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Adventures In Toddler-Wearing (Plus, a Giveaway!)

Taylor Hengen Newman

Babywearing is one of Attachment Parenting's big three tenets, and -- AP-oriented or not -- I'd venture to say it's one of any-kind-of-parenting's fun perks. Happy babies plus free hands = winning combo, no? There's a reason people have been doing this since the beginning of, well, babies!

Our baby, as it turned out, though, was not such a fan of his carrier when he was small; Kaspar had eczema issues, and the closeness of the carrier actually irritated his skin. He preferred the air-flow factor in the stroller, so he cruised around on wheels for most of his babyhood… Then, of course, he turned into a toddler, wanting nothing to do with the stroller, and only to explore his world on foot (or via his "race car," a $35 Craiglist purchase which has gone the literal and figurate distance in place of the stroller, when on-foot hasn't made sense). I'm all for exploration, and the race car has been a solid stroller sub-in when we've needed it, but traveling -- which we do a lot of -- has, over the past year, presented some real Kaspar-transport challenges. Our two-year-old can't roam free in airports, obviously, and there's no way we can gate-check a big, red, plastic pretend-car. Until recently, we made do with a foldable umbrella stroller, but this tied up our hands, and Kaspar hated sitting in it. I didn't blame him; seated low to the ground and pushed out ahead of us, he had limited sight-lines and was kind of thrust, defenseless, into the thick of crowded airport terminals and busy city sidewalks. And because it was so small and flimsy, the stroller wasn't ideal for far-flung roaming once we'd reached our destinations. I knew there had to be a better way, and, when I saw a little girl (at least three years old) perched happily on her mother's back in a kiddo-carrier (an Ergo, I think) during one such airport escapade, it dawned on me that baby wearing is… not just for babies anymore. Since Kaspar's eczema has completely cleared up, too, I thought it might be worth revisiting for our own family. Spoiler alert: Best. Idea. Ever.

The perks of toddler-wearing differ somewhat -- although there is, in our experience, some cross-over -- from those espoused for babies. Babies benefit from the feelings of security that near-constant contact with a parent creates. Having spent nine months grooving on their moms' physical motions, in the womb, the baby-wearing experience also provides the very-littles with a reassuring sense of continuity; the motion they enjoy on their parents' bodies feels a lot like the motion they became accustomed to while in their mothers' bellies. According to the La Leche League International website, too, Dr. William Sears (all-things AP guru) lauds baby wearing for stimulating "the infant’s vestibular system, the parts of the inner ear that work like levels or sensors to control the body’s sense of balance. The stimulation 'helps babies breathe and grow better, regulates their physiology, and improves motor development' (Sears and Sears 2001). This applies to both full-term and premature babies." Other health bennies include stabilized heart rates, sounder sleeps, enhanced weight gain and body temperature regulation. Yep, and it's convenient for parents, which isn't exactly the hallmark of Attachment Parenting approaches -- though I maintain many parents find their own happy mediums along AP lines -- and deserves a round of applause.

As far as toddler-wearing goes, I think that sense of security still translates; rather than being marooned in the middle of crowds, unable to see us without contorting himself to look above and behind the stroller he's buckled into, Kaspar gets to be both a part of the action, and protected by our physical bodies, when he's in the carrier. He can look around and ahead of us, or rest his head on our backs and close his eyes for a secure, restful ride. He also gets to participate in our conversations when he's in the carrier -- which he loves (boy is VERBAL) -- and, situated several feet above his normal standing height, he gets to see (and bring our attention to) his world's most fascinating features from an exciting new vantage point.

Kaspar loves riding in his "piggy-backer," which makes getting him into it a piece of cake. I literally buckle it onto my waist, ask him to jump onto my back (where he holds on, monkey-style), and then reach my arms into the straps like a backpack. (Once he feels it supporting him, he lets go of me, and comfortable chills out.) We brought ours on a trip to Yellow Springs, Ohio this past weekend, and it made a huge difference in navigating the airport; Aaron and I could carry Kaspar and wheel our bags around at the same time, and we could move quickly -- or stand in lines -- as needed, without having to keep a constant watch on whether Kaspar was wandering off, getting trampled, or scaling the gate-lounge seating. We also wore the carrier around town once we arrived in Yellow Springs; Kaspar had a ton of fun playing on a local playground and riding a loaner-tricycle on the bike path that runs along the creek there, but when he grew tired, or when we were walking around reading restaurant menus and choosing a place for dinner, he was happy to hang out on our backs.

Kaspar, at the airport, on my back. All smiles.

Kaspar, at the airport, on my back. (All smiles.)

I feel like I've discovered (although I'm definitely not the first -- that same LLLI website notes that baby wearing is useful for toddlers, too) a new 'trick' that makes life with a toddler that much smoother, like stealthily placing two pairs of socks front-and-center in the dryer so Kaspar can open it up and 'choose' which socks he'll wear (it's all about the choosing for him, not the socks). Somehow, toddler-wearing has helped us achieve a happy symbiosis in those situations when walking together (which we love doing, but takes for-ev-er) won't do. We're not wearing Kaspar around the house or anything like that; I want him to be as independent as possible in his home -- and surrounding -- environment. But in those contexts where independence isn't an option, which can be, understandably, quite frustrating for a little guy with big plans and ideas of his own, Kaspar is far more happy to go with the flow if he gets to do so up on our backs. Which works for everyone. Ultimately, my goals as a parent revolve around creating a family lifestyle that respects, and meets, everyone's needs (big and small), and achieves balance and calm to the greatest extent possible. Toddler-wearing? Totally under-rated, and right on target.

Do you "wear" your toddler? Why or why not? Have you simply continued the practice since babyhood or is it something you introduced in the toddler-phases? In what situations do you find toddler-wearing most helpful?

PS. Want to WIN an organic Boba carrier? (It's the one we use! Good for infants through tots… I LOVE it.) Click here and enter the Alt-Mama giveaway!

A rad mural in Yellow Springs! (Below)

Yellow springs mural