Tag Archives: chicklet

What I’ve learned in my second year as a bus parent

My little Chicklet turned two today, which means I’ve officially logged two years as a bus parent. Here’s some of what I’ve learned:

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.

Chicklet rides in her own seat
What’s not to like about the 27?

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.

Chicklet waiting for the 48
Awaiting our chariot, aka “Metro’s Heavyweight”

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.


Car-free with a kid: the challenges

I’ve spent the past 20 months (well, on and off anyway–I know not everyone’s as interested in hearing about my kid as I am in talking about her) telling you how much I enjoy busing with Chicklet. And I really do. I love spending one-on-one time on our travels. I love having extra time to read and talk to her. I love experiencing the excitement of riding through her eyes. I love that I am teaching her many of my values–conservation, equality, community engagement, thrift, to name a few–without having to say a word.

But, you know all that stuff. You also know that I wouldn’t have started this post reiterating everything I love about my car-free, child-full life, unless I was about to tell you about something I don’t love.

There are, in fact, several things I don’t love about car-free parenting. As improbable is it seems (given that most of my life is spent not driving) the issue that causes me the greatest amount of inconvenience, stress, and anxiety is: car seat drama.

You see, although we don’t own a car, there are occasions (about once a month or every other month) when we need to use one. In the old days, this was a cinch: 1. Reserve car 2. Walk to car 3. Drive car 4. Return car.

These days? Not so much. The new routine: 1) Reserve car* 2. Schlep Chicklet, Chicklet’s car seat, and Chicklet’s stuff to car 3. Install car seat in car while ensuring that Chicklet doesn’t push any of the car’s buttons or make a beeline for the busy parking lot where the car is parked 4. Strap Chicklet into car seat 5. Drive car 6. Return car 7. Remove Chicklet and unstrap seat 8. Schlep Chicklet, seat, and stuff back home.

If Nerd is around for the car trip, the process is somewhat easier, since one of us can go get the car (sans Chicklet) and bring it back to our place to install the seat. Still, it wastes precious time that we’re paying for.

And I’m not finished.

On my father’s 70th birthday, the family met at a restaurant on Alki Beach to celebrate. After dinner, everyone wanted to head to my dad’s place–not far from the restaurant, but too far to walk–for dessert. Because the bus service in that part of town is abysmal, there’s no service from Alki to my dad’s place (at Seacrest) in the evening. Pre-child, this would not have been an issue. Nerd and I would have ridden to my dad’s with some family member or other, and, after dinner, walked up the hill to catch the 55 or hitched a ride downtown with my brother, who would have been heading that way anyway. But, since we had Chicklet with us, and since we didn’t happen to bring her 15-pound car seat along on our outing, we missed the after-party.

The next Saulter family gathering was for Father’s Day bowling at West Seattle Bowl. This time, we anticipated a post-bowling trip to Pegasus and so dragged Chicklet’s enormous seat along with us on the two-bus trip to the bowling alley. With two parents and two fairly empty Sunday-afternoon buses, we managed it. Certainly, though, it’s not a reasonable regular practice.

And then there was the time back in November of 2008, when we attended an election party at our friends’ place in Kirkland. On the way home (per usual, we had to leave earlier than everyone else to catch the last bus), we miscalculated the location of the bus stop and missed the route we were supposed to take back to Seattle. Pre-Chicklet, we would have called a cab. That night, we were forced to take a convoluted series of buses and spend a lot of time waiting outside in the dark. Did I mention that it was cold, and we had a baby with us?

I’ll spare you all of my other examples, since I think you get the picture.

Yes, I do know about the car seat/stroller combo (wish we’d done our homework before we bought the one we have), but that only really solves the Zipcar problem. What I need someone to invent (and pronto!) is a collapsible, portable car seat that a bus parent can carry in her bus chick bag–a sort of “car seat for emergencies.” Who’s got me?


* * If the only car within reasonable walking distance of our home is reserved, I skip the trip. Trying to time a rental around a bus schedule and then drag the seat and kid on the bus (and still walk at least a couple of blocks) is just more trouble than it’s worth.

