Praising the Pack and Play

Look at that happily contained baby! (Pictured Playard: Joovy Room 2)

A grape cutter with my name on it had just appeared on my front porch. The amazon package from whence it came contained no note, no gift receipt, no indication whatsoever who had sent it. But I had my suspicions.

“Tracy, did you send me a grape cutter?”
“Yes, I did. That thing is a [gosh darn] miracle. You needed one.”
“Haha well thank you! You didn’t have to do that.”
“Dude. I put my kid in a pack n play because of you. It’s the least I could do.”

Ah, yes. The pack & play. Another gosh darn parenting miracle, and so much more than a portable sleep space. I first heard the P&P gospel from an older, seasoned mom when I was expecting my first child. “The pack and play is such an underused tool by modern parents.” She told me, “ It teaches them boundaries and gives you a safe place to put them down when you need time to yourself. Use the pack & play.” It was advice I took to heart. As soon as my oldest was able to roll over I broke ours out and never looked back. All of my kids have spent daily time in our ‘baby jail,’ and it’s been a true sanity saver. Mom needs a shower? Pack & Play. Time to start dinner? Pack & Play. Want to visit the bathroom alone? Take out the trash? Switch the laundry? Lay on the couch for 20 minutes like the zombie that you are? Pack. And. Play.

“I tried that once. They just cried.” I’ve heard this objection multiple times before when suggesting the baby jail technique of sanity preservation. But I maintain that a good play yard can serve any parent well if you give it a solid try. So here are my suggestions for getting the most out of your play-yard without torturing your baby or toddler.

1) Start young. Just like sleeping at night, taking a bottle, or anything else you want your kid to do, the earlier you start making this part of your routine the easier the adjustment will be for your little one.

2) Toys. Reserve a few special toys your child only gets to use during play-yard time. This makes the time more fun for them. They may even start to look forward to it. Rotate these toys periodically to keep it exciting.

3) Snacks. A cup of cheerios or other age-appropriate snack goes a long way to entertain a contained child.

4) Screen time. I’m not ashamed to admit that my kids spent a lot of time with their play-yard parked in front of the TV, and so far they have all turned out fine. When I brought my third child home from the hospital I immediately plopped him in the pack & play, switched on an episode of Mother Goose Club and went to take a shower. I’m happy to report that at two years old he is the chattiest kid I have ever met with an extensive vocabulary. If that offends you I have good news: I am not about to strap your kids down and force them to watch TV under the age of two. The balls in your court, mama. The play-yard is a judgment-free zone.

3) Invest in an oversized play-yard. Roomier designs like the Graco TotBloc or the Joovy Room 2 Playard are much more enjoyable for kids to spend some quality time in as they grow. Mine never managed to climb out of these even when they were able to climb out of the smaller models. Another fantastic option and my new personal favorite is the Graco Pack ’n Play Sport Outdoor Playard. It’s lightweight, compact, and can be used either inside or outside. Plus my older kids love to use it as a tent for ‘camping’ or other imaginative play. A true multitasker.

So that my friends, is my pack & play gospel. I remember my mom using the ‘playpen’ constantly with my sister who is ten years younger than me, but now it seems like we have all but forgotten the magic properties of this renamed parenting artifact. So my challenge to you is to unearth this humble piece of baby gear from your dusty storage space and try using it today. It may just be your ticket to drinking your cup of coffee while it’s still piping hot.