Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Suburban Friends and the Carfree Family

We got a really great question on the When you really need a car post. BusChick writes (somewhat edited here):
"The biggest driver (pun intended) of car use for us is visiting friends. My family lives in the city, and so do most of my old friends. I, do, however, have one or two close friends who live outside of bus range; my husband has several...

I like to reciprocate visits to friends and not always have them come to us, but renting a car just to go sit in a girlfriend’s living room is not something I’m going to go every week—or, for that matter, every month. Most of my husband’s friends have kids, and they are forever having baby showers and birthday parties and Super Bowl parties and et cetera. Sometimes we can take the bus to these events, but these are two-transfer rides with long wait times and infrequent service... Many times, we cannot take the bus to these events and so either have to rent a car or skip the trip...

So, after all that, my question is: Do any other car-free parents have this problem, and if so how do you handle it?"
I wrote a little bit about this a while back, but mostly in the context of new friends. But the existing friends and family are a tougher problem. Some strategies we have are to host events instead of transporting ourselves to other peoples' houses, especially if it's for an activity along the lines of "hanging out in a living room". It's easier for us to feed and host people than it is for us to get to them, and hey, then they don't have to cook, so it's a win for them. For friends with kids who live in the burbs, we sometimes arrange for transit accessible meet ups at kid friendly activities that they'd probably come into town for occasionally anyway (like a trip to the Boston Children's Museum).

But that doesn't really answer the question of the baby shower or the super bowl party, that really is happening at someone else's place, and that someone didn't really consider bus routes when they bought their lovely 4 bedroom in the burbs. One strategy is to increase the threshold for what you consider a true social obligation. If the baby shower is for someone you really care about, and particularly if it is for family, then maybe it is something you need to be there for since a baby is kind of a big deal. The super bowl party might be less of a true social obligation (but keep in mind, I'm not a football fan, so feel free to disagree for your own life). If you decide you really need to be there, one option is to divide and conquer. If only one grown-up goes, you might be able to beg a ride from a driving friend, and lord knows the toddler doesn't want to go anyway. If you can't rustle up a ride ahead of time, go ahead and take the 3 bus trip, knowing you'll probably be able to hitch a ride home since everyone there will be horrified that you didn't drive and will be falling all over themselves to offer you a ride home (just say at moderate volume "oh, I need to head out soon to catch the bus, I've had a great time!" and you'll have 10 offers of a ride...but all of those offers evaporate if a carseat is involved).

The social pressure to maintain tit-for-tat invitations is very strong, but is nearly impossible to maintain for a carfree person (especially a parent of small kids) in a social world that assumes you have a car. These social rules are largely unspoken. It might happen that you gradually come to fewer and fewer parties, and eventually you just aren't invited anymore. Honestly, for some friends, that may not be such an awful thing. I'm sure your old friends are wonderful, but is each and every relationship really one of those friendships meant to last a lifetime? Most friendships do eventually fade, especially once kids are in the picture, and you know, that can be OK (and isn't that kind of what facebook is for?) But some of those friendships are probably ones you really want to maintain and are willing to work for. For these friendships, a little communication is in order.

I'm reminded of a situation with some of our best friends (fortunately, they are the kind that live in walking distance!). We both have 3 y.o. kids, but theirs is a more finicky sleeper. When he was little, he couldn't sleep at our house. He still has a much more rigorous nap schedule. However, our kid was fine sleeping at their house and could be a little more flexible on timing at a younger age. As a result, we frequently ended up going to their place and having our kid nap or even sleep overnight there. We started feeling really bad for never having them over and for eating too much of their delicious food. So, at some point, we actually talked about it. We established that for them, it was easier to just host us than to mess up their kids sleep, so it was OK for all of us if we didn't host as often. Now, that conversation was probably a year and a half ago now, so we should probably have it again, especially since baby nap schedules trump 3-year-old nap schedules and baby R has been added to the mix. Maybe now we can return the favor and feed them (C & D -- let's discuss!). But the point remains, we felt bad for not meeting our social obligations, but there was a good reason for it, and it turned out that there was an arrangement that worked.

Perhaps it's similar for those really close friends who had the audacity to move to the burbs without checking with you, first. Go ahead and tell them, out loud, how truly difficult it is for you to get to them (even though you feel pressure to prove anything can be done by bus) but that you value the friendship and would hate to lose it due to logistical difficulties. Say that you'd really rather host them when you get together or meet at a restaurant or activity in bus range, but let them know that for the really big stuff (the baby shower, the wedding), you'll suck it up and rent a car. If you can actually communicate about the unspoken obligations, you can probably come up with a level of contact that maintains the friendship.

