants is to look at the “red-eye” reflex that shows up in pictures with a flash. If the reflexes do not look the same color, then we may have a problem.
Q: [Elizabeth] Last time we were in for an eye exam, you mentioned a program that you participate in that allows parents to bring their babies in for a simple eye-exam. What is that called?
A: [Dr. Han] It’s called the InfantSEE program. [This] volunteer based program for Optometrists [allows babies, between 6-12 months, to be brought in for a simple eye-exam. Doctors will typically check for "excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism; eye movement ability; [and] eye health problems.
Q: [Elizabeth] You have been active in the community – and we think that is very important. Do you have a list of events or locations you have been involved with in the community?
A: [Dr. Han] We definitely try to support our local businesses and resources, like the Folsom Zoo, by purchasing “adoption” papers for zoo animals or buying free tickets to pass out to our young patients. We also have members from the Lions Club come by each quarter to pick up our donated and used eyewear frames. We also sponsor local cycling clubs. The best way we have been able to participate with our community is supporting our very own patients who each year have girls scout cookies, mission trips, and sports fundraising that we set aside an annual budget for.
Q: [Elizabeth] While we personally find this topic very interesting and close to home, since Abigail and I both have pretty “bad” vision, what are some preventative things we can do to help our children (and other babies in the community) strengthen their eyes?
A: [Dr. Han] Some of the things that can prevented at an early age are amblyopia (lazy eye) and some eye turns. We recommend eye exams at 1 year of age, 3, and 5 at the very least. Later when the child gets to be around 8 or older, they can try wearing hard contact lenses or participate in corneal refractive therapy which both have been clinically shown to reduce progression of near sightedness. You can find more information about C.R.T at www.paragoncrt.com.
Q: [Elizabeth] Do you have any additional resources for parents?
InfantSEE is a free program that allows parents to have their babies screened early for eye problems. According to their website, “even if no eye or vision problems are apparent, the American Optometric Association recommends scheduling your baby’s first eye assessment at 6 months. Things that the Optometrist will test for include:
- excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism
- eye movement ability
- eye health problems
All About Vision has tons of useful information for children and adults. We were excited to see they had an entire page dedicated to how parents can help their children’s vision. In addition, they even offer information on infant vision (and how prenatal care may impact a child’s vision!)
Look at Me, Look at You
While we may not be experts on eye care, we believe prevention and early detection is key, and the best way to ensure good eye health for our children begins in infancy! One of the classes we offer can help you help your baby develop and strengthen his or her vision during the first few months!
Did you know that vision is a learned behavior? Also, babies who were born premature, had a difficult birth, or who have parents who wear contacts or glasses may need to “train” their eyes more than other babies. Join us in this 45 minute play-class for infants ages 2-6 months and learn easy activities to help your baby develop his or her vision. In this class, we focus on EIGHT different visual skills that babies learn to develop during their first six months of life. For every skill, we practice an easy song and game to play with our babies to encourage them to strengthen these visual skills. Using books, bubbles, and high-contrasting toys, this class not only encourages bonding between parent and child, but also helps baby develop his or her vision!
Please visit our Schedule & Registration page for more information about our upcoming classes!
While most of the time, conventional pregnancy and parenting emails usually go straight to my Trash, WhatToExpect sent me an email that I actually felt worthy of my reading time. They are offering three FREE nursing-friendly items – you just pay shipping costs – in honor of World Breastfeeding Week! Since this seems like such a great deal, I wanted to share with all of you!
Using the coupon code “WTE,” you have the option of getting 100% off FOUR different baby/new parent focused products – you only pay shipping costs.
First, Seven™ offers a one-piece sling that can carry a Newborn (8 lbs) up to toddlers (35 lbs) in THREE different ways! You do have to measure from shoulder to hip to get the right size, however they offer sizing insurance for only $3.5o more, which covers shipping both ways. Normally, this sling costs $39.95 + shipping, however with the “WTE” code, you only pay shipping costs! This is a great option for new parents who are testing out slings and don’t want to pay full-price!
