Awhile back, I posted my review of essential baby gear. That list covered the basics—feeding, diapering, napping and wearing the baby. Now that Rachel has survived her first year, I’ve had a chance to use some other products, and to continue to think about simplifying in order to minimize space and waste. If you’re on a boat, or in a small house, I have found a few products to be indispensable.
My sister gets credit for the first item, as it was an unexpected gift: the Bumbo baby seat ($40, accessories extra). This closed-cell foam chair is molded to fit the backside of a wee one (from about 3 to12 months) so that they can comfortably sit up before they are able to do so unsupported. It has a tray accessory for snacks or toys which I have not used since Rachel figured out how to snap it off. The chair has proven to be lightweight, sturdy and versatile. We have used it to keep her safe in the shower (no bathtubs on a boat except the galley sink), to sit with us in the cockpit or join us at dinnertime, and as our primary “high chair” for feeding times. We tend to have children who are long and lanky (not unlike their parents), but if your baby is the roly-poly type, his or her legs may not fit the mold of the Bumbo beyond 6-9 months, and so it might not be as useful as it was for us. Also, once mobile, they can pry themselves out of the seat, so you have to really watch them. At $40, it may be a bit pricey for the use you get out of it, so while the seat has been perfect for us, I would recommend borrowing or finding a used one.
We bought several products from Fisher-Price which have served us well. All of our children spent time in a Bouncy Seat ($20-$60 depending on whistles and bells), but we did without electronic music and fancy toy bars. The vibrating feature is necessary for calming fussy babies when you can’t carry them, though Rachel was the exception to the rule as she didn’t like the vibrations. It has limited usefulness, (from about newborn to 6 months) as the baby quickly grows out of the seat. It’s another great product to borrow or buy second-hand. Before babies can stand up on their own, they really want to practice standing and bouncing, and the Fisher-Price Space-Saving Bounce and Spin Froggy ($60) worked well for us on the boat and really didn’t have a big footprint. It also kept her safe and happy on the dock or pool deck. Again, though, once she became mobile, she had no tolerance for being stuck in one place. I really wish some innovative company would come up with a seat that really grows with the baby: a frame with a hammock-like attachment for newborns, an adjustable harness for sitting or standing or jumping, and wheels for a new walker. Not sure exactly how they could make that work, but it would save money and the hassle of swapping one piece of baby gear for another.
Our favorite piece of boat-baby gear was also the cheapest: the Fisher-Price Outdoor Swing ($20). It hangs in our cockpit (or stows in a locker) and never needs batteries as the motion of the boat keeps it gently swinging all the time. It has two settings so that it can recline for an infant—Rachel napped in it as a newborn—or sit up for a toddler. She has spent many happy hours in the swing, and it even does double-duty as a high chair when we have a meal in the cockpit. It is safe, easy to clean, and fun. Give it a little push and it delights the pusher as well as the push-ee. I can whole-heartedly recommend this one, for a boat or for a yard.
This next piece of equipment comes in handy for children who are aware of their bathroom habits at an early age: the Baby Bjorn Potty Chair ($30). Because babies can feel wetness when wearing cloth diapers, I potty-trained all of my children before the age of two. I have always liked the idea of infant potty-training, but I’ve fallen short in practice. Instead of aiming for perfection, I’m just trying to make progress. So far, so good! Rachel started practicing sitting on the potty chair as early as 6 months, just to get used to the idea. It has a high back-rest so even a very small child can be comfortable on it. She started going in it at about 9 months, and goes often when I put her on the potty between diapers. It has a bowl insert that simply comes out to dump and rinse—very easy to clean. For when we’re underway, the potty chair is portable, so she could use it upstairs or in the cockpit if there’s not an adult handy to take her down to the head. It takes up very little room, but someone with really limited space would probably just skip it and wait until the baby could sit on the regular potty. Hopefully, when it comes time for Rachel to get serious about using the potty (around 18 months), she will be well-acquainted with the concept and it should cut down on the transition time from diapers to underpants. And because we wash and hang diapers, that will mean a lot to me and the little laundry helpers around here!
The last piece of equipment I’d like to discuss is the Chicco portable high chair ($35). I have mixed feelings about this chair. On the one hand, it is sturdy, yet comes apart to store in a locker under a dining-area settee. It fits on both our salon and cockpit tables, and wipes clean pretty easily. On the other hand, taking it apart is a challenge and it ends up getting in the way. Also, there is a gap between the chair and table which allows a lot of mess to fall on the floor beneath, even with the super plastic catch-all Baby Bjorn Bibs (2 for $20). At $35, I was willing to take the risk that it would not live up to its excellent reviews. Perhaps as Rachel grows and becomes more adept at feeding herself, I will like it more. Suffice it to say that I haven’t given up on it yet.
As we arrived at the one-year mark with our latest offspring, I looked back over the ten years I’ve been mothering and saw that in some areas, I’ve really changed the way we do things. I have far less gear with the fifth baby than I did with the first. You really just don’t need that much stuff. Only a few items do I consider as needs instead of wants: the cloth diapers, the baby carrier, the compact stroller, and some kind of baby seat. Though I’ve tried lots of different products, in the end I am convinced that where child-rearing is concerned, less is more.