Momma's best hands-free device: a baby sling
Not every mommy does it.
When I did it at the mall, people definitely noticed. Some smiled. Others, I observed, found it off-putting.
No, I am not talking about breastfeeding. I am talking about baby wearing, a timeless practice defined as holding or carrying a young child using a soft carrier.
Mommies "wearing" babies dates back centuries, to a time before strollers, car seats and safety guidelines. The practice makes some parents nervous. But, like organic baby food and cloth diapers, baby wearing is making a comeback. The benefits, proponents say, include bonding and convenience.
I first read about baby wearing in a parenting book. When I Googled the subject, more than 150,000 hits popped up, including the site for Babywearing International Inc., a nonprofit with chapters worldwide. The group urges caregivers to carry infants or toddlers during daily activities such as housecleaning and grocery shopping.
Strollers and outward-facing carriers give young children the impression they face the world alone, BWI says. Baby wearing stimulates brain development, helps infants develop head control and allows easy access for nursing.
Tampa Bay Babywearing promotes the movement through education. With more than 200 members, including moms and dads, the group hosts monthly Learn and Play events in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Attendees try on different carriers and wraps while mingling with likeminded parents.
In February, I attended a Learn and Play event at the Land O'Lakes Library near my home. I brought Ethan, my two-month-old son, in his car seat. A room filled with moms and babies welcomed us with smiles. The group's leader, Michelle Ocasio, introduced herself and emptied a duffle bag of carriers onto the floor.
Ocasio founded Tampa Bay Babywearing with friend Angela Dunkley. The group formed from three smaller clubs in October 2012. Ocasio, also a first-time mom, has a 22-month old boy, but she baby-wears like a pro. A former New Yorker, the Lutz resident learned about baby wearing researching online.
She joined BWI and taught herself the art form. From froggying (tucking a baby's legs into the froggy position) to back carrying, she mastered it all. At the February meetup, she demonstrated multiple ways to wear.
The variety of carriers available surprised me. There are pouches, ring slings, Mei Tai carriers, woven wraps and soft structured carriers. The fabric carriers come in different patterns and colors. Some look like simple scarves, while others have ties or buckles. Each offers a hands-free way to carry, comfort and nurture a child.
At the meet up, I watched as skilled moms tried multiple carriers, all of which were available to rent for $5 a week. The first, a long stretchy piece of cloth, seemed confusing to me. I didn't feel confident learning to twist and tie it. I imagined my son falling to the floor if I messed up the design. Also, the group said it worked best for newborns, and I wanted something to use long-term. So, I asked to see something with ties.
Ultimately, I decided on an Asian-inspired carrier called a Mei Tai. It has four ties, which crisscrisoss in the back and tie around the waist. When I tried it with my son, it felt secure.
Walking with him and not holding onto him felt strange, but he quickly fell asleep in the soft fabric. So I asked to rent the handmade carrier for two weeks. I also learned mothers can purchase similar carriers online. Brand names include FreeHand and BabyHawk. They range in price from $40 to $100.
Back at home, putting my son in the trial carrier proved more difficult. He cried a little as I fumbled to get it right. So I put him down and practiced with a stuffed toy. I wondered how the other moms made it look so easy.
I rolled the carrier up and put it in my diaper bag, unsure when or where I might work up the courage to use it.
The next day my mom, a doting grandma, suggested I try it at the mall. This time, Ethan seemed fine with the idea. He sat still until secured in the carrier. Then, he slept as we walked the stores together, his head resting against my chest. He snoozed while I shopped.
I still love my stroller, but I plan to purchase a Mei Tai. When Ethan and I walk the zoo or run errands, I want the option of having him near my heart. Wearers say babies carried just three hours a day cry significantly less, and a happy baby means a happy mommy.
Times staff writer Sarah Whitman gave birth to her first child, Ethan Cole, in December.
Motherhood commentary | When to sit back, when to step up
If I had a nickel for every time I heard one of my kids say, "I'm not friends with you anymore," I would probably have something like $33.65. It never fails that the very friend they said these words to ends up raiding my pantry, sometimes not even 30 minutes later.
Parents are not oblivious to the cat fights between the kids and their friends. Over time, I have learned to develop selective hearing, because I get emotionally invested in the relationships. It's hard to know the details of the fight, support my child in his/her (okay, it's predominantly her) decision and not have an opinion. But I allow them to work it out and decide for themselves.
Up until recently, the disagreements between the girls could be as simple as who set the trend for pink hair or who concocted the latest popular word that everyone is overusing. And, don't forget, there's always the very serious breaking of girl code and dating someone's ex.
But, when the kids get to high school, the problems grow larger.
The peer pressure to experiment with drugs becomes prevalent. The number of kids trying drugs seems staggering.
We began drug testing the kids in eighth grade. Not because we suspected they were doing anything but to make sure they had an excuse when offered to try something. We hoped it would be a deterrent. We've since discussed the tactic with the kids, and they actually appreciated having the option to use us as the "bad guy."
Kits at the local drug stores range from $15 to $30. The more expensive kits can detect a range of illegal drugs.
They've passed every drug test we've ever given them.
But, they've been witness to friends' subjecting themselves to a variety of substances. And it hasn't been easy on them. They have strong opposition toward any substance abuse, but they feel it isn't their place to make demands.
They confide quite a bit in me, but I'm not naive enough to believe I know everything.
I've been put in the uncomfortable position of having to confront parents about their child's drugs use.
Parents are automatically on the defensive. Not necessarily because they think their child is an angel, either. It's often because they're embarrassed and really aren't thrilled that someone from outside of their four walls knows more than they do.
Some parents don't believe their child would ever do such a thing. Certain they instilled the proper values and morals early on, they say they don't worry.
Those are the ones I dread confronting.
Is it our obligation to get involved? Every time? Just when it's important? Who decides which issues are important and which are not?
What if something happens to a child and you had knowledge that could have prevented it? Can you live with yourself?
What about the consequences to our own kids?
As parents, we have worked diligently to develop a bond. We trust they will come to us when they need help. Will they stop coming to us if we interject with another parent?
Is there actually a right thing or is it just what we believe is best in that moment? We have a heart and we have instinct. Depending on the severity of the issue, it's a fine line between doing the right thing and butting in.
We all say we want someone to tell us if they know something, but do we? Doesn't that make us accountable and force us to do something? If we all want to know, as we say we do, why does it often result in the end of a friendship between the adults?
I have watched my kids make the wrong decision on more than one occasion. But, I've observed them on countless occasions doing the right thing.
Recently, one of the kids stood up to a friend who has started to make several poor decisions. She's hanging out with different people and has stopped caring about things that used to be important to her. She's dabbling in risky behavior.
My child actually wants to go to the parents and try to help. I was promised that this friend will not be raiding the pantry unless changes are made.
I'm amazed at their resilience when exposed to some of the things society throws their way. Sometimes, I hear the newest craze and find myself wondering just how much they can avoid while they're stumbling through high school.
But, they always seem to show me that they've been listening. So, I keep chugging along, doing what I've always done. Listening, disciplining, loving.
Because we're all doing the best we can with what we've got.
Heather Tempesta is a Brandon mother of two sons, 16 and 9, and a daughter, 14.