Second, NursingPillow is just that – a nursing pillow. It features a curved bean-like shape, similar to the Boppy, to help support baby during nursing sessions. Like the sling, this pillow usually costs $39.95 + shipping, however by entering the “WTE” code, you only pay shipping costs! Even though I own a Boppy pillow, I remember hating that I had to tote the one pillow from room to room with me with my first son, so I am excited to try this new pillow with our second son, who is “due” in the next few weeks!
Third, Udder Covers™ is another one of the featured FREE items for Breastfeeding Awareness Month. This is a great little nursing cover – my sister owns one – to cover you (and baby) up while nursing in public. These typically cost #34.95, however by using the coupon code “WTE,” you only pay shipping costs. As many seasoned parents know, you can never have enough nursing covers. I liked to leave one in the diaper bag and one in my car, just in case I forgot my bag!
Finally, after ordering any of the above three options, you will receive a code for FREE Carseat Canopy! These cute and colorful covers fit over most portable car seats and usually costs $49.95. However, again, by using a coupon code, you only pay shipping costs!
In the end, I ordered one Seven Sling, one Nursing Pillow, and one Udder Cover. For all three, I only paid $35.80 (or $39.30, including $3.50 sizing insurance for the sling). Not bad! These are all GREAT option for all parents (or gifts for new parents) with minimal costs. Even though I am not a new parent, it has been a few years since I nursed my son and I was excited to get some new “things” to help me transition back into my normal life after birth.
How To Order: It’s as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Visit sevenslings.com, UdderCovers.com, or Nursingpillow.com.
2. Click on “Shop Now” and select any baby carrier, nursing cover or nursing pillow you like.
3. Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll be taken automatically to your shopping bag. Enter the promo code “WTE” and each company will deduct 100% of the cost of the carrier, nursing cover, and pillow — all you pay are the shipping fees!
You can use promo code “WTE” for all 4 offers— just open a new browser window each time you do.
When the topic of Baby Signs comes up, the question I get most often is: “When do you teach a baby to sign?“ when the question I wish I would get is: “How can I be successful teaching a baby to sign?”
No matter what age you start showing your baby signs, your baby will not sign overnight. It may take longer the younger the baby is, but regardless of age, signing takes time. Think back to when you tried learning a second (or third) language… Remember how challenging and frustrating it was? You started with a few words at a time and once you mastered those words, you added a few more and so on. It was a S…L…O…W… process. So unless you’re John Travolta in Phenomenon, you probably cannot pick up a language by just reading a dictionary. And chances are, your baby isn’t going to pick up signs the first few times you try.
Signing with your baby takes PATIENCE and PERSISTENCE, both of which seem to be in small quantities with a new baby. Research done by Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn reveal that most babies really start signing (purposefully) around 12 months. Some babies may sign sooner and some babies may sign later. Each baby is an individual! But in our experience, we see many babies show their first sign between 8-10 months and only do one or two signs until about a year. This is average.
Signing in Action
Now because we teach classes, my daughter has been exposed to Baby Signs® classes since day one. Well actually, she was around our “Sign, Say & Play” song long before she was born. She now comes along to classes 3-4 times a week, so she gets a lot of exposure to the signs, songs, and class structure. Starting around 6 months old, when she heard the song, she started waving her arms around attempting the signs for SIGN and PLAY. But even though she’s exposed to all of these signs and started very early, she didn’t show us her first sign MORE until she was about 8 months old.
We were so excited when she started signing MORE, but then she only did that one sign occasionally and that was the only sign she did. That was until she turned 10 months. At 10 months, she knows and signs: MORE, ALL DONE, MILK, DRINK, BATH, PHONE, HAT, NO, HI/BYE, MUSIC/SONG, and HELP.
