The first problem was that there appeared to be no manual enclosed in the box. I looked up and shrugged, like, “Hey, I got the chair out of the box, what more can I do now?” Mama Dog, not so easily dissuaded, went on the Internet and found a PDF of the installation manual. We both looked it over, Mama Dog methodically highlighting important passages in pink, me just figuring I’d spot the important passages when I sat down to install the thing. There’s a difference in our work styles right there.
When I did get down to the installation, the first important passage I noticed was the bit about using a two-colour bar in the margin of the instruction booklet as a guide to check the suitability of installation sites. Since what we were using was not the actual instruction booklet but a black-and white simulacrum of same printed on 8½ ´ 11 paper rather than whatever odd size the booklet was, this measurement tool was, to employ a technical term, fucking useless. Not to be dissuaded, I dragged the seat out to the car, removed the base from the little girl seat, and set about guesstimating.
Since we’ve gotten along pretty well so far with the baby seat in the rear passenger seat, that’s where I started. I’d only been wrestling around with it for a few minutes when much to be surprise I discovered, tucked away deep inside the base of the car seat, the missing instruction booklet. It was fastened into place with a metal bit that, so far as I can determine, can only be removed with the jaws of life. The flexible cord attaching it to the metal bit is just barely long enough to get the booklet out and open it. If I wanted to read through it, I was going to have to do it there in the back seat of the car.
Helpfully, the instruction booklet tells you the location of the instruction booklet under the base of the car seat. You need to find the instruction booklet to read the directions for finding the instruction booklet, but hey, let’s not quibble.
First thing I looked for was the bit with the two-colour bar in the margin. Which wasn’t there. Wasn’t the same instruction booklet at all. So which do I follow? The one in the bowels of the car seat, which reason dictates is the one they mean you to use? Or the one on the Internet, which is surely the more recently updated of the two? It was becoming clear to me that I was setting out on a task which was going to include a number of irresolvable paradoxes.
Since the instruction booklet from the car seat didn’t have the two-colour bar thingy, I decided it couldn’t really be that important after all and stopped thinking about it. I skipped ahead to the instructions for rear-facing installation. They were pretty straightforward. Pull the seatbelt out. Thread it through the holes in the underside of the car seat. Buckle. Pull tight while pushing down like a motherfucker on the seat to make sure it’s belted in as securely as possible. Clamp with the clip thingy on the side.
This all seemed pretty easy, actually. I had gotten a pretty good grounding in the “pull tight while pushing like a motherfucker” system (a little more technical jargon, there) during the installation of the little girl seat. We went to the CHP and got really good instruction on the whole thing, and particularly the importance of getting right on the seat and pushing down with your knees like you meant to do it serious harm. I got the thing pretty tight. Not as tight as the old car seat had been, but pretty tight.
Mama Dog came out to test it. She grabbed the top of the seat and rocked it around until it came out of the belt. Oh. Back to the drawing board.
We decided that maybe centre installation was the answer. That did in fact work out better. I think maybe this was the point of the two-colour bar in the margin of the Internet version of the instruction booklet. The side seat belts entered the car seat base at a bad angle. The centre seat belt comes in straight. I tramped down on the seat like I had Sean Hannity’s head under it, pulled the belt as tight as it could go, and latched it off securely. Much better. We went off to a baby shower with Baby Dog in her new seat, fairly sure that the thing wouldn’t go flying off into space.
Later, Mama Dog said, “What about the tether?” “What tether?” I asked. She showed me her methodical pink highlighting on a later section in the manual. “I though this stuff was optional,” I said. Mama Dog had done a little investigating with her cyberfriends. Turns out the tether thingy is the part that makes the car seat…uh…safe. And without it, it’s…uh…not.
I looked again at the manual. The tether part comes three sections after the installation part. It starts “Before installation…” I started tearing hair. “Before installation?” If you’re supposed to do this before installation, why does it show up in the instructions three sections after the installation guide? Yes, I know, you’re supposed to read the whole manual before you put the thing in. But really, who does that? And who doesn’t expect Step One to show up somewhere near the start of the instructions?
So, it turns out there’s a tether – a long seatbelt-type strap – that unfolds from a pouch in the back of the seat. This is where the instructions went past tricky and became just plain unfathomable. At the front of the booklet there’s an illustration of the car seat, with arrows pointing to each important element, defining it by name. The tether is not included in this illustration. Right – the thing that’s supposed to be the most crucial safety element in the whole package. Not there. No definitions supplied. So when it says – as it does – something like “Lift the tether adjuster tab,” I’m supposed to – what? – guess what the tether adjuster tab might be? Then it says something about pulling the tether back to make a v-shape. The tether is just one long strap attached on only one end. How am I supposed to make a v-shape out of a straight line by pulling it back? The illustrations give no clue.
Mama Dog got on the neighbourhood parents’ group bulletin board system to ask for help from anybody who had a similar car seat system. We got several answers, none of which had anything to do with the problem we were experiencing. I have the feeling that the tether was supposed to be attached to the car seat at two points but for some reason was only attached at one. It was up to me to guess how to reattach the loose end.
On top of that, I had to struggle with the description of tether anchorage locations in the car’s owner’s manual. Since the owner’s manual is written without knowing what car seat you’re going to use and the car seat installation booklet is written without knowing what car the seat is going into, there are big gaps in information between the two, unexpressed assumptions and dubious apprehensions. It was clear, however, that the only predrilled anchorage points were in the trunk, so I investigated there. I spent some time bundled into the trunk of the car like an unfortunate minor character in a Tarantino movie – sticking my leg out the end so passing miscreants could break my knees by slamming the door shut but not lock me in – until I finally located the bolt holes. I got the tether anchor bolted into place,** but still had no clue how to reattach the tether to the car seat, if in fact that’s what I was supposed to do.
At length, I found a page that at least illustrated what the end product was supposed to look like. Unfortunately, none of the pictures show clearly what I needed to know – how the loose strap reconnects with the seat – but it was enough to give me a vague idea. I ran the tether through the bolted anchor and returned it back through to the back seat and put the end into a clip on the back of the car seat, which seemed the only logical space for it to go. The belt seemed likely to slip out of the clip if pulled, so I knotted it around the fixed end of the tether. It didn’t seem quite according to Hoyle, but it was the best I could do. It seemed stable enough for cautious use – and in fact we went out to a restaurant later that night using this set-up – but I urged Mama dog to see Jon and Ponch at her earliest convenience to get an expert opinion.
The earliest convenience turned out to be today – in the past, we’ve had to make appointments weeks in advance, but there was a convenient cancellation and Mama Dog was able to have the seat examined by the CHP same-day. The fellow who went over it said I’d done a good job with what I thought I had to work with, but that the trunk anchors are really meant for a front-facing car seat. The manual says nothing of the sort, but I guess we’ve established already that the manual is a little, shall we say, haphazard. There are fixed loops on the rear seat floor that don’t correspond to anything mentioned in either the car seat manual or the owner’s manual of the car, but Jon or Ponch said these were the things to use, and he showed Mama Dog how to hook the tether thusly.
So the car seat’s in to stay, by hook if not by crook. I probably should have spent the weekend watching TV and reading old newspapers, but it was all for the love and safety of the child, and I hope she’ll remember that when it’s her turn to change my diapers.
*I’m not positive, but I think we have the “Jefferson tan” one.
** Here I’m skipping over the trip Mama Dog made to the hardware store to get a bolt and a spacer, during the course of which she had a Retail Moron experience she may or may not choose to recount in her own faversham.