(And congratulations to BusChick and BusNerd on the impending arrival of BusBaby #2!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

On (not) using my body

A recent article in the New Yorker combined with trying to get used to my post-partum body, has gotten me thinking. The article opens with research showing that Americans started gaining weight in the early 80s, after remaining relatively stable through the 60s and 70s, and that we've kept on gaining, and then launches into reviews of several books that purport to explain the increase. One of the main arguments is that we are evolutionarily primed to seek out calories from sugar and fat, since putting on concentrated calories when they were available helped us survive lean times. Now that calories (especially from fat and sugar) are so cheap, we pack on the pounds.

But the article also points out that the economic part of this argument may be a bit flawed. After all, if calories are cheap, fewer calories are even cheaper. That got me wondering what else has changed in the 80s and 90s. What I came up with is the rise in personal computing. Cheap computers have dramatically changed the way that we make a living and the way we spend our recreation time. Even jobs that used to involve a fair amount of physical activity, like nursing, have been changed by technology. With the introduction of electronic medical records, any nurse will tell you that they tend to gain weight if they aren't careful (My mom's a nurse, so I have that on authority). The structure of our down time has changed, too. Here I sit blogging in my "free time." We spend time on facebook, twitter and message boards, perhaps instead of (not in addition to) more active pursuits. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think computers are bad. I (mostly) like them, and rely on them for my livelihood. But many of us sit around all day working on a computer, and then come home to sit around playing on the computer.

I've been blessedly spared much angst over my body, but not because I've always been in great shape. Even when I wasn't in good shape, I was frequently using my body for transportation, by walking and biking. My body served me well, got me efficiently from point A to point B, and other than that I didn't worry much about it. I think using my body to do something useful helped me skip some of the worry about appearance.

But here I am, done with pregnancy, and my body is different. It is a little bigger and a different shape, and even though I'm nursing, I'm not finding that those extra pounds are coming off. After stepping on the scale the other night, I had to admit that I might have to work at getting back into shape, which caused me to exclaim in an exasperated tone "But I don't diet! I should get to eat as much sour cream as I want!"

The birth left me with a lot of recovery to do and my body still isn't ready for biking. So, in contrast to my pre-pregnancy life, I now find that I am fairly sedentary, with a few extra pounds I'd rather not have, and not exercising enough to justify my love of sour cream. I'd certainly buy the evolutionary argument that we love our fat and sugar (I sure do), but for me at least, the bigger problem may be that I'm not using up those calories in satisfying or useful pursuits. Even if I still had these pounds, if I were biking, I don't think I would be bothered as much. If my body felt strong and functional, I think I could recapture that blithe disregard for my body image.

Back when we were hunters, gatherers, or farmers, we didn't have time to obsess over our bodies. We just used them. I'm guessing neither anorexia nor excessive weight were big problems. Other than having recently grown a pretty fabulous baby, my body isn't doing anything for me right now. I'm not using it for work; I'm not using it for recreation; and I'm not using it much for transportation (though I do still walk some), and those cheap calories are not helping. I think the way for me to feel more satisfied with my post-pregnancy body isn't to diet or to "exercise," but to start using my body in ways that feel productive.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When you really need a car

Purists out there will cringe, but I find that sometimes I really need a car. It happens less and less as time goes on because our lives are increasingly integrated with the community within a mile of our home, but it still does happen sometimes. In the winter I don't always want to tackle a huge grocery shopping trip on my bike. We sometimes need to purchase items that are too large to fit on our bikes. We sometimes need to get to the hospital quickly.