Although when she first started signing, she didn’t do signs on command. She used them in context, which is why we start teaching them! Signs are a COMMUNICATION TOOL. Watch the short 10 second video of her signing BATH at 10 months old as soon as she heard the water turn on in the bathtub!
When she started, we didn’t sign to her ALL DAY LONG. On the contrary! Before she was a year, we only reinforced a few at home. This proves that you don’t have to be fluent in ASL to teach your baby signs. It’s not about the quantity, but quality. In the signing classes or workshop, we teach you how and when to teach your baby signs to be successful.
Of course we’re surprised and very proud, but each baby is different and has his/her own developmental timeline. This baby has about lots of signs at 10 months for the following reasons:
- She started very early.
- She’s exposed to Baby Signs® Classes 3-4 times a week and the adults in her life modeled consistent signs several times a day.
- Since she took her first independent steps at 9 months old, she could focus on learning signs at 10 months when most babies are learning how to walk.
And here is another short video clip of the same baby “reading” a book with us at 12 months old. You can see she has modifications, but she can show us what she likes. For example, because “Brown Bear Brown Bear” is her favorite book, she continually points out every fish, every duck, and every dog in all the books we have [see recommended Slide & Find version of this board book pictured to the right].
These last few weeks, I have been “nesting.” Every bathroom in the house is sparkling and clean, the kitchen sink has been scrubbed (multiple times), and the baseboards have all been wiped clean. Additionally, last week, my parents and sisters came over to us “spring clean” our garage and the baby’s room, which both have been ultimately used as storage.
Since the organizing madness, I have become obsessed with hooks and have been asking my dad and husband to hang them everywhere. The garage now has hooks on every wall, holding up bags, wagons, and everything in between that I used to trip over every time I tried to get to my car. We have also added hooks downstairs by the front door for our son to hang his jackets, hats, and backpack. He LOVES them (and I love having empty banisters).
Needless to say, after our organizing day, we filled the car and took BAGS and BOXES of things to Goodwill. It felt amazing! I am always surprised on how much stuff we can accumulate in a short period of time (and the kind of crap we keep…)
In the spirit of donating, one of my favorite things to do is “reuse” food. While I don’t actually “reuse” food, I’m all for cooking and preparing foods that I can use in multiple meals. One of my go-to store bought item is a rotisserie chicken. After tearing the chicken apart and saving the “good” stuff, I let the bones/undesireable parts simmer in the slow cooker overnight with tons of water. I usually end up with 2-3 containers of chicken broth that I stick in the freezer for later use.
Anyway, this last time I picked up a rotisserie, we didn’t eat the meat right away like we usually do, so every time I opened the fridge door, the overflowing container of chicken stared back at me. To make matters worse, I had a huge Tupperware of leftover angel hair pasta from Monday’s dinner. (I was never very good at estimating how much pasta to actually make).
So, during my nightly Pinterest surfing, I found this recipe for copycat Asian Lettuce Tacos, similar to the appetizers found at the Cheesecake Factory. I discovered these last month during one of our Moms’ Night Out and fell in love. Anyway, these “tacos” (or lettuce wraps) are loaded with veggies and I had everything I needed (aside from the bean sprouts) at home. I made a few additions, but overall the wraps were delicious! (See below for my modified recipe).
Ingredients for the Wraps
- Leftover Angel Hair Pasta (cooked and rinsed)
- Shredded Rotisserie Chicken
- Shredded Carrots
- Julienned Red Peppers
- Bean Sprouts (rinsed)
- Romaine Lettuce (rinsed and patted dry)
- Cilantro (rinsed)
Ingredients for Peanut Sauce
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 11/2 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- pinch cayenne pepper
- Optional: Chili Sauce (my husband adds this to his peanut sauce)
- Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together. (I made the sauce the day before and left in the fridge until I was ready to use it).
- Coat the chicken lightly with the peanut sauce.
- Arrange all the wrap ingredients on a plate and serve with remaining peanut sauce. Everyone can make and eat their own wraps.