Tag Archives: chicklet

10 things I’ve learned in my first 10 years as a bus parent

Today Chicklet turns 10 years old. My tiny little bus buddy is now a fourth grader, a self-described “horse crazy girl” who loves Prince, PAWS, books, trees, her baby cousins, and politics. Seriously, politics. She is the kid who insists on helping me fill out my ballot (which reminds me: gotta get on that), who enjoys watching debates and could easily name every elected official who represents her, from the senate to the city council. Despite her introverted nature, Chicklet wants to be one of those elected officials someday — and not just to make the world a better place. She has admitted (more than once) that she wants to “be in charge of people” just for the sake of it.

I digress.

Having a decade-old daughter means I’m 10 in bus mom years. I’ve learned a lot of lessons in 3,653 days of life on the ground — schlepping stuff and managing disasters (mostly minor) by bus. Here are 10 of them.

1. Creativity and flexibility are a bus parent’s most important tools. There are plenty of parenting practices — and even some products — that will make busing with kids easier. But the key to a successful bus parenting experience is an ability and willingness to adapt to whatever circumstances you are presented with.

Long bus wait? Play Connect Four. Heading to the beach? Pack tiny buckets. Struggling to keep up with youth ORCA cards? Get a lanyard (and a label). Toddler throws up on the 8? Use everything in your bus bag.

2. A plastic bag can solve almost any problem. A plastic bag is an essential item for most bus riders but especially essential for parents. Plastic bags are (unfortunately) abundant, free, easy to carry, and incredibly versatile. They can be used for on-the-way shopping (though these days, I carry an actual shopping bag, too), trash collection (for those random snack wrappers, banana peels, dirty tissues, diapers, etc., etc.); laundry (remind me to tell you about the time Chicklet sat on a mysterious brown substance at a bus shelter downtown), seating (to cover wet benches or ledges), and even, in a pinch, vomit (expelled by sick kiddos or those unfortunate individuals who are busing while pregnant).

Even if you’re not great at packing, it’s easy to keep at least one plastic bag in your backpack, purse, or pocket. And it’s worth it. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

3. Busing prepares kids for life. Several years back, I wrote a post about how busing makes kids smarter. It might have been a bit of a stretch (and it definitely scored high on the smug scale), but I am convinced that bus kids are more ready for the world than kids who are driven everywhere.

Busing involves waiting. In the early years, this can be challenging, but kids do get used to it. They learn how watch the world, or daydream, or make conversation, or read a book when they’re bored. This comes in handy when they’re in line at the grocery store, in the dentist’s office, at a restaurant, or pretty much anywhere kids are expected to keep their bodies calm and minds occupied for more than 30 seconds.

Bus kids build physical stamina from all the walking they do. Kids who walk a lot are healthy, ready for almost any outdoor adventure, and able to keep up with parents on shopping excursions and other walk-intensive outings.

A Monday walk to school

Bus kids learn to navigate at an early age and develop an intimate, on-the-ground knowledge of their community. This prepares them to get around on their own long before they are old enough to drive.

Bus kids learn to interact safely with people they don’t know. They practice setting and respecting boundaries, and they are exposed to people of all different ages, colors, orientations, incomes, temperaments, and abilities. This helps them understand that everyone belongs. And the way I see it, there’s nothing more important to learn.

4. Policies matter. Back in the dark ages, when my kids were still portable, Metro’s stroller policy required parents to remove children from strollers and collapse the strollers before boarding the bus. This made some sense from a safety and space use perspective but absolutely no sense from a parent’s perspective.

Long before I became a bus mama, I knew I would never bring a stroller onto the bus if I could possibly help it. And when I did have kids, I wore them in a carrier as often — and for as long — as possible. When they started getting too big to be carried in a pack, I struggled. There was a good six-month stretch when I was willing to walk very long distances in bad weather to avoid the bus, because the stroller hassle was just too much.

The benefit of this excruciating period was that I was very motivated to get my kids walking on their own. Both of them started their “walk training” before they turned two and were full-time walkers by two and a half. To this day, they have incredible stamina and patience and can out-walk most adults.

Again, I digress.

These days, Metro has a sane stroller policy. Parents can leave their child (and stuff) in the stroller and can use the lift and wheelchair area if it is not being used by a wheelchair passenger. It’s not a perfect solution, since parents sometimes must unhook, unpack, and fold in the middle of a ride, but it’s impossible to perfectly balance the needs of a diverse group of riders in a vehicle with limited capacity. And certainly, the current policy is significantly better than what I dealt with — so much better that I sometimes wish I had another baby just so I could take advantage of it.

OK, no I don’t.

There are so many examples of the positive impacts that thoughtful, people-focused agency policies have on riders. (There are also plenty of examples of the negative impacts of poor policies.) I hope Metro continues to incorporate feedback from folks on the ground into all of their decision-making processes.

5. Bus drivers are the best people. I’ve always been a bit in awe of bus drivers, so it’s beautiful to see that my kids feel the same way. I’ve written so much about the ways drivers have cared for and entertained our family over the years, I don’t have much more to say on the subject. Except this:

6. Seattle needs more public bathrooms. One of the most common challenges we deal with on our bus adventures is the restroom emergency. (The fact that the emergency is mine as often as it is one of my children’s is a minor detail.) Being stranded at a bus stop with a potty training kid who has to go (or a diapered kid who already did) is a not awesome aspect of busing with babies.

If the world were as it should be, there would be clean, safe restrooms at Link stations and all major bus stops. The world is not as it should be (so very not), so bus riders (and everyone else) must fend for themselves. I make it my business to know all the restroom options in the neighborhoods I visit frequently. My preferred restroom hierarchy: public (library, community center, government building, park [except YUCK]), private but accessible (hotel lobby, large restaurant), private but inaccessible (small restaurant or coffee shop with a key or code).

In case you’re not a restroom savant, there’s — obviously — an app for that.

7. Bus parents don’t “run errands.” When Chicklet was a baby, I was desperate to prove that our family could live like everyone else. Or, at least, that we could do everything other middle-class families did. This was in part because I was still in my “bus booster” phase (Who am I kidding? I will always be in my bus booster phase.) and was therefore more interested in proving that carfree living was possible than I was in analyzing its limitations.

Yes (thanks mostly to our proximity and access), my kids get to dance classes and sports practices and birthday parties and doctor’s appointments. Yes, we have food in our refrigerator and clothes in our closets and all the essential hygiene products in our bathroom. Yes, we go on fun outings. But the effort, time, and physical and mental energy that is expended to make all that happen can sometimes feel overwhelming. (Carrying capacity has always been, and as far as I can tell will remain, a huge challenge for me.)

And even with the basics covered, there are plenty of things we choose not to do, or do less often than we would like, because we don’t have a car. There are other things that we only do when we decide to rent a car.

What I have learned over these years is that we aren’t, in fact, trying to “live like everyone else” by bus. Instead, we are building and modeling a different way to live. And really, that’s always been the point.

8. The journey is the adventure. Sorry to resort to a cliché in an already cliché’ “10 things I learned” listicle, but folks, we’re talking transit here. Schlepping kids across town on the bus for an everyday errand like shoe shopping when you’re tired and pressed for time can be a hassle. But riding transit to go on an adventure is, well, an adventure.

When we take the bus (or train) to an event, or to a beach or park we rarely visit, we try new routes, walk in new neighborhoods, and enjoy new scenery. We spend our travel time focusing on each other instead of the road. These transit adventures have made some of our best memories as a family, and they’re a beautiful reminder of why we ride.

