We are a one car family. It works for us right now because we are lucky enough to have the right set-up. Before we moved here, I did countless hours of research to figure out where we would live to minimize our need to drive. Inevitably, it is the expensive part of town. But we do in fact live within a few miles of most everything we frequent. We are a few blocks from two grocery stores (one of which is a Wh*le Foods), and within a one mile radius we have two libraries, a big city park, several playgrounds and an awesome indoor playspace, the city zoo, and several bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream shops, etc. It’s awesome, city livin’ at it’s best. But if we were staying for the long haul, could I survive in such an urban environment? Hard to imagine. It works for me because it’s temporary.
During the school year My Man rides his bike to school (15 minutes each way) and I use the car maybe twice a week, and bike or walk the rest of the time.
During the summer, My Man works across the river. An almost 30 minute drive each way, and that is only if he carefully avoids rush hour. One hour of his day in the car. Fuck, man. I know people do this all the time, all over the country, but wow. I’m not even the one doing the driving and I hate it.
Anyway, that leaves me home five days a week with two kids and no car. How do I do it?
I want to tell you about how I do it, and how I love it, but first I want to make sure that you understand I am not hard core. I’m actually pretty lazy. Like I said, we are lucky to be able to live in a part of town where alternative transportation is easy. The farthest I ever ride my bike is about 3 miles round trip. For that short of a distance, you can practically get there faster on a bike, especially considering one way streets. So, don’t think I’m any kind of foot-power saint.
As with everything else, I do it because I love it.
I love riding a bike, so long as there are no hills involved, and New Orleans is accommodatingly dead flat. I love my 7-speed cruiser, which allows me to sit upright like a real human being, instead of craning forward and cinched down like a spring. In the heat, biking is as comfortable as anything else. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can move at a reasonable pace with almost no physical effort at all, plus catch a bit of a breeze. Cars get so crazy hot when they’re parked and the AC always takes at least ten minutes to kick in.
Biking is better this time of year– but come november when it cools off a bit, I’ll break back out the double stroller and happily walk 2-3 miles a day. I love biking, but I adore walking. It has always been my prefferred form of excersize, especially when there are no hills involved. Just a nice, mellow stroll. Ahhh. It’s therapeutic for me, physically, mentally and spiritually.
I want to share this, not to make any drivers out there feel insecure, you know my parenting motto, ‘Whatever it takes, baby!’ but to encourage anyone who lives in an urban area to just give foot power a try. Because the thing is, it feels intimidating, I know. Perhaps even impossible. When just getting out the door with little kids is fucking insanity producing, why complicate things by trying to walk or bike?
Because walking and biking are good for you. And I don’t mean in an abstract or ethical way (though that too), I mean right here and now. After all the frustration of packing up snacks, water, diapers, extra clothes, wallet, phone, keys, fighting clothes onto two naked kids (they’re always naked), finding three matching pairs of shoes, and herding everyone out the door, the straightforward physical exertion of walking or biking is such a release! Walking no doubt saved my sanity during my first crazy year with two.
Of course, this is entirely dependent on your kids. My babies (both) hated cars. As in, screamingly. But were extremely soothed by walking. So, for me, a walk meant some blessed silence, in which I could think my own cohesive thinks. Or just look around at the nice old architecture and peeping-Tom peoples’ yards. The kids usually settle into a sort of coma in the stroller, watching the world go by. Sometimes they have righteous squabbles, don’t get me wrong, with fists flying or legs kicking and I have no doubt that some kids would be downright impossible in such close proximity. But the thing about walking is that it’s lulling, not just for my kids, but I think for people in general. So, if I can just get them past the moment of the fight, they can usually be lulled back into complicity. I do try to remember to always bring snacks, which can redirect just enough to get them over that critical hump. And I pretty much always bring the Ergo carrier, so that if things get really bad, I can take the Babe out for a few minutes until everybody calms down. Then redirect with snacks.
