Photo: courtesy of iStock/SHSPhotography
The toddler carrier hangs in the closet, not having been used for weeks, months. But I’m not quite ready to give it away. When my daughter came to me at two, I was eager to strap her onto my body. Adopting a toddler meant that we had missed out on those early days of skin-to-skin contact that are so important for helping baby and parent attach. I was naturally drawn to any way that I could help build attachment. And for me, there was nothing like the delicious weight of my new daughter falling asleep on my chest.
And it was a weight. The first few times I tried it, my back and shoulders cried out for mercy, but then they must have gotten used to it, or even ended up strengthened by it. I started to think of it as my alternative to going to a gym. And I found that using the carrier with my tall two-year-old was much easier on my back than carrying her freestyle, which I often ended up having to do if we were out too long without the stroller or carrier. It helped that there were others in our circle who enjoyed a toddler carrier, including one of the other families in the music class we attended weekly who used one as their main method of transportation.
I sometimes used it for convenience. In those days when many subway stations didn’t have elevators, it was easier to bring a carrier than a stroller. Or when I knew my little one could walk to a destination but wouldn’t be able to make it back home without a meltdown, the carrier was my go-to.
When my daughter finally started daycare at three, I used the toddler carrier when I picked her up. It was a great way to reconnect after her day away. And even though our walk home was short, it was still long enough for tired tears and tantrums—but being cozy in the carrier helped prevent them.
I also used it at home. When little wanted my attention but I needed to cook or wash dishes, she could snuggle in the carrier and listen to music. After a big meltdown, a cuddle in the carrier often helped us repair and reconnect. And when bedtime was hard, snuggling her to my chest often helped her relax enough to fall asleep.
While toddler carrying, I was also reading—somewhat obsessively—the work of people like Dr. Stuart Shanker, the author of Self-Reg; Mona Delahooke of Beyond Behaviours and the new book Brain-Body Parenting; and Dr. Bruce Perry, whose The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog convinced me of the importance, even urgency, of taking the time to build attachment. And the message that I was getting was that it was so important to connect with my kiddo, to connect our full selves, and also to be aware of myself. We can only provide that safe place for our child if we are regulated ourselves (and this is sometimes easier said than done with a fussy toddler, or screaming six-year-old).
So as I’d fasten my daughter into the carrier, I’d think about my own breath. Slowing my breathing, slowing my heart rate. At bedtime, when I lay down beside my restless toddler, I soon realized that breathing slowly myself helped her fall asleep.
As my tall two-year-old has grown into a tall six-year-old, we still take the carrier out from time to time—but only at home. Like many brands, ours claims to work for kids from 20 pounds to 60 pounds. But the times are getting fewer and farther between. So as we prepare to say goodbye to the toddler carrier, I find myself feeling a bit sad. The last symbol of her babyhood, which was so brief for us, is gone. But we both carry forward that knowledge of how to connect with each other, now and always.