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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and Ph.D.'s: Wheels on the bus
August 5, 2009 - 3:49pm

With summer vacation comes a flurry of activities to keep children occupied. We’re blessed in our community with all kinds of day camps, sports venues, and art classes through the city’s parks and recreation department. The problem: few of them are in walking distance. A few things appropriate for my son’s age are close by, but activities for my four-year-old daughter require a drive. And aside from our little patio wading pool and hose, there are no swimming pools or spray parks we can walk to when it gets hot. Unfortunately, due to my illness (the long story ), I’ve been restricted from driving.

Determined to be independent and feeling just a little virtuous about environmental benefits, I took on the challenge of getting around exclusively by public transportation and walking and stopped asking my husband to drive us places. Before we had children, we rarely used our car, and now we try to minimize our use of the car and take the bus and train whenever it’s convenient. So I was sure I could get my kids to their summer activities on the bus, no problem.

The first step was to get a bus pass for the month of July, only to find out that by mid-June I was too late to buy a pass even for August…but would I like one for September? No matter. I bought a book of 10 bus tickets for $19, which I figured was cheaper than the pass and I was sure I wouldn’t use too many tickets in a month. (Had I done better calculations I would have realized that my first book of tickets would be gone in a week.)

Next I worked out our route. We’d hop on the bus to karate camp, then music class, then pick-up at karate camp, and on the way home we’d stop off for a little grocery shopping. It would require three different buses, and a walk, but we were going to do it. And we kind of did it. After my daughter’s music class we hung around for a couple hours (killing time for my son’s camp to be over) at the playground and ate a picnic lunch, before heading to the bus. I had to time the return bus so that we could make the transfer to the route that went by my son’s camp. To ensure we weren’t late, this required taking a combination of buses that got us to the camp 20 to 30 minutes early. Then after picking up my son we had to run across two fields and a parking lot to catch our bus home before the 1-1/2-hour validation on my bus ticket expired. We succeeded in doing this commute twice. Then it got hot. OK, not hot by most regional standards, but hot by Vancouver standards — about 85°F. (We’re weather wimps in Vancouver.)

I ended up begging my husband to drop off and pick up my son at his camp so I could just worry about getting my daughter to and from her class. She was exhausted after spending the day in her music class, playing at the playground, and then running from one un-air-conditioned bus to another. And I didn’t feel too good after the rushing around either. The following week, with nothing scheduled, we stayed close to home, playing in the shade of our building’s courtyard in the heat of the day, drank frosty blender drinks, and invited friends over to jump around in the wading pool. It was a much more relaxing week, and we planned no trips anywhere. We did what little grocery shopping we needed at the local corner store or ordered take-out from nearby restaurants.

I sincerely wanted to make my public transportation/commuting-with-kids experiment work, and I’m a little embarrassed that I gave up so easily. I know people who have no choice but to use transit and others who’ve gotten rid of their cars and now rely only on the bus or occasional cars from a car co-op. They get their kids to and from activities and do all their weekly shopping seemingly without problems. Maybe they’ve done better about organizing activities so they can do it all in one stop or on one bus line. But maybe it’s not easy for them either, and I’m just lazy now that I’ve grown accustomed to hopping in the car.

Nevertheless, my family still makes a point of using transit for certain trips (such as going downtown or to other places with direct bus service or limited parking). The kids and I have found that a long bus ride is the perfect time to share long, uninterrupted reading time. We’ve read through the Rainbow Fairy books (by Daisy Meadows — quick to get through, plus I can do funny fairy voices to really get people staring at us on the bus) and gems by Roald Dahl and Daniel Pinkwater that put us in fits of laughter. And we’ve unwittingly entertained other passengers; one guy thanked us as he got off, saying that he’d had such a good time listening to our story he was sorry to have to leave before the end!

By the end of July, my doctor gave me the OK to drive again. I’m sorry to say that when the really hot weather came (up to 96°F), the bus/oven-on-wheels was no longer in the plan. We tried not to go anywhere for a few days, but the thought of being in cold water up to our necks was just too tempting. After hopping in the car, I drove us to the beach one day and to the pool the next.

I think about the environmental impact of our car use, especially during the recent heat wave that sent us a message about what our world might look like unless we all make changes in our car usage of convenience. I’d like to think that I’m doing my small part, but it’s just too easy to give in and jump back in the car. Of course, organizing our family lives so that our kids aren’t scheduled with activities that require drop-offs and pick-ups in different places might reduce our car usage and help us live simpler, more relaxing lives. Both of my kids are in art class next week…ah, but that’s just one bus ride and to the same destination. I think we can do it. We’ll bring along a little cooler bag and some ice packs, just in case it’s a hot ride.


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