Commuting with kids in Boston


I’ve hesitated to write anything on this blog from a parenting perspective since I’m such a novice parent, but after 17 months as Daddy I think there’s one issue I can write about and maybe actually be helpful:  commuting with kids.  Or one child at least.  My son Peter has been riding the T since he was three weeks old and for the past seven months he & I have made the daily commute from Jamaica Plain to Allston where he goes to child care and I go to work.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurence.

Peter catches some shut-eye on the Orange Line, a rare occurrence.

Riding the subway to bring Peter to child care has many obvious advantages: save money, save gas, reduce auto exhaust pollution, et al.  Developmentally I think it is also much more interesting for Peter.  He could sit in a car seat in the back of a car (facing backward before he turned one) and have not much to do for half an hour, or ride the subway for 45 minutes where he gets to watch and interact with numerous people and read books and play with toys with Dad.   Turns out, Peter loves the T.  He loves to wave and say hi to people, and especially has fun making faces at other children on the T.  I find myself in conversations more often with my fellow passengers as well, who often seem delighted by a little boy in this grown-up world of commuters.  In fact, if I were a single dad I don’t think I’d be one for long because Peter particularly likes to flirt with women. Mostly, I enjoy the company.  It’s a lovely way to begin and end each work day spending time with my little boy.

Stroller vs. Carrier

One of the first things to consider when taking children on public transportation is how to carry the child.  A carrier of some sort – a sling, frontpack or backpack – can be a good option.  On a crowded subway it’s definitely the sleeker option less likely to create a hindrance for other passengers.  Plus one can take full advantage of the stairs and escalators instead of looking for the often hidden, sometimes broken elevators.

When Peter was very little my wife and I carried him in a Maya sling and it worked quite well.  When he got bigger I tried a backpack and liked it for all the reasons mentioned above.  One day I noticed women taking pictures of us with our cellphone as I stood hanging on to a strap with Peter on my back.  I turned my head and saw that Peter was also holding a strap which made us so photogenic.  Unfortunately there were downsides to the backpack as well.  Peter was constantly losing his hats, gloves, and shoes or his nose would get runny or some other problem that was difficult to address without taking off the pack.  And taking off and putting on the pack on a moving train is not a safe or easy thing to do.  I was also constantly afraid I was going to whack some other passenger and/or Peter when moving in tight spaces.  Throw in some back problems and the back pack was not for me.  A front pack of some sort may make a better option and will definitely be something to look into for a future child.

So I use a stroller, a sturdy not overly-large MacLaren.  The stroller takes a load off my back and makes it easier to see that Peter is all put-together as well as interact to play with toys, read books or just hold hands when we’re tired.  Unfortunately, the stroller can be a bit bulky and get in people’s way, and I’m afraid I’ve run over more than one set of toes trying to steer it in tight spaces.  Sometimes on the Red Line in the morning I have to let a train (or two!) pass by because they are just too crowded for me and a stroller to fit.  This is why I loved the Big Red seatless cars but apparently they’re not running them anymore.

Riding the elevators adds a bit of time to the commute and they’re  not always in the most intuitive locations.  For example, if riding the Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree and wanting to transfer to the Orange Line to Forest Hills, one must get off at Park Street and walk down the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line platform at Downtown Crossing.  Heading the other way, one must exit the turnstiles at Downtown Crossing, walk down the Winter Street Concourse, reenter the turnstiles at the other end and take the elevator down to the Red Line (makes me wonder if a person in a wheelchair who doesn’t have a Charlie Card link pass to have to pay to get back in, which doesn’t seem to fair).  This actually isn’t all that inconvenient just not the most obvious route to make a transfer.

Overall, once I’ve learned where all the elevators are and the best spots in the car to go with the stroller (all the way at the end so I don’t get in the way of aisle) I think the stroller has been very positive for me and for Peter.  As I mentioned above most of the other passengers seem to be very welcoming to an infant on the T, and often people offer me a seat.  That’s one courtesy I never expected anyone to share with burly, 6’1″ man in the pink of health!

Problems and Potential Pitfalls

While my commuting experience with Peter has been overwhelmingly positive there are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Other passengers – My greatest fear going into this is that I would encounter people who would find Peter too noisy, too distracting, or otherwise too bothersome to their commute and they would let me know about it in no uncertain terms.  Blessedly this has not happen as people have been mostly friendly and helpful or at least hold their tongue.  One grandmotherly type actually read “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to Peter and a young man told me Peter was the highlight of his day. There was one occasion when Peter was five months old when a woman told me that T was too dangerous and I should get a car (which defies logic since automobile crashes are a leading cause of death in the US).  Even though that was upsetting, she actually said it in a way that made it seem that she thought she was being helpful.  I’ve yet to meet the truly nasty person on the T which makes me more trustful of my fellow humans.  Still, I worry because of
  • Meltdowns – For whatever reason – because he likes other people, hanging out with Dad, or the soothing rhythm of the rails – Peter is usually pretty happy when we’re on the T.  But he has his bad days.  He particularly doesn’t like it when the subway car gets overly crowded and like many a commuter he complains when there are delays.  One morning he had a complete meltdown while we were stuck for an interminable amount of time between Central and Harvard and I had to contend with trying to soothe him and worrying about how he was affecting the other passengers.  Stressful to say the least. All babies cry, and there’s no foolproof way to prevent this, but I believe distraction is the key – have toys, teething rings, books, or anything the child loves on hand.  Sometimes with Peter it’s as simple as turning the stroller in a different direction so he has someone else to look.  Again, other passengers are my friends offering a silly face or a tissue during my times of need.
  • Buses – The subway is very workable for commuting with a stroller but I’ve all but given up on the bus.  The narrow aisle on the newer models leaves nowhere to put a stroller out of the way, and folding up the stroller and holding Peter isn’t very feasible either.  Perhaps with a less active child that might work.  Route 66 especially is a nightmare.  Route 39 has a nice spot for strollers in the bendy section, but there’s no guarantee that you can actually get down the aisle to that point when it’s crowded.

So that is my experience commuting with a child on the T.  I hope the suggestions are useful to any other parents out there.  If you’re thinking about taking the T with your own children and wondering if it’s worth the hassle, I say go for it.  I find it rewarding in ways I never imagined.  If you have any questions or suggestions of your own, please post them in the comments or email me at liamothemts AT gmail DOT com.  I’d particularly like to hear from parents about their experiences with an older child or with multiple children on the T.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Bravo, dad. I was entertained and impressed at the same time. Mine are a lot older now so the stroller vs carrier debate is no longer an issue for me. I do remember, though, that after nine months of baby on board, the last thing I wanted to see was any sort of front carrier. :)

    I blog at erasundar.wordpress.com

    Reply

  2. Thanks Era, I can appreciate not wanting to carry anything more after 9 months (plus a little bit more in my wife’s case).

    Reply

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