On Saturday we checked off the baby to-do list the final item that must be completed before Baby Awesomerod's arrival: having the police evaluate the installation of our infant car seat. We're really glad we took advantage of this free service because it turns out that we, like the vast majority of expectant parents, had improperly installed our car seat.
We have one of the most popular car seat models, the Graco SnugRide 35 (in the Hathaway pattern)...
car seat bases (one for Matt's car and one for mine)
To Matt's credit, he read the manual that came with our car seat and looked up information about other parents' installation stories online. He followed the directions perfectly. The reason hardly anyone installs a car seat properly, though, is that the instructions themselves are lacking, at least according to what the police would like to see.
Here's what the police are looking for:
1) The car seat should be positioned rear-facing in the back seat. This one is a given. The one piece of news you may have missed is that children should stay in rear-facing car seats for at least two years, or ideally even longer. Apparently, though, lots of parents report that children's growing legs get in the way of making the two-year-or-more rule a reality.
2) The car seat may be positioned in the middle of the back seat or behind either the driver's seat or the passenger's seat. The police indicated no preferences here.
3) The car seat needs to be positioned at a 45 degree angle. This is something we had not done correctly. Fortunately, our car seat base has an angle adjusting mechanism, making this a really easy fix with a couple turns of a knob. For those car seat bases that do not have this capability, the police had on hand Styrofoam pool noddles (the type with a hollow middle) that they cut into pieces the width of a car seat. They used these pool noddle pieces to elevate the car seat bases to the correct angle.
4) The car seat should not move at all from left to right. Matt did this correctly using our vehicles' latch systems and pulling with all his might.
5) There needs to be significant space between the edge of the car seat and the back of the front seats because the car seat SHOULD be able to move up and down. (At first this seemed odd to me, but then I learned...) this is because the same general laws of physics that are at work with an adult seat belt during an accident apply to an infant car seat. Here's another place where we messed up. We both drive compact cars -- I have a 2003 Mazda Protege and Matt has a 2003 Volkswagen GTI. Neither car is particularly large, but neither car is exactly a Mini Cooper, either. Still, you don't appreciate how little space you have in your car's back seat until you put these giant infant car seats in them. These suckers really eat away your space! So, the police moved our front passenger seats up nearly as far as they would go and then said, "See, that's done correctly." Forget the fact that this means that if Matt, me and Baby Awesomerod are all traveling together in the same car, it's likely to be a little Driving Miss Daisy for a while in our vehicles, as Matt escorts the baby and me around town chauffeur-style.
When we just put in the base, we thought, "Wow, this isn't so bad!"
Then we put the car seat IN the base and reality set in. Tight squeeze!
Of course, finding out that it's nearly impossible to sit in the front passenger seats of our car when the infant car seat is in place got Matt a little excited as he contemplated the prospects of getting a new car sooner than we were planning. For me, though, I'd rather just suck it up for a couple years and continue to save our money. We don't have a payment on either car, and as I enter my maternity leave (only three more days of teaching!) I would rather not have any new bills as we'll be financially stretching ourselves already. Fortunately, we are not alone in this venture, as every other set of new parents at Saturday's car seat event were in similarly compact cars, frowning as they realized how much car space a little baby will take up.
6) The police discourage parents from installing any additional car seat accessories
Although I wish there was some more space to spare in our cars, I'm glad we had our car seats professionally checked for the piece of mind it offers. Now our ride home from the hospital will be terrifying only because we're bringing a tiny human along with us, not because we have to worry about whether or not we've strapped her car seat in correctly.