So if you are carfree or are considering being carfree, you might want to know if there will be a car out there should you need one. There are four main avenues for finding a car for occasional use:
  1. Rent a car. A rental car can be a good option for taking a vacation or when you will need to use a car over multiple days. In our city (Cambridge MA), it is easy to bike or take public transit to a number of car rental agencies. You can shop for the best rates online, but keep in mind that taxes and other fees may apply, so read the fine print. In particular, you'll want to think about the issue of insurance. If you don't already have a car, you won't be covered by any insurance, and car rental insurance can really add to your daily costs. Some credit cards will cover you if you rent the car with their card; call your credit card company to ask about their policy. A good summary of insurance options can be found in this MSNBC article.
  2. Use a car sharing service. Car sharing services allow you to rent a car for a very short period of time. You can find a list of car sharing services on Wikipedia. Generally you pay an annual fee to subscribe to the service and an hourly fee to have the use of a car. You make a reservation online and then pick up the car and return it to the same permanent parking space. Membership in a car sharing service means that you can have a car available almost any time you want it. Here in Cambridge, we sometimes use Zipcar.
  3. Borrow a car (or share a car informally with friends). It can be great to borrow friends' cars from time to time. It is cheaper (and friendlier) than a formal car sharing service. If you are going to borrow your friends' cars, it is a good idea to set some parameters ahead of time (How often can you borrow the car? For how long? How much do you contribute for gas/repairs?) and then to check in periodically to make sure your friends are still comfortable with the relationship. Borrowing a car is a great way to build community and to avoid having to have your own car!
  4. Use a taxi. Taxis are expensive but they can be a simple way to get from one place to another!
As Bus Chick pointed out, the worst part about using a car when you are a parent is having to use a car seat. Whenever possible we try to do car trips without a kid (for instance, baby R has only been in a car on the way home from the hospital), but sometimes car trips with kids in tow are unavoidable. Here are our tips for each for handling car seats in each of the options above:
  1. Rental Cars. From what we hear, you don't want to take up a car rental company on any offer to include a car seat. Either the car seat won't be available, will be broken, or will be a substandard/outdated seat. Better to bring your own if possible. If it is not possible, look for tips from Delicious Baby. Rental cars should all be equipped with latch systems which helps when getting car seats in and out. Also, keep in mind that the laws about child seats vary by state (for instance, Massachusetts requires that children up to age eight be restrained in a car seat or booster seat). You should check the laws any time you are traveling to a different state.
  2. Car sharing. Most cars from a car sharing services will be newer and thus equipped with latch systems for car seats. Zipcar at least does not provide car seats and I haven't heard of any other car sharing services providing them.
  3. Borrowing a car. If you borrow from a friend with kids, you may get lucky and be able to borrow a car with a seat already installed. If your friend does not have a car seat installed, you'll need to know if the car has a latch system. If it does not, you'll have to use a seatbelt to secure the seat which means getting intimate with your car seat manual.
  4. Taxicabs. Taxi cab drivers often get crabby when they have to wait for you to install a seat. We had a driver tell us just to hold our infant on a lap and hold the car seat as well rather than installing it (we installed the seat anyway). In Massachusetts and some other states, children are not required to be in car seats in a taxi. You'll have to decide how important a car seat in a cab is to you, particularly as your child gets older. If you want to have your toddler ride with a seatbelt, there are tips here. That same site gives the advice that "Many parents find it helpful to ask the driver to start the meter immediately and also to hand him a dollar right away (just factor this into the tip at the end) – this might show him that you respect his time and pacify him as you take the minute to install the baby's car seat." I advice you read the whole advice section from the car seat lady to help you make the best decision.
Also, I can't recommend it because I haven't tried it, but the Travel Vest certainly seems like a great idea. It's a more portable option for when kids are the right age for a booster seat. If anyone has tried it, please let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cloth Diapers, Take Two

Sometimes really great things happen in the world of babies between your first and second kid. In our case, two wonderful things happened in the world of cloth diapers.

1) One-size pocket diapers were invented. We received several BumGenius 3.0 one-size pocket diapers as a gift, and we LOVE them (Thank you friends! You know who you are...). They fit both 3.y.o. H and infant R (amazing!), and are so much nicer than prefolds at those middle-of-the-night changes.

2) A real live brick and mortar cloth diaper store opened walking distance from us in Somerville, MA. Check out Diaper Lab at 201 A Highland Ave. We stopped by to pick up some Thirsties Covers in R's new size, and found a wonderfully stocked store, helpful and knowledgeable staff (store founder Salina is in the photo above), and, our favorite, a discount corner in the back with gently used items. Prices are on par with online stores, but you don't pay shipping and exchanges are easy. We only wish this store existed when we were stocking up on cloth diapers the first time! The store is a 15 minute walk from Davis on the red line, and accessible via the 88 or 90 buses. Diaper Lab gets extra points for posting the relevant bus schedules inside the store.

If you're considering taking the cloth diaper plunge, consider the Diaper Lab Experiment to Own Program. Try 8 kinds of cloth diapers for two weeks for only $25.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Carfree Roundup

Here are some posts and findings from around the web that we really enjoyed this week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Carfree on the Internet

This week I've been noticing just how much stuff comes with kids. We picked up a lot from friends used, but I still feel like the stream of stuff pouring into our house is wide and deep. We have gifts for H's birthday, an avalanche of parts for the many electric breast pumps in our home, and new tools from some home renovation projects taken on by Dorea's dad. We're trying to counterbalance the influx by clearing out our basement, including paring down our vast collection of hand-me-down clothes to what will actually be worn.

I've been surfing around the carfree internet today and found a few items of interest: