Planning is essential.
The single biggest difference between being a bus parent and being a car parent is the amount of mental energy that’s required to make it through the day efficiently, productively, and free of stress. Some examples:
• Packing: Chicklet and I travel with one bag. In it we must carry everything we will need while we’re out: meals and snacks; books; diapers, diaper wraps, and wipes; an umbrella; a change of clothing, lotion, antibacterial gel, library passports… you get the picture. Unlike car moms, I can’t afford to bring anything I don’t need, but I also can’t afford to be two bus rides from home with a hungry, cold, or wet baby.
• Timing (part I): When possible, I arrange long bus trips during Chicklet’s naptime. She is a pro at napping on the go (in fact, she prefers bus naps to bed naps), and I far prefer peace (and perhaps even a few minutes of grown-up reading) to 20+ minutes of bored-Chicklet management.
• Timing (part II): It’s hard for any parent to be out the door on time, and a bus parent has to be out the door at an exact time. I always start getting Chicklet ready long before it’s time to go, and we still end up leaving the house in a rush, just in time to catch our bus.
• Errands: For many reasons, I do my best to minimize shopping. Unfortunately (even with groceries covered), some errands are unavoidable, and bus errands with a baby can be tough. Not only do they require meticulous planning (see above), but (hands-free carrier or not) it’s hard to carry anything of significance home with you. We do our Craigslist pickups (et cetera) during off-peak hours, or (very occasionally) we rent a Zipcar. But even “Zipping” is more of a challenge with a kid, since it requires me to schlep Chicklet and her ginormous car seat down the street to the car and then (correctly) install the seat before we go anywhere.
Comfort is key.
As a childless bus chick, I advocated shoes that were comfortable and cute. Today, I say: Cute, schmute! When I’m traveling with Chicklet, it’s all about comfort. (Hey, you try covering the pavement miles in heeled boots with a 20-pound weight strapped on.) And yes, I did purchase a pair of all-purpose walking shoes from one of those earthy stores I used to make fun of.
Crying is not an option.
If you take a cranky baby on a car trip, you’re the only one who has to endure the howling. Cranky babies on buses, on the other hand, share their howling with dozens of innocent bystanders. Because of this, I consider it my responsibility to keep Chicklet content and well-behaved for the duration of every ride. This sometimes requires effort (ah, how I miss those carefree days of naps and novels!) but is required for good bus citizenship.
On the plus side:
Car free is gear free. (or, Who needs a baby travel system?)
[I ain't one to hawk products, but] There is a special place in heaven for the inventor of the Ergo Baby. I’ve already listed the many reasons I love this carrier, and I love it more every day I use it. It has been the single most important factor in my (and my child’s) comfort and general enjoyment of busing this year, and I’m fairly confident it will serve us well until she’s at least two. And speaking of…
Busing means bonding.
Attachment parents–listen up: Unlike car moms, who have to strap their kids into car seats, I get to ride face to face with my chicklet. We read, talk, cuddle, make new friends, and watch the world together.
Bus moms are buff moms.
A year* after waddling to the hospital to deliver, I’m back at my pre-pregnancy weight (after gaining a wee bit–OK, a lot–more than my doctor recommended), and I haven’t counted a single calorie or even considered visiting a gym. In fact, aside from a handful of trips to the local track, I haven’t made a special effort to exercise. Believe me, my life as a bus parent is exercise enough.
I’ve made plenty of adjustments this year, but then, what new parent doesn’t make adjustments? The good news is, Chicklet has not been deprived of any advantage or experience that is available to the children of car-owning parents, yet she’s been enriched and educated in many ways that car kids have not. I can honestly say that the benefits (to my family and to the planet) of my first year bus parenting far outweigh any challenges. Bring on the next 17!
* This actually happened around the 10-month mark, but who’s counting?