But for the most part, it works shockingly well. They’re used to it because we do it almost every day. And I’m used to it for the same reason. I think that’s a lot of how it works for me. Habit. It’s much easier to just do something, out of habit, than it is to decide whether you feel up to it at that particular moment. That’s why, if you do live in an urban area, and are considering trying to get around more by foot power, I urge you to give it a couple of weeks to take before you decide it’s too hard. Once that old friend ‘habit’ kicks in, your body will just assume you are walking/biking and not debate it.
The other thing that really helps me to get off my ass is necessity. This summer, with My Man using the car, I am forced to use the bike if I want to leave the house. There are plenty of times when I would drive if I had a car in the driveway. But since I don’t, I get my butt in gear and submit to my chosen fate. And I am almost always glad I did.
Full time parenting is some hard stuff. I have had plenty of phases of driving everywhere I went since becoming a mama. When we first moved here I was 7 1/2 months pregnant, with 2 year old in tow, bowled over by the unbelievable heat. I patently refused to walk more than 4 blocks, and you had to twist my arm to get me to walk that far. I am being quite literal, I wouldn’t walk to the grocery store because it was five blocks. The first time, months later, that I did walk to the grocery store I couldn’t believe how close it was. Driving those 5 pot-holed blocks made it seem much farther. When my mom came to visit in the beginning of October (still damn hot here) and walked with my daughter to the library, a full mile away, I thought she was insane. In my pregnant and then carrying newborn days, I had truly forgotten about walking. Forgotten that it was actually easy, and so pleasant.
I don’t want to inspire any guilt, lord knows, I hesitated to write this post at all for fear of it. But I do want to say that for me, and I suspect many other folks, walking and riding a bike are particular balms on the painful cracks of parenthood. Talk about Mama Rage, and good ways to circumvent it! A mile long walk does wonders for the tangly ball of mama angst (so long as the little people are strapped into a stroller and not yowling about it).
Having just praised strollers up and down, I can’t help but be my own Devil’s advocate and say that although strollers might save mama’s sanity, and there is hardly a worthier goal, they also do create kids who expect to be strollered, rather than walk on their own feet. As well as just kids who expect sit back and watch the world go by, instead of exploring it on their own terms with childlike gusto. If you stroller a lot, you will end up yelling at your kids to stay strapped in and docile instead of trying to engage with the world. Which fucking sucks. I hate myself every time I do it. But there’s lots of things that suck. Not having friends in the immediate neighborhood, and having to plan playdates a mile away to fulfill everyone’s social needs sucks. Not having a big open wood right out the back door where kids can go explore and exercise without much limitation sucks. Living somewhere with avg summer temperatures of 95 fucking degrees for five months of the year and having to create excursions to AC equipped venues because you’re yard is like a blast furnace sucks. So, we do what we can with what we have. Once or twice a week our excursions are to the grocery store, but for the most part, when I strap them into the stroller it’s so that we can get somewhere that’s fun for them.
I’m a homebody. I’d just as soon hang at our house all day, engrossed in my little projects. But I don’t get to plan the agenda these days. I am in fact third in line, after a 4yo who actually agrees with me, and a 1.5yo who overrules us both, loudly. He needs his daily dose of adventure. And so we set out, every day, to satisfy it.
It is hard for me to motivate to leave the house at all, let alone by the power of my own muscles moving. When you’re in the middle of packing and dressing everybody, the car sounds so much easier. But if you can just make the decision to do it, you’re halfway there. Short distance foot power is not as hard as it sounds, and much more rewarding.
I have a friend who once summed it up quite nicely, our particular brand of laziness “I never feel like climbing a mountain. I bribe myself to the top with cheese and crackers. But, man, once I’m up there! I’m always so glad I went.”
Getting over the mental hump of leaving the house on foot is often the hardest part. After that you can just coast, baby. It’s all downhill from there.