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Trimet adventures (with babe in arms)

Our car broke down this January, when our daughter was six-months old, and my partner, Jeremy,  had just started a new job across town in Hillsdale.  We could have fixed the car, but we decided that we'd try being a bit more environmentally friendly for a while, so we put it off indefinitely.  Suddenly, we found ourselves travelling exclusively by bike and bus -- that is, Jeremy would bike 14 miles a day (uphill both ways!) and I would maneuver around town with the baby on the bus. 

Full disclosure:  I'm a public transit veteran. Having grown up in big cities, and spending the past 8 years living without a car in Chicago, I know my way around bus routes and schedules and waiting at inadequate shelters during blizzards and sleet and all sorts of terrible weather we're usually spared in Portland.  Nevertheless, I wasn't fully prepared for the adventures that awaited us while taking Maya on the bus.  Six months later we've persevered and even learned to love our bus time.  We've also heard from some of our urbanMama friends who feel intimidated by the prospect of getting on the bus with strollers, diaper bags and, of course, baby.  So for all of you who might otherwise feel stuck at home, or would rather redirect some of that $3 per gallon to college savings accounts, here are some tips we've picked up along the way:

Google Transit!  Check out Google's new feature available only for the Portland metro area!  It uses  Trimet schedules to plan your trip, but it also calculates whether it's more cost effective to drive or take public transit, and it uses Google's awesome maps to make sure you understand the route.

Take the baby into the bus while still in the stroller, but be prepared to hold baby throughout the bus ride.
  Some bus drivers are extremely patient and courteous, waiting until you have baby securely on your lap before they begin driving.  Others will slam on the gas, oblivious to the fact that you and baby might go flying down the aisle.  I like to get on the bus, get situated, and pay the fare once I'm settled and the bus stops to pick up more people.  Bus drivers seem to like this too since it means they can keep closer to their schedule. 

Travel light!  This is advice I don't often follow myself, but that doesn't mean we all shouldn't try.  It's especially hard if you're going to be out all day not to carry a blanket, extra clothes, hats, sunscreen, bibs, food, in addition to diapers, wallet, phone, keys, sunglasses, etc.   Try leaving extraneous toys at home.  One major benefit of public transit is that baby gets to look at other people and be in your arms.  No toy is that engaging.  There are lots of very friendly people, especially seniors, who are dying to play peek-a-boo and tell you just how precious your little tyke is.  In fact, you're practically doing the community a service just by sharing your babe.

If possible, wear your baby.  Slings and front- or backpacks will make your life a lot easier, especially when baby is small.  I usually bring our Ergopack even if we have the stroller just because it's easier to board the bus with your hands free.  If you decide to skip the stroller, then packing a light diaper bag is extra important, of course.

Practice baby sign language.  Sure you can't read or listen to music to pass time on the bus anymore, but that doesn't mean you can't be putting your commute to good use.  There are tons of songs to sing and things to point out as the world zooms by.  Our daughter signed "tree" for the first time today while we were on the bus.

Have fun!  Remember that time spent on the bus or MAX with your little one is different than time being stuck in traffic when you're driving.  In a very literal sense, the journey is more important than the destination.  Plus, if you start walking and running to catch those buses you'll lose that baby weight in no time!

I'll keep chiming in with other tidbits and stories involving our trips on the bus and with our bike trailer.  Share your transit secrets and stories with the rest of us!


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This is a great topic, and I would particularly love insights from mamas who've navigated Tri-Met with more than one child in tow. We did a fair amount of public transit-ing with my firstborn, but joined the ranks of the intimidated after baby number two. They're both under 3, and still in diapers....

I'm so glad you posted this! I don't have a drivers' license so I Tri-Met everywhere with my girl (also named Maya!). I've found most bus drivers to be way patient with the strollers, but a lot of times I wear her in a sling just because the handicapped spaces get so crowded. MAX is a lot easier in that respect, but man, do I hear you on the "packing light' issue!

I have to say it isn't all that difficult to transport baby while she's still in uterto. I've been watching Moms on TriMet (haven't seen a lot of Dads. Most are incredibly good at dealing with the boredom and frustrations of their toddlers. There was one Mom with two boys. They suddenly decided to have a bit of a melt down. She very calmly held the one who was having a particularly difficult time and told him that if he didn't calm down, they'd have to get off the bus and wait for the next one. He mellowed immediately, from crying and kicking and punching. I was very impressed.

I remember struggling to get on a tri-met bus with a stroller years ago and the bus driver YELLED at me that i had to have the stroller all folded up before i could get on. Then he told me to hurry up.

The stroller basket was full of groceries, it was very hot out, and by the time i got on and to my seat I just burst out crying. He was so mean! I was postpartum and was beating myself up for not wearing my baby in the sling due to the heat, etc etc. I'm still traumatized obviously!!

Glad to hear its not always like that!

it's so funny you posted this... I was just mentally composing a post about my family's low car diet. I never find myself very bored on the bus with my two boys!

I almost always wear Truman (14 months) and typically pack very light, only carrying what will fit in a backpack, typically. sometimes I let Everett (almost 4) carry a backpack but remember to be prepared to carry it home, myself. Everett always rides with his imaginary friends, which can sometimes be useful (Dora's leaving the bus now Everett, we had better catch her!) and sometimes, can not (when someone sits on one of his friends, it's often a big problem).

I never take anything bigger than an umbrella stroller on the bus, fwiw -- Everett has to walk wherever we go. It means that I have to leave a very generous amount of time for whatever portion of the trip occurs on foot.

Everett loves to sit on the very back of the bus, so often I'm left to run after him as the bus sways and lurches to the next stop. But he's happy back there :)

My biggest piece of advice is to avoid making trips where you'll have to rush to catch a transfer, unless you don't mind waiting there for a long while. I've watched any number of buses pass by the intersection while I was trying to get both kids across two crosswalks.

If you're juggling two or more children, it's helpful to give the older one a responsibility. I often let Everett put in a few coins for the fare, or carry the bus transfer, or hold my cell phone (always a popular choice). Not that I can guarantee anything will work; when kids melt down on the bus, there's not much to do but pretend you're invisible. I can't tell you how many miserable times I've dragged Everett, screaming, onto the bus while holding Truman in one arm -- just set your mouth and pretend everyone's not staring at you, is really my only advice.

most of the drivers are really nice and patient with kids. half of the other riders, are not. just know that if you're in a bad situation on the bus, with a driver yelling at you or with other riders glaring or saying terrible things: I've been there, and worse. I'm sending out my supportive vibe to you right now...

Thanks, Andrea, for the great tips. My number one TriMet obsession is Transit Tracker (http://trimet.org/arrivals/index.htm or 503-238-RIDE (7433)). Along Sarah's vein of low-transfer rides, I also like to know when to expect the next bus/MAX. I keep a list of the most common stops on my routes, and I am obsessive about checking Transit Tracker. I allow plenty of time to get there, knowing that it takes about 6 minutes to get to our bus stop with the two girls versus my own average 3 minutes to get to the stop without kids. As much as possible, I try to get the stroller all folded up before the bus gets there. Once, though, when we borrowed Jackson's stroller, I didn't know how to fold it, and the bus driver was nice enough to let me get on without folding it. The bus wasn't that crowded.

We have been higher bus-riders since the spring, just because I realize transit is so much funner when the girls & I can draw, journal together, play pattycake, sing songs, eat snacks.

I am so psyched the #1 takes us from our house in N. Pdx to Wilson Pool in SW. No transfers!

We love trying to leave the car at home, whether it's taking the bus, walking or biking. Both my guys were notorious for screaming while I would drive in the early days so any mode of transportation not involved with being strapped into a car seat was very helpful. I've never been really good about using the stroller, except for jogging. With the second one, I just recently pulled out our umbrella stroller to see if he likes it. He's almost 1 years old. When we do take the bus, I use the Ergo to tote the younger one, and my nearly 3.5 year old son just walks. It really has never been that big of an issue, except he can be a bit slow if he's tired. I guess because we didn't use strollers that often with my older son, I think we've set the expectation that he walks or rides his bike when we're out and about. Also, on top of giving your older child tasks, I always like to let Carter carry a small backpack so that I'm not always stuck with carry everything. Lastly, it's happened to us twice, some drivers will give you a transfer that's good all day long if they see that your traveling with kids. Thanks so much for sharing this post, Andrea!

books are pretty good as entertainment and singing and talking to your child, as every mother knows you are in your own world when you are with your kids and feeling embarrased just doesn't matter. you need to free yourself to be like your child and then you can connect and engage with them. the wheels on the bus may annoy everyone else but if you can enjoy it so will your child.

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