A new grandfather’s rant about a portable crib.
Saturday, November 12, 2011

I begin by offering the following Newtonian Law of Grandparent Consumerism: The portability of a complex product is inversely related to the sum of the time it takes to set it up and take it down, plus the size of the item in its portable form, that quantity times the square of its weight or, as this formula is more commonly known, E=MC2. (That’s not the actual formula, but it’s the only one I can still remember from the Physics course I took in college.)

For the record, a disclaimer: Don’t just buy something based on my advice. I have no idea what I’m talking about. Most of the technical stuff I know was learned when I was a teenager from aliens when my tin foil hat was blown off during a freak electrical storm. Ask around and do your own research. …There. My son’s an attorney. I don’t want him to worry.

Some weeks ago, I wrote a piece about buying a car seat for my new grandson. Here’s a link, if you’re interested: “Wuf?” #17: The Child Safety Seat for New Grandparents. We bought a top of the line Britax Advocate 70CS. It’s expensive, heavy and huge. If you own or rent a small car and put the car seat in the back seat on the passenger side, as you should, the person in the front seat might as well be riding in the glove compartment. The good news is that it’s as safe a car seat as you can get and should be well worth the investment if, heaven forbid, you were to have an accident.

There was humor in that piece about the car seat. Not so much in this one.

This one is about our buying what used to be called a portable crib for my grandson, a feisty two month old, to sleep in while he visits us for Thanksgiving and later. As usual, I hit the Internet for any advice I could find, anecdotal and professional. And I did the dumb thing. I checked Consumer Reports and then let it affect my judgment.

Consumer Reports picked the Chicco (pronounced “key-co”) Lullaby LX Playard to be the best out there. Mind you, I’m handy, but not an engineer or consumer safety expert. I’m just a common sense consumer with a simple objective as a grandparent, the same one I’ve had as a father: Do my best to take care of my kids and now my grandson. I don’t know what methodology Consumer Reports’ analysts used to evaluate portable cribs but, as far as I can tell, there’s no evidence that they actually used any of the models included in their study.

For the uninitiated, a “Play Yard,” “Pack ‘N Play” as Graco calls its models or other similar products is a crib which can be folded up, moved and then set up to give your baby a place to sleep when he or she is staying overnight outside your home. Whatever the trade name, they’re supposed to be portable. If not, why else are they designed to be folded up and put into a zippered bag with a handle?

First and foremost, the Chicco Lullaby is only portable in the sense that it can be collapsed into a rectangle box, the dimensions of which are technically small enough for an adult to carry or roll. (When you fold it up, the unit has two wheels that stick out the bottom of its carrying bag, the same two wheels that are attached to two of the Lullaby’s four legs when it’s open.)

Years ago, the first portable televisions where basically cabinet models with handles on them. They weighed a ton and tended to stay put. My point is that, just because you put a handle on something or, in this case, because it folds up or has wheels doesn’t mean it’s portable by any practical definition of the concept. The Chicco Lullaby weighs 35 pounds. I weighed it myself, standing on my bathroom scale with and then without it. (I was fully clothed at the time, in case you were worried that the mental image of me standing there could make you blind.) And you know what discovered? I discovered that, even after you fold it up and put it into its approximately 10” x 12” x 30” bag, it still weighs 35 pounds – a surprisingly heavy, 35 pounds of really “dead weight.”

What? You don’t think a 35 pound box 10” x 12” x 30” is heavy? Fine. The next you fly somewhere, pack your large roll-aboard until it weighs 35 pounds. Sure, it has wheels, but try carrying it up or down the stairs in your house, or the stoop out front, or lifting it up into an overhead compartment on the plane with the assistance of other passengers who fear for their lives should you drop it on them. And the Chicco Lullaby is no TravelPro. Its wheels, when it’s folded up, are less than a foot apart and not entirely parallel to each other.

Let’s forget the time and ordeal of setting this thing up or reversing the process when you’re done with it. The Chicco people, and many of their competitors I suspect, must feel that grandparents have nothing but time on their hands, and a Rube Goldberg affinity for gimmickry.

You think I’m kidding about how poorly this product is designed? Consider this. The Chicco Lullaby is a lightly upholstered pen with a bassinet suspended over the crib floor and a soft changing table that hangs over the side of the crib until it’s needed. Fully deployed, the entire device is approximately 2.5’ deep, 3.5’ wide and 3’ high. Here’s the point: Holding it together – referring to parts you have to connect and later disconnect – are 2 zippers, 4 clasps like the ones commonly found on backpacks, 4 metal snaps, 5 slotted plastic rings to hold little stuffed animals in the “toy-gym” above your baby, 8 toggles, little plastic bars that fit through loops like the larger versions used on some winter coats, at least 12 Velcro straps – I lost count. – 12 large plastic clips “and a par-tridge in a pear tree.” Unbelievable.