9. Our “sacrifice” is a privilege. While it’s true that our decision to live without a car requires determination and some amount of sacrifice, it’s also true that it wouldn’t be possible at all without a number of privileges lots of people don’t have. Living the way we do is possible for us because we have work that is flexible and accessible by transit, reliable internet access, and sufficient income. We are able-bodied and live in a centrally located neighborhood with sidewalks, pretty good transit, and nearby services. Because we are fortunate enough to own a home, our housing costs are stable, and, barring some unforeseen disaster, we can count on the access we need to keep doing this.

Back when I started my carfree adventure almost 15 years ago, Seattle was already an expensive city. But, it was possible (if challenging) for many carfree families to save enough on transportation costs to afford to live in a small space in the city. Now, city living is inaccessible to almost everyone. It is no longer a matter of tradeoffs or determination; it’s a matter of not having enough money to make it work, no matter how you get around.

And it’s not just about access. If any number of circumstances in our lives were to change, we wouldn’t be able to live this way anymore. If, for example, someone in our family developed a medical condition that required regular appointments or procedures or that made it difficult for them to walk long distances, we would need a car. If we decided to foster another child, who might attend a different school than our other kids and would almost certainly have family visits and other appointments outside our neighborhood (not to mention his or her own share of middle-of-the-night illnesses), we would need a car. If one of us started a job that involved a non-bus-friendly commute or that required us to travel around the region during the day, we would need a car.

For a few years now, I’ve been wondering about the point of it all. Why make a choice that constrains our lives in so many ways if it’s not a  choice most others can emulate? Is there value in doing something so outside of the norm if it has little to no real impact, especially if we could be of more service to our community and extended family if we drove?

All I’ve got is this: You have to start somewhere. Sure, lots of people can’t get by without a car. But some of people can. And those people should. If they don’t, we cannot expect to see change in our lifetimes. Or ever.

So, the way I see it, our family needs to make the tradeoffs and feel the occasional discomfort and keep living this way for as long as we are able. We also need to fight like hell to make sure the privileges we have are available to more people. We must insist on affordable housing, so that working people can live in the city. We must insist on sidewalks in every community. We must advocate for more and better transit and safe bicycle infrastructure.

We must do this because living without a car should not be a choice only for the desperate or dedicated. It should be an option available to everyone.

10. Holding hands is awesome. The challenges of bus parenting change over time. You go from the physically exhausting infant period, to the squirmy, bathroom centric (and also physically exhausting) toddler phase, to the payment logistics and window-seat battles of the early school years, to the scheduling struggles of the older kid years, to … Lord only knows.

But the joys of bus parenting? Those remain constant. Playing “telephone” while waiting for the 8 on a rainy night. Reading books — together or separately — on the way to visit cousins. Running into school friends or church members or neighbors on almost every ride. Holding hands, sitting close, telling jokes.

I will continue to be grateful that we can do this, even on days when I’m exhausted and resentful and over it already. Because the truth is, busing with babies is beautiful. And we are so fortunate.

Context

My Chicklet is a woman’s woman. Almost as soon as she could talk, she was proudly asserting her gender identity – and allegiance. Now she’s eight and a half, and for the last few months, she’s been talking about feminism and women’s rights in ways I hadn’t even thought to introduce to her yet. Her delivery is a bit on the self-righteous and unforgiving side – she comes by that naturally (ahem) – but she’s not wrong about any of it.

Chicklet’s newfound feminism has caused some sibling tension. Whenever she makes an assertion about men’s role in women’s oppression, or asks to participate in something that is for girls only, her little brother gets upset. Really upset.

In their most recent exchange, he burst into tears as soon as the subject came up. “Don’t say stuff like that,” he sobbed. “You’re making me feel bad about my gender!”

Some background:

Sweet Busling is one of the most open-hearted, fair, and inclusive people I have ever known. In his world, the power balance is clearly tilted in favor of his older sister, whom he adores and looks up to. And, though his dad and I have been proactive about teaching the historical roots of racism, we have kept most of our discussions about gender to general concepts of equality, which Busling has taken to heart. He simply doesn’t see sexism as something that hurts women. Instead, he sees any attempt to single out or exclude someone based on their gender as wrong. And, he is personally offended by any suggestion that there is something wrong with being male.