Back on the bus

We’re back from a fun visit to Detroit. I must say, busing with a small child is good practice for riding an airplane with one. Bus Nerd and I are excellent at packing light (haven’t checked a bag yet), and we know how to keep Chicklet entertained on rides.* Chicklet is used to sitting quietly in vehicles full of people and a pro at sleeping on the go. As a result of her training, she was an absolute angel during our travels, including the bus rides to and from the airport.

On to the trip recap:

A good time was had by all. Chicklet got to help her granddad celebrate his birthday (that’s two grandpa birthdays in a little over two weeks) and just generally bond with her Michigan fam; Nerd got to bask in the joy of being in his city (the man loves Detroit at least as much as I love Seattle, and that’s a lot of love); and I got to indulge my secret affinity for candy paint and big wheels (hey–everyone’s got a vice) and enjoy being surrounded by tributes to my shero.

Rosa Parks Federal Building
Rosa Parks Federal Building

Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of Rosa Parks Boulevard; we didn’t have the camera handy.

We didn’t do much–OK, any–Detroit busing this time, as we were traveling with family (we walked a lot, if that counts), but because we intended to, Bus Nerd spent a little time on DDOT’s website. In the course of his trip planning, he came across these Arabic bus schedules. Cool, no?

And finally, a cool sign across from the area on Belle Isle where we picnicked for my father-in-law’s birthday.

A bus stop on Belle Isle

Bus Nerd says it’s a real bus stop. Next time, we’ll ride the bus to Belle Isle so we can actually use it.

* OK, not four-hour rides, but still.

A pretty good run

I do my best to be a good mother.* I also (usually) do my best to be a good bus citizen. During the first year of Chicklet’s life, these goals were complementary. As long as I made sure my little one’s needs were met and paid plenty of attention to her, she was well-behaved and quiet on our rides.

Now that we’re knee-deep in the willful toddler phase (she’ll be 18 months on May 1st), these goals are often in conflict. Good parenting practices require that I establish clear boundaries and thus to deny some of Chicklet’s many requests/demands, while good bus citizenship requires that I prevent her from disturbing our fellow passengers.

I managed this balancing act fairly well until last Friday, which shall be known henceforth as The Day of Chicklet’s First Bus Meltdown. (The details aren’t particularly interesting. She wanted more snacks than I thought appropriate in a moving public space–so soon after her recovery from a long bout with the stomach flu.) The howling only lasted for two of the 30+ minutes it took us to get to Green Lake, and I’m happy to report that we both survived. (So, thankfully, did our fellow passengers.) I’d be totally over it by now, if I didn’t know for sure that there are many more similar battles of will to come. Two is approaching, after all.

To all those who have the misfortune to encounter Meltdown Chicklet on a future ride: My apologies. I am hoping to exchange a couple of years of occasional bad bus citizenship for a lifetime of good world citizenship.

* OK, I obsess about it constantly.

Chicklet’s future (fingers crossed)

I spotted this book-loving young bus chick on a southbound 48 (yes, I do ride other routes) the other day.

A book-loving bus chick
BIG book, little person

I was planning to ask her what she was reading on my way out, but she got off before I did. My guess? Based on the book’s size and the intensity of her focus: Lord of the Rings. Which reminds me: A few weeks ago, on the 14, I saw a bus chick of about the same age with her nose buried Return of the King.

Looks like the future of buschickhood (buschickdom? buschickery?) is in good hands.

And speaking of crafts…

On our 48 ride home yesterday, a very kind bus driver gave Chicklet a page to color. She (the bus driver) had a whole folder full of these:

Chicklet's bus masterpiece
Chicklet’s masterpiece, completed post-ride. Limited (but appropriate!) color palette provided by Mom.

And, I assume, she dispensed them to other pint-sized riders throughout the day. Nice touch. Now all they need is Metro-themed crayons.

Update, 2/9:

Another ride (with the same driver), another picture:

My 16-month old artiste
Happy she got to choose her own colors this time

I love riding on the coloring-page-woman’s bus. She’s friendly and helpful to everyone, remembers passengers from one day to the next, and knows a lot about the city and the route she drives. She even has a sign in her front window that says, “I love my job.” (Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a photo of it.)

We can tell, Ms. Bus Driver. We can tell.

What I’ve learned in my first year as a bus parent (the condensed version)

Chick and Chicklet
Riding partners (photo by: Bus Hero)

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.

Comfywalking shoes, purchased at that earthy store near Westlake

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?