Picture the scene. It’s the summer of 2016 and we’ve just collected our brand new shiny metallic red Toyota Prius. We’re chuffed to bits, I mean really pleased with ourselves. We actually ordered it some months previous but a combination of production delays, unexpectedly high sales volumes and a volcano eruption in Japan meant we had to wait to get our hands on it.
When the time came to collect I was pumped. I’d never had the luxury of a brand new car before and this was a real treat for me. And this car was absolutely stuffed with tech and gadgets. Automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, a heads-up display, adaptive cruise control and all the other bells and whistles, not to mention a wallet-friendly fuel efficiency that was enough to make a grown man cry with joy.
Less than two weeks later and some jackass almost wrote the car off by driving their articulated lorry into the back of it. As you can imagine I was furious. I might have beaten the guy half to death had I not calmed down by the time I’d stormed across to where he’d managed to stop his massive, massive truck. Plus, he was much bigger and stronger-looking than me so I compromised and settled for a bit of swearing in his general direction instead. And I’d never beaten anything before except maybe a cake mix, but I was riding such an adrenaline rush that I firmly believe I could have kicked him half a mile into the air had my foot met his arse within the first few seconds of getting out of my car.
Why am I telling you all this? I’m setting a scene, remember. Sufficed to say, for that fortnight, I probably loved that car more than life itself. I don’t get out much.
Anyhow, a few months on, during which we went to hell and back dealing with insurers and Toyota dealers (a rant for another time), and we received news of the unexpected triplets. There were few immediate thoughts after being told my wife now represented a constituency of four, but one of those flying around was, “okay, how are we going to manage the logistics of all this?”
We need at least four bedrooms (we didn’t, but this was pregnancy brain talking). And we need a pram solution. That was pretty much it. The ‘pram solution’ evolved into a ‘pram and car solution’. The pram had to fit in the car after all. I’ve touched on this in a previous blog post so to cut a long story short we settled on buying two prams, one single seater and one double seater. We didn’t really have much choice because every three-seater pram we came across, those still in production in any case, didn’t fit in the Prius. And I was too attached to the car, crash repairs and all, to seriously consider changing it.
At this point we thought it wise to check that the Prius could carry three baby seats. We quickly found out that it couldn’t. Well it could, but if Mrs H ever fancied joining me and the kids, she would have had to cuddle up to the prams in the boot or somehow lash herself to the roof. You see, in the US, the Prius is made to allow three baby seats across the back seat of the car. In the EU, however, the Prius is made to allow only two, one on either side, due – I can only imagine – to stricter safety regulations. So to fit three baby seats, you have to put one in the front passenger seat, thus leaving no room for other passengers.
The Prius was on borrowed time. We needed a solution in place before Mrs H ballooned to an unmanageable size. She needed to be involved in the decisions if only so she couldn’t blame me if (when) it all went pear shaped.
We searched in vain for compact baby seats, narrow baby seats and double baby seats, wondering if Mrs H could squeeze between the two baby seats in the back, hoping to find a solution, any solution. There was none. We resigned ourselves to swapping the car for something more suitable. And then late one night I decided, forlornly, to do one last sweep of the internet. I don’t remember the terms I searched for but my eyes were attracted to the following picture on Google Images:
On face value this in itself wasn’t a solution to our problem, but it was late at night, we were desperate and I was determined to follow any possible lead. The image turned out to be of something called a Multi-Mac, which was a commercially available solution for parents who wanted to legally and safely squeeze four kids into the back of their family car. Browsing the Multi-Mac site I quickly found that they had a three-seated version, and – amazingly – they had a bespoke baby seat – the Mini Mac – that could be slotted in to each seat.
It was too good to be true. The cost was eye-watering, especially when adding three of the baby seats, but it was still far cheaper than buying a new car, even second hand. We didn’t have a lot of cash to spend at the time but scraping together the money for this solution seemed far more preferable than speaking to the bank about yet another car loan, just six or so months after having done exactly that for the Prius. Thankfully, Mrs H has a wonderfully generous father and he stumped up the money.
The Prius was saved. At least for now.
When the day came to bring the girls home from the hospital, the Mini Macs, the Multi Mac and the Prius all came together and made it happen.
Our love affair with the Multi Mac didn’t last though. It’s a fantastic bit of kit but the Mini Mac baby seat feels like a bit of an after-thought. There’s no adjustment possible so the baby has no choice but to stay in a slightly reclined, almost seated, position. The neck support was poor also. And getting each Mini Mac into the Multi Mac itself was a nightmare of a job, and despite claims to the contrary from the company, only a crazy person would attempt to do it while a baby was strapped in to the seat. The Mini Mac is a great idea but the execution, in my opinion, is poor.
Time was marching on, as it does, and December was rapidly approaching. This is when Mrs H would return to work and it became clear that our ‘pram and car solution’ was a bodge job. We needed a pram that could be handled by one person, and car that could carry the pram.
With just a few weeks to go I finally decided that the Prius had to go. It had served us admirably until this point but going forward it simply didn’t meet our needs. Now came the difficult task of finding a car that could carry a three-seater pram and three traditional ISOFIX baby seats. The search was frustrating. It seemed to be either/or. MPVs could carry anything up to 7 ISOFIX baby seats but at the expense of next-to-zero cargo space. Some other vehicles could just about squeeze in a 1.5m pram, but only had two ISOFIX seats.
It was maddening. Returning again to the Prius, we investigated roof boxes and frames that might allow us to hang a pram off the back of the car. Nada. Argh. And argh again.
Eventually I decided that only a pick-up truck would suffice. Again, all of them on the market were only rated for two baby seats in the back, but as they were all a good few inches wider than a normal family car, it would be possible for my wife to squeeze between the two seats.
So that’s where we are right now, with our Toyota Hilux pick-up truck. Mrs H sits in the centre of the back seat, with an ISOFIX baby seat plugged in on either side. The third baby seat is strapped to the front passenger seat.
It’s a far from perfect solution but it seemed to be the only one in our price range. We could have had a Proace Verso with a custom layout, with four seats in the back, each with ISOFIX coupling points, and space for the pram and much more besides, leaving Mrs H to sit up front like the adult she (sometimes) claims to be, but this was another €20,000 on top of what we paid for the Hilux which was about €30,000 more than we could afford.
I’m not sorry that we persisted with the Prius for as long as we did. For one thing, we couldn’t have afforded the Hilux right at the start of this incredible journey. We were paying a mortgage on our existing apartment while also paying rent for our new place, with no guarantee that the apartment would sell before our savings ran out.
The Hilux is a trusty beast of a vehicle. It feels indestructible and although technically a commercial vehicle, for the most part it feels and acts just like a normal family car.
We fully intend to move the girls from the ISOFIX baby seats back into the Multi Mac when the time feels right (it’s suitable for kids up to the age of 12). And we fully intend to move back to a Prius or something similar as soon as we don’t need to lug a pram around.
When people see us pushing a three-seater pram around town, or even just on our short walk from the Hilux to the door of the creche, they probably don’t give a second thought to the logistics of getting three babies from A to B. And most who do will undoubtedly assume, as I’m sure I would have in different circumstances, that dealing with three babies is the same as dealing with one but multiplied by three. It’s not that simple; it’s the same as dealing with one baby, multiplied by a baker’s dozen, cubed, over π, and cubed again for good measure.
Our new ride looks a little like this, except that the rear bed has a roof so that the pram doesn’t get wet during the Belgian summer.