Once our twin girls were a few months old and the pediatrician released us from house arrest, I quickly learned to get out and about with them in tow. The first few trips were a bit nerve-wracking, but once I got the swing of things, I would go anywhere and everywhere with my babies safely tucked inside our double stroller.
My trusty double stroller was like my best friend, always by my side. It allowed me the freedom to be out and about, mostly hands-free. I could run virtually any errand, and my girls loved seeing the sights all around town.
At some point after the girls turned one, though, I started to think about Life After Stroller. I would see other mamas with one toddler, ambling adorably along beside them. Were my girls missing out, constrained by their five-point harnesses?
It took a lot of courage, but – when the girls were 18 months old – I finally worked myself up to try a [very limited] outing with them…sans my BFF the stroller.
I wanted to buy a loaf of bread at the local bakery. I planned our trip when it wouldn’t be crowded, and when the girls were in an amicable mood. I can still remember the drum of my blood pressure as we made our way across the parking lot, hand in hand. I had prepared ahead, bringing a reusable shopping bag to put the bread in, knowing I wouldn’t have a spare hand to carry it. I had only my credit card in my back pocket. I just had to turn one of the girls’ hands loose long enough to hand over my credit card and stick the bread in the bag. It wasn’t our usual relaxing trip to the bakery…but we did it!
Over the course of the next year, I gradually worked up to the retirement of our double stroller. It was a bittersweet farewell to my former BFF, but being able to walk hand-in-hand with my girlies was a great reward. Here’s what worked for us…
1) Practice. Hubby helped me practice being out and about with the girls. We would go to the mall or to the park and walk, hand in hand. At first I wasn’t up to a larger trip by myself without the stroller, but I think that practice helped the girls learn to walk in public. After a while, the girls and I would practice walking, just the three of us, usually in our neighborhood.
2) Have an exit strategy. The girls knew that walking “like big girls” was a privilege. They also knew that if they didn’t respect that privilege, Mommy kept the stroller in the car. It only had to happen once that we left our shopping cart at the customer service desk and returned to the car to get the stroller.
3) Enlist their help. Eventually I could offer the girls a little more freedom. Having them “help” me in the store was always a huge motivator. Sometimes they would carry a hand basket to hold small items. Other times they would help me push the cart. Or I would give each of them a particular item to be “responsible” for…Baby A would be fixated on holding the tea bags, and Baby B had a death grip on the bag of salad. It makes the errand a learning experience, too, and can be a lot of fun for everyone.
4) Employ the “one finger” rule. Kids like to look with their hands, and I don’t find it realistic to expect them to keep their hands to themselves at all times. If they absolutely must touch something, my girls are allowed to use “one finger”. There’s limited damage they can do [in most circumstances] with “one finger”, and it satiates their need to reach. Too, the times when they must keep their hands to themselves – like in an area with breakable items – I am able to limit my “HANDS OFF” mandate to when it really matters.
5) Have a few tricks up your sleeve. For downtime – waiting in the check-out line, for example – I used a couple of techniques to keep the girls engaged. Our girls loved shirts and pants with pockets. While I unloaded the grocery cart, I might tell them, “Put your hands in your pockets,” and they would focus on that long enough for me to complete my task. In other situations – like in public restrooms – I would ask the girls to find their very favorite square (tile) and stand on it…or challenge them to see how many squares their feet could occupy at one time. (At age five, they still love that game.) And if we have to wait in line at the bank, even today I quiz them on baby sign language. They get focused on the task at hand, and they forget they’re being good!
My girls are now five. Things don’t always go perfectly when we’re out and about…they still try to push buttons now and again…but they are largely very well-behaved. To those of you in the midst of toddlerdom, hang in there! This is one area that I can confidently say does get easier with age.
For those of you with older children, what are your tips and tricks to maintaining your sanity with multiple littles in tow?
MandyE is mom to five-year old fraternal twin girls. She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.