For months, I have struggled with how to handle Busling’s reactions to his sister’s gender-related complaints and assertions. My instinct has been to comfort him, to push aside my daughter’s very valid critiques in the interest of protecting his feelings. After all, he has no context for understanding women’s oppression. And he certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. Plus, he’s my baby! Every time I look at his sweet face, I want to reassure him that everything is OK.

But here’s the thing: Everything is not OK. Sexism and misogyny pervade our culture. If I avoid or dismiss or sugar coat the truth so that my child can feel good, I have done him – and all of the girls and women he will interact with in the future – a disservice. And really, we’ve had enough recent examples of self-absorbed, entitled young men who see their feelings as more important than someone else’s freedom or safety.

solidarityMy son’s perspective about women’s equality is my responsibility. (Actually, it’s mine and his father’s, but you get the idea.) He doesn’t have any context about women’s oppression because he is new to the world, so it’s my job to provide it. This doesn’t mean I should teach him to feel bad or guilty about being a boy. Instead, I must teach him that oppressive, hierarchical systems hurt everyone, that his freedom is bound up with everyone else’s, and that it is his responsibility to challenge systems that harm people.

Experiencing my own child’s inability to recognize sexism has helped clarify many things for me, including the refusal of many seemingly sane white people to acknowledge the existence of racism. In the past, I assumed that such people feigned ignorance to mask their hostility or indifference to black and brown pain. But now, I am starting to understand that they simply have no context.

Racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy are facts of life in the United States — part of the very foundation of our country. And yet, it is possible for white children to make it to adulthood without ever being forced to deal with this reality. Schools do not teach the truth, and parents – even those who consider themselves anti-racist – often exacerbate the problem by avoiding difficult conversations or substituting platitudes like “skin color doesn’t matter” for substantive dialog.

Of course we want our children to feel good and have a pleasant life, but our children’s comfort cannot come at the expense of justice. Parents of white children must educate their families (starting with themselves) about racism. They must teach the truth about our nation’s history. They must point out examples of racism and give their children the tools to recognize and resist it in their own lives.

We are all born into systems of oppression we had no hand in creating. Sometimes, they benefit us (in an immediate, individual sense, though certainly not in a long-term collective one); often, they don’t. Either way, it’s our responsibility to help dismantle them. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

How to make a bus mama proud

Parenting is really hard. It’s harder than I ever imagined, and I imagined that it was going to be hard. My baby whispering skills are legendary, but with actual children, I have no idea what I’m doing. Most days, I feel like I’m messing up motherhood — and maybe even my kids.

Then yesterday, at the 8 stop, I looked over at my progeny and saw them doing this.

My rider-readers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t a surprise — they read every time we wait at a bus stop (or anywhere else, for that matter) — but in that moment, after a morning of whining, arguing, and selective hearing, it was a gift.

It looks like I’ve managed to get at least one thing right.

A driver holiday by any other name…

Today is the seventh year that Bus Driver Appreciation Day has been a thing. In the last couple of years, it has really picked up steam, with transit agencies from across the country–including King County Metro–promoting the day. Along with the agency involvement has come a minor, seemingly innocuous change to the name of the celebration–to Transit Driver Appreciation Day.

No.

Of course all transit drivers are fantastic and important and blahblahblah, but the purpose of this day, March 18th, is to honor BUS drivers. A good bus driver is like a superhero. Maneuvering a gigantic vehicle in traffic while managing passenger needs, trying to keep a schedule, not kill anyone, and deal with occasional (or not-so-occasional) drama has got to be ridiculously difficult—especially if you never get to go to the bathroom.

As for me and mine: We’ll stick with the original name.