The changing table is flimsy, and you have to remove the “toy gym,” from which the little stuffed animals are hanging, every time you change a diaper. That’s a process that involves opening 4 Velcro straps, one each from under the corners of the mattress.

Most importantly, and the principal reason we returned the Chicco Lullaby we bought, was that I didn’t think it was safe. My grandson will only be 8 weeks old when he sleeps, or would have slept in the Chicco Lullaby. From what I’ve read, newborns can sleep in a bassinet until they’re 2 to 3 months old. My grandson is just at the beginning of that range. Chicco says that the Lullaby bassinet can be used by babies weighing up to 15 pounds.

As far as I can tell, there are no US federal standards for bassinets, although the Consumer Products Safety Commission is working on guidelines. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission recommends that the “sides of the bassinette are at least 300 mm higher than the top of the mattress base to stop the baby [from] falling out.” (300 mm is just under 12 inches.) Turns out that the basinet is only 9 inches deep. It’s too shallow.

Even if there were no standards or guidelines out there, we’re all adults. Go with your gut. For example, would you put your newborn, up to 3 months old or weighing 15 pounds, arms and legs flailing the way active babies do, to sleep on, let’s say, the top of your dresser? Of course not! He’ll/she’ll roll off onto the floor. Okay, common sense: How deep does the bassinet have to be for you, as a parent or grandparent, to be comfortable? Three inches? No. Six inches? Nine inches? Still not enough.

It was simple. I set up the Chicco Lullaby, which took a good 30+ minutes the first time I did it, and stepped back to admire my work. “Honey?” I called to my wife who was making dinner. Considering how physically active our grandson is, “Doesn’t the bassinet seem way too shallow?” “Damn straight, Skippy,” was the gist, if not the actual text of her response. True, my wife and I would have preferred a brick privacy wall with guards but, to be realistic, the sides of the Lullaby’s bassinet just weren’t deep enough TO PREVENT OUR GRANDSON FROM ROLLING OUT OF IT AND FALLING TO THE FLOOR!!! Jeez. Is it likely that he would roll out of it? Probably not, but “probably” doesn’t cut it.

To be clear, I don’t like this thing. It’s too heavy and too complicated a device to be truly portable, with way too many features balled up into a single contraption for any of its capabilities to have been well designed, certainly not to my standards. And I don’t think it’s all that safe for a newborn sleeping in the basinet.

So my wife and I came to our senses. We returned the Chicco Lullaby LX Playard and bought two things to replace it. One is a truly portable, very smartly designed
Travel Crib Light
made by BabyBjorn. (There should be an umlaut – two dots – over the “o.”) It is expensive, but well designed, weighs only 11 pounds and has only two distinct parts, one of them being the mattress. It’s very easy to use, as simple as it is functional. BabyBjorn, a Swedish company, is best known for making what can only be described as the Volvo of baby carriers. If they made a car, I’d buy one. Maybe they will by the time my grandson can drive. Their Travel Crib Light doesn’t aspire to be everything to all babies, just a safe, convenient place to sleep.

In addition to the Travel Crib Light, we bought a Cocoon Changing Pad for changing diapers on the bed or a convenient table. And we’re done.

I hope this helps.



2 responses to “Farfromworthit.

  1. Very amusing, and boy, did it bring back memories! However, we were smart enough (and when I say “smart” I really mean “lucky” enough to have experienced gp’s looking out for us) to go to a consignment shop in our area (a picky, upscale consignment shop) to scope out their inventory. We were able to score a really high-end stroller (retail value $219.99) for a mere $80.00, so we thought we could probably do the same with a “pack and play”. No such luck – those things evidently fly out the door as soon as they are set up and priced. So we ended up buying the pack and play. It served our purposes very nicely. However, I feel I should mention that my mother had the good sense to keep the original true wicker (not that faux wicker – woven plastic type) bassinette that she used for me and my brothers. She passed it to me and I still have it. I made a comfy quilted liner, matching skirt, and I even created a custom cover for the hood (it had a dent in it). It was perfect for our grandson (Hayden, now nearly 6 and the brightest student in his entire elementary school, if not the whole county) until he was about 3 months old. We’ve never had the opportunity to use it with our granddaughter, Aubrey (now 9 months old), but I’m sure it would have worked for her as well. So, just a word of advice. Check out consignment shops first. Most baby items (including clothes) are quickly outgrown and unless you plan on being like the Duggars, second-hand will be sufficient, especially for the occasional use such as visits/overnight stays with grandparents. Keep writing about your adventures into the new phase of your family’s lives. I really enjoy reading about your experiences!

  2. Hey, Mimzy. Thanks for the advice about the consignment stores. We’ll look out for a good one here and in New York where my daughter lives.

    Sounds like Hayden and Aubrey — Great name, by the way. I’ll have to use it in one of my short stories. — are lucky to have you as their Grandmother.


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