Monday, July 15, 2013

Maternity Guest Post: Thoughts on Living Car-Free with a Child

By Sarah Kay

My husband Henry and I are wrapping up our first year as parents and our fourth year without a car. We sold our car--my beloved "Rocketstar"--back when we lived in Oregon and could easily bike and walk everywhere we needed to go. Two years and two states later, we were living in Austin when we found out we were expecting our first child, HP.

Upon hearing the pregnancy news, well-meaning friends and family often asked us some version of the following: You're going to have to get a car now that you're having a baby, right? We responded that we hoped to continue our car-free lifestyle with the new addition, but if necessary, we would reevaluate once our son arrived. We do not live without a car to make our lives more difficult--it is something we enjoy, so we did not want to preemptively abandon our car-free ways before trying to make it work as a family of three.

Here we are, a year into parenthood, with five bikes and zero cars in our garage. Saying the past year has been challenging is an understatement. I could blame those challenges on our lack of car ownership, but I am not sure that is fair or accurate. Figuring out who we are as parents and meeting the needs of an infant is hard--with or without a motor vehicle. There were times that I felt isolated in my new role as a mother, and while not having a car did not cause those feelings, it intensified them when they came. 

My husband's month of paternity leave ended in July and he biked off each day to the world of adults while I stayed at home with the tiny human being we created. It took less than a week on my own to start Googling "biking with a newborn." I was desperate to get out.

Frantic internet searches aside, we decided not to bike with HP until he was at least nine months old.  Until then, we would travel by bus or foot. The prospect of riding the bus with my newborn son terrified me for the first month of his life. What if he needs to nurse? What if I need to change him?  What if he cries? Once I mustered up the courage and just did it, I realized my worries were unfounded. HP loves being on the bus. He likes the motion, being snuggled in his carrier, and observing fellow passengers or the scenery out the window. A handful of meltdowns aside, he has been an excellent bus rider.

We (mostly) happily bused around town for the first eleven months of HP's life. Ninety percent of our busing experiences were positive, the other ten percent tested my patience and resolve. At various points I cursed buses for being early, buses for being late, the lack of shade at the stops, erratic drivers, irritating riders, and most often, Henry and myself for deciding it was a good idea to continue living without a car. In those moments I tried to put my frustration in perspective and remind myself that this season of exclusive bus riding was a small piece of our lives and soon we would be back to our preferred mode of transportation--cycling. 

In May, we made the much anticipated switch to bicycles. It is no exaggeration to say that biking with HP has revolutionized my life. We are no longer at the mercy of the bus schedule or routes and it feels fantastic. Biking = freedom.

Now that we are happily cruising Austin's roadways on our bicycles, I could romanticize the past year and gloss over the challenges of being car-free with an infant. Let me be clear: there were moments of frustration when I thought we would not see it through. But most of the time? We were just living our life and raising our kid. A year later, I can honestly say that I am glad we stuck it out and made it work for our family.

Sarah writes about parenting, gardening, and her family's adventures biking in Texas at Affirmaison

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Laura said...

Love that you were able to do this. I also have a 1 yr old and I cursed every time I had to put her in her infant seat when she was little (she hated it). Having a car didn't help those feelings of isolation as a new mom, either. There were so many times I wished we lived in a society where I could just walk across the street and join another mom for a playdate. We don't live near a bus stop, unfortunately, even though we live within 2 miles of downtown. I started biking with my daughter when she was around 9 mo and she loves it....and I do too. Maybe we'll see y'all around town.

Anonymous said...

We have an eighteen-month old toddler and are living car free, and have been doing so since she was nine months old. A vehicle was a must in our old town, but we moved to a city with fabulous public transportation and ditched our van. We get around on foot, bus, and by bike. This is saving us money, and we're reaping all kinds of health benefits.

Two things that really help us on public transit has been babywearing (we love the Beco), and using a stroller with a very simple one-handed fold. I'm also not shy about asking for help or taking help when offered.

There are certain drawbacks to not having a car, but we get around them by using rentals or borrowing from my parents when we have to. But for the most part I love being car free. I love feeling connected to a bigger community, making do with less, and getting the chance to interact with my daughter as she waves, smiles, points, and chatters.

CCL said...

Thanks for sharing your experience living car-free, especially as a new parent. We are not car-free, but hearing stories like these help me think more about what I can do drive less. Although it does seem worth just being sensitive to the fact, as we wrestle with the realities and pros and cons, that all of this is from a place of a privilege -- that largely we have a choice of being car-free rather than the many people who simply can't afford a car and rely on a bike and public transportation as a necessity.

Anthropolochic said...

Thanks for sharing this. We are car free with a child under 1 and have had a really easy time of it. We've been fortunate to live in cities with excellent public transportation options and very walkable streets. I'm always interested in how other people manage car free - everyone's situation is different and each town has its own transit peculiarities. This was an interesting piece.

Anonymous said...

What kind of carrier did you use to bike with your 9 month old? I love biking but I didn't realize it could be safe with a baby that little. We just try to walk as much as possible with my 7 month old for now.

Sarah said...

@Laura--Yes! I also wished that our neighborhoods were designed to meet more of our needs instead of just providing housing. We are slowly getting to know more people in our neighborhood (we moved just before our son was born, which didn't help the isolation factor), but it's not the same as a co-housing set-up or another situation where most of our social/practical needs were being met in a one-mile radius.

@authenticallymerry--I also love being able to interact with my son while biking or taking the bus. It was nice for all of us that he didn't spend a lot of time in a car seat during his first year.

@CCL--Thanks for your insight. You are right--it is very much a choice for us to live car-free. Though I will say that one of the reasons we do it is financial. If we had a car we would have to seriously rearrange our budget to make it work (as in cut out all savings and be living close to month-to-month). But of course that is still coming from a place of privilege since deciding to forgo a car to save for the future is very different from having to forgo a car to make rent. Thanks for adding to the discussion and bringing up this point.

@Anthropolochic--So glad it was easy for you! I love hearing about the experiences of other people and how varied they can be based on location. I wish we lived in a neighborhood where it was easier to walk. Luckily, the park and pool are nearby, but otherwise it's all residential. With our next move I hope to live within walking distance to a grocery store, which is our main destination other than the park.

@growinggreenbabyblog--We use the Yepp Mini seat (we got ours at REI). It worked great with my husband's bike out of the box, but it took us awhile to find a bike that gave me the necessary knee clearance and upright posture to ride comfortably. We love the seat, but I just want to add that caveat. I would recommend bringing in your bike with any front seat because the comfort level varies based on the bike's geometry. HP started biking with my husband at 9 months and with me at 11 months (when we found a bike that worked). Now at a year we're usually taking a trip somewhere every day.

Toni said...

You might enjoy this post:

"Growing up in Santa Barbara, John was always an avid cyclist.He and his wife Lynn Seigel-Boettner, a kindergarten teacher, even brought their sons Jacob and Isaac home from the hospital on a trailer towed behind his bike."

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