C & B heart bus drivers

On busing and bad language (or, the “s” word, according to Chicklet)

As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions (here and here and here and here), my fellow bus riders are a creative bunch. One of the many areas through which they express their creative energy is cursing. If there were a world cursing competition, it would be held in the back of a bus. Or at a stop.

As I’ve also mentioned, the two mini bus riders with whom I travel most frequently are big talkers. And imitators.

I think you see where I’m going with this.

I am prepared to (and in fact regularly do) talk to my children about what we witness, experience, and overhear on our travels. I think of it as their opportunity to learn about the world they live in and my opportunity to teach compassion and reinforce our family’s values. Still, I have a hang-up about bad language–especially certain words–and have always been slightly fearful that my kids would join the ranks of advanced potty mouths before they even had any middle-school friends to impress.

As it turns out, it has (so far) not been an issue. Oddly, neither one of them has ever uttered a bad word—nor seemed even the slightest bit interested in those that are hurled past them with infrequent regularity. In our six and a half years of bus parenting, curse words have never come up.

Until last weekend, that is.

On Saturday, as Chicklet was sitting on the couch, obsessively reading a My Little Pony comic book, she suddenly gasped.

“Mommy, Mommy come here! Come here! This book has a BAD WORD!”

I hustled over, almost excited for an excuse to finally ban this bane from my household for good. (I have no idea why I allowed my children to be introduced to these insidious, equine, purveyors of platitudes, but I rue the day.) Looking simultaneously embarrassed, outraged, and horrified, she pointed out the offensive language:

“shut up”

Multimodal Monday: 180 miles

Here is my Chicklet, on the last Monday of the academic year, heading to school the way she has every day of her kindergarten career.

Chicklet walking to school

She and sweet B, who attends preschool on site at her elementary school, have walked (and sometimes run) in every kind of weather, a hilly half mile each way, without missing a single day–or ever being late. A half mile is nothing to my little people, but over an entire school year, those short walks have added up. My babies walked to Portland!

Numbers aside, though, our walks have always been some of our best times together. We meet neighbors, inspect plants and insects (usually on the way home, since we’re almost always in a hurry in the morning), make up games, and talk. When we are walking, they tell me how their days went, what they dreamed the night before, and who they enjoy playing with. And, they ask a lot of questions. The kinds of questions that take time to answer. The kinds of questions that spark more questions.

One of the things I will miss most when my children are grown is our time spent on the ground together, hand in hand in hand.

The bus life with “big” kids

One of the values Bus Nerd and I bring to parenting is a strong belief in keeping it simple. We try not to overschedule our kids because we fundamentally disagree with the idea that good parenting = schlepping your offspring from one organized activity to the next. On the contrary: We want to build a life that affords time for unstructured play, time with neighbors and extended family, and time to take on responsibilities at home.

Not having a car reinforces this way of living. It is possible (and very common) for driving parents to sign their kids up for back-to-back lessons/classes/sports that are miles apart and for any number of activities across town. It is not possible for us to do this, and I am grateful.

This doesn’t mean that Chicklet and Busling don’t get to participate in activities (though at six and four, they would hardly be deprived if they didn’t); it means that we focus on priorities and on what’s available in our own neighborhood.

Unfortunately for me, there’s a little too much available in our neighborhood.

Chicklet attends our neighborhood public school, which offers a number of great before- and after-school enrichment programs, including chess, soccer, double dutch, and drumming. She wanted to try chess (one of the few activities available for kindergartners), so she stays after school for an hour every Friday to play.

Learning to swim is a requirement in our household, so our kids take swimming lessons. Fortunately, there is a city pool an easy walk from our home. (Unfortunately, Chicklet and Busling aren’t exactly naturals, so I see many, many sessions in our future.)

