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Car Seats Suck

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Oz Spies, who started blogging while pregnant with her son Axel, spends her days working in the nonprofit sector, chasing after a very active baby boy, and trying to find time to paint her toenails, walk the dog, feed the cat, and kiss her husband. You can read more at Knocked Up.

My eleven-month-old son Axel hates the car seat. He loathes being strapped in with every last ounce of his skinny body. He curses the heavens in baby babble almost every time we go for a drive. If he had his way, I think he’d get a hold of a couple of phone books to sit on and take the wheel himself. We’d go wherever he wants to go – probably someplace with mounds of graham crackers and all you can eat Cheerios and unlocked cabinets, where babies crawl free and gnaw on bark without meddlesome adults telling them it’s filthy and will give them splinters in their mouths.

I give him his sippy cup, which usually means that he’s quiet for 60 seconds, and the car seat is getting soaked with milk for 10 minutes. There’s now an attractive milk stain circling the base of the car seat. Stains are good for resale value, right? I pack toys around him – a rattling caterpillar, a purple crinkly hippo face, a wooden ring adorned with a pirate and a compass and a bell – and he throws the toys over the side, too. He’s bailing out the car seat, to keep it light in case it suddenly needs to float, which is very good thinking in the high alpine desert of Denver.

Once the seat is empty, he screams. He pulls against the car seat straps. He beseeches other drivers to bust him out of his safe, dependable, Japanese-engineered station wagon prison. Sometimes, if he’s really tired, he’ll give in and fall asleep, but other times he yells and sobs for 40 minutes. He’s immune to the charms of NPR and Modest Mouse. Even the adored toys that are really trash, like empty plastic water bottles, lose their power when given to Axel in a moving vehicle.

The car seat hatred is similar to the stroller hatred and the being carried hatred and the shopping cart hatred – he’ll tolerate all of them, but usually not for long. Try to link them up together – car seat then stroller then being carried – and you’re asking for a writhing baby fit of fury. Inevitably I end up letting Axel crawl someplace where other, probably better and more resourceful, parents do not let their children crawl – the floor at Target, down the sidewalk at the farmer’s market, through a bed of bark mulch. What he wants is to move, by his own power and in a direction of his choosing. I guess it’s nice that he’s determined, and that he’s not easily distracted – those qualities will serve him well if he’s a mountain climber or a skeet shooter or just taking the SATs. But, while he’s screaming in the back of the car and I can hear him over the radio ignoring my repetitions that everything is really okay, I wish he’d be just a little more docile. With his size, he’s in for many more years being strapped in carseats and booster seats.

There are a few things I won’t do: let him crawl around the backseat with the dog, turn his car seat around to face the front, or give him snacks. All are for his own safety. I’d like him not to fly through the windshield and fracture his oversized head, he hasn’t yet reached the car seat turn-around markers of one year and 20 lbs (and he probably won’t be 20 lbs for a few months after his first birthday, since he’s under the mistaken impression that eating a full meal is a waste of time better spent banging spoons against the floor), and I’m afraid he’d choke (again) on a cheddar bunny. But there’s got to be something that will work to keep him mostly content in the car. It’ll be snowing soon, so we’ll spend lots more time in the mountains – and we’ll have to drive to get there because Denver doesn’t have a high speed train that goes all the way up I-70, nor can I beam us up or wriggle my nose to transport us.

So what do you do to keep energetic babies and toddlers happy in the car, before they’re old enough for games like I Spy?

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson October 24, 2008

    I really don’t have any great advice on this one because it sounds like you’ve been doing all the right things. Both of my kids were great in the car because they had to be–we travel a lot.

    But when they did go through their phases of carseat intolerance, the only thing that worked was finding a toy that they LOVED and I made sure to only give it to them when in the car. That afforded me at least 15 minutes. πŸ™‚

  • comment avatar Kari October 24, 2008

    This will be extremely helpful…or not. One of my children was that exact same way and nothing helped. He just had to grow out of it. Facing foward helps a ton so you’re almost there!

  • comment avatar Kagey October 24, 2008

    My 11 month old got to this point after an 11 day road trip! For two days after we got home, I went nowhere, so that he didn’t even have to ride a moment in that thing. He would see me walking toward the car seat and start arching his back!
    He’s a little better now, but he still struggles every time we strap him in.
    He will turned around in a matter of weeks, so I’m hoping that makes the difference!

  • comment avatar Candace October 24, 2008

    This could have been written by me. Both of my children were nightmares with their carseats. It got better as they got into bigger seats but for now, no advice above what you’re already doing!

  • comment avatar Oz October 24, 2008

    I guess I’ll just have to wait it out then. Oh, well. At least it won’t last forever!

  • comment avatar Erin October 24, 2008

    Oh man, I think our kids are related. Hey, I think I saw you and Axel today in cherry creek. We were leaving whole foods and heading down 2nd I couldn’t miss Axel’s hair! That’s what tipped me off :). Petunia is exactally like that in the car. She’s pretty good on trips around town but on long car rides, it’s not pretty! We took a couple of music classes at Music Together (I totally recommend these classes) anyway playing the CD’s helps a bit and just totally acting like a goof to distract her (which is hard to do while you are driving!) and snacks (again if you are back there monitoring) Good Luck! Oh and we should totally do a play date. Email me.

  • comment avatar Robin October 25, 2008

    Our son is also 11 months old and endures cyclic hatred of his car seat from time to time. As suggested above we found a favorite toy that is only given to him while driving — which helps considerably. (On a side note he has yet another favorite toy which is bestowed on him at nap times — a helpful prop to get him into nap mode.)

    Another helpful prop for traveling was tried after we determined that his back was sweaty after a drive — an absorbent cotton cloth folded and placed under him to help prevent seat rash. Babies want to be comfortable when constrained in a seat just like the rest of us . . .

    For very long drives one of us will sit in the back seat next to him and chat/play with him during the drive. This takes his mind off the “evil seat” and keeps all of us sane.

  • comment avatar Momma, The Casual Perfectionist October 25, 2008

    My daughter hated her car seat too. The only thing that helped was switching to the bigger seat before we flipped her forward. (We’d been given one of those infant car seats by a friend, and we knew that we’d need to buy a bigger car seat eventually. We ended up getting a bigger car seat that could be used facing backward and forward and we switched her. All of a sudden, she was a much happier camper!!)

    Granted, we still had our moments. Then, when we faced her forward (after the 20lbs AND 1-yr mark), she did even better.

    As you know, the car seat is non-negotiable. You’re getting strapped in, period. Like others have mentioned a special “car-only toy” seems to help.

    I wish I could tell you the strife will end, but our problems morphed from general discomfort in the car seat to the battle of actually getting her IN the car seat. *sigh*

    BUT…once she’s strapped in now, she’s happy.


    ~Momma, The Casual Perfectionist

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