Ride time matters
In my child-free, car-free days, I could justify bus trips that took longer than driving by using my rides effectively.* I spent my bus time reading (meeeemories!), napping, working, checking messages, and et cetera. Lots of times, I just stared out the window, but even that I could justify as my quiet/thinking time.
When I travel with Chicklet, longer trip times are harder to justify. In the first place, I can’t use the rides to do something productive. It’s true that the time I spend with my daughter on the bus is usually quality time** (more about this shortly), but it’s work keeping her entertained on a 35-minute 4 ride up the hill from downtown–and even more work keeping her entertained (and safe–given her decreased tolerance for sitting still) during long waits between transfers.
And then, there’s the issue of her schedule. Until very recently, Chicklet’s naps did not interfere with our outings. She could easily sleep in her carrier and would regularly nap on the go: in the middle of a shopping trip, at a bus stop, on a long walk. These days, I’m too big to carry her in a pack, so naps outside of the house are close to impossible. (She sometimes falls asleep–with a little help–on the bus, but this cannot be counted on.) This means that our outing opportunities are relegated to two to three hours in the morning (assuming that we get out of the house very early) and about two hours in the afternoon (assuming we’re willing to deal with peak-hour crowds on the way home); we don’t have a lot of time to waste on late or long bus rides.
The ride is entertainment enough (or, Who needs a minivan with a DVD player?)
I always bring a small number of books or toys on our outings, but I only use them on trips that last over 30 minutes (see above). There’s so much to keep Chicklet entertained on the bus! She helps to swipe my Orca card. We talk about what the windshield wipers do. We describe what we see in the pictures on the indoor ads. We watch the cars, boats, and trains*** as they pass. We point out her favorite landmarks. (Pratt Park! Space Needle! Mount Rainier!) Every time someone rings the bell, she looks up at the lighted “Stop Requested” sign, calls out all the letters she recognizes, then tells whomever will listen what’s going to happen next. (The driver will open the door, and “the people will get off.”)
Chicklet’s favorite bus pastime is talking to (and, unfortunately, about) the people who share our rides. She has something to say about nearly every person who crosses our path. So far, the statements have been benign (That’s a mommy and a baby. /He’s reading a book./ She has candy.), but I assume it’s only a matter of time before she inadvertently insults someone.
Of course, along with all the enriching education that takes place on the bus, there’s also that other kind. In her two years of life, thanks mostly to the 4, Chicklet has heard more curse words (and more unique combinations of curse words) than most seasoned sailors. Miraculously, despite the fact that she regularly repeats, verbatim, conversations she overhears in transit, she has only once attempted to repeat a naughty word. Fortunately, I was able to convince her that she had misheard the young gentleman, and that he had actually said, “spit,” but sooner or later (preferably sooner), I’ll have to develop a more sophisticated strategy for dealing with the less desirable side of her bus education.
“Stuff” is still an issue
Though I rarely pack more than a few books and snacks, water, and hand sanitizer for our regular outings, there are (not infrequent) occasions when I need to transport items in addition to Chicklet and her bag. Most often, this is recently purchased (or borrowed) children’s clothing, but the examples are nearly infinite. To put it succinctly: Toddler + bag + stroller + stuff +bus (+ umbrella?) = misery.
There’s more, of course, which I will get to in due time. I still very much enjoy busing with my kid, and I’m still committed to my choice to be car-free. But, bus parenting is not a cinch, and certainly, it’s far more of a challenge than the car-free single life. We shall see what lessons year three (and baby number two!) will provide.
*Once, I had to give a talk in Kent. I spent the notoriously slow 150 ride to my destination writing my talking points. So, no time lost.
**This is an audio link. The interview starts at 43:00.
***Have I mentioned that Chicklet is obsessed with trains? Every time she sees a Link vehicle, or even a picture of one, she hollers, “A light rail!” and then begs to ride.