Sweet Busling has been begging to take a dance class since he could walk. (Note that he danced–on his knees–even before he could walk.) This spring, I finally relented and signed him up for a creative movement class at the community center, which happens to be right next door to the public pool. If it turns out he’s a dance prodigy who simply must take lessons at a “real” dance school (maybe at our friend Maya’s dance school!), we’ll make the effort to get him there. Until then, the community center works just fine.

Against my better judgment (and per her request), I signed Chicklet up for t-ball this spring. The practices are once a week at a neighborhood park far enough away that walking on a weekday evening is not practical. So, we walk a little less than half a mile to the closest 48 stop (don’t get me started), and then bus the rest of the way. Her games are on Saturdays at a field an easy walk from the house.

Whew! How’s that for keeping it simple?

After school’s out, there will be no more t-ball or chess, and I’ll make a rule: one activity per kid, period. Well, plus swimming, I guess—at least until they can both stay afloat.

We’re still here

Since the last time I posted (in August—ahem), the Bus Fam has been through a few transitions.

For one thing, Chicklet started kindergarten (!), moving us to yet another stage in our bus lives: parenting a school-age kid.

At some point, I will share more extensive thoughts about our experiences so far. For now, I’ll say we are extremely fortunate that there is an amazing preschool on site at Chicklet’s elementary school. Having one drop-off is helpful to all parents; it is the holy grail for bus parents.

We live too close to the school to qualify for a yellow bus, so we walk the half mile both to and from. The route I catch from there to work comes every half hour at peak, so timing can be tricky. Also, there’s weather. But the frantic morning rush and occasional drenching downpours are more than made up for by the joy of spending the beginning of each day on the ground in our neighborhood, hand in hand in hand.

I digress.

To solidify her full-fledged kid status, Chicklet went and turned six (sniff!), which means she has reached official fare-paying age. (More on this in a later post.) We bought her an Orca card of her own for her birthday, and she wears it on a lanyard as needed. (Otherwise, it’s stored in my bus bag.) The first time she used it was on an 8-ride to Seattle Children’s Theatre, to celebrate her birthday with her oldest friend.

Sweet “baby” Busling grew all the way up; he’s four these days (!!!). On our morning walks to school, he likes to pretend we’re a family of animals—dolphins or lions or cheetahs or ponies—which can be helpful when we’re in a rush. (I’ve never heard of a slowpoke cheetah.)

We’ve taken two 8 rides to meet actual babies (C & B’s new cousins) at the hospital. And, we’ve taken several rides–on multiple routes–to visit them since.

I marked another anniversary of living without a car—11 years last month. Apparently, I owe Metro jewelry or something made of steel.

Me? I don’t need anything–other than for my buses to keep running, that is.

If this month’s emergency ballot measure fails, and Metro is forced to make cuts, our family will lose our three most-used routes. Two of our remaining regular routes will be reduced. Only one will remain untouched.

These are not minor inconveniences that require slight adjustments. This is a wholesale dismantling of the bus system as we’ve known it.

Unlike many people who will be affected by the cuts, Bus Nerd and I have the option to buy a car. (By that I mean, we can afford one, we are able-bodied, and we know how to drive.) I have tried to prepare my mind for this possibility and have found that I am completely incapable of imagining it. Not to get all Thelma and Louise, but something has crossed over in me. This bussin’ birdie can’t go back in the car cage.

But not wanting to live a particular way is not the same as not being able to. If we cut bus service, we will cut off basic mobility for thousands of people across the county who don’t have the luxury of deciding whether to buy a car. We will take away people’s access to employment, education, health care, and vital community connections. We will marginalize our elders and our youth, our neighbors and friends with disabilities, and people who don’t happen to have $8,000+ to spend on transportation every year.

And “vulnerable populations” aren’t the only ones who are vulnerable. All of us, no matter how we get around, breathe the same air, drink from the same water supply, and suffer the effects of our warming climate. All of us pay the health, economic, and environmental costs of our car-dependent culture.

I am hoping hard that the citizens of King County do the right thing next Tuesday–because we simply cannot afford not to.