A car-free mom gets her muscles — and mind — in shape for summer
I’ve started running a few times a week.
Each morning, I grab the clothes I’ve set out the night before and finish getting dressed in the garage, because I don’t want to wake my family. Then I go into my neighborhood and run, although running is a misnomer. Really, it’s more of a jog — and sometimes just a walk.
These jog/walk sessions don’t have anything to do with being beautiful and thin, although I could do without the little mommy-skirt bathing suit. In large part, running is just a prelude to cycling. For months, my bike hung inside the garage while the streets were too snowy to navigate safely. But after a winter of bus rides, walks, and even occasionally driving my husband to work so I could have the car rather than spend one more day trapped inside, I’ve resumed life with a bike.
It hasn’t been easy getting back to carting my two- and four-year-old daughters behind me to the playground and the grocery store. This year, they weigh a total of 70 pounds. That’s 10 pounds heavier than last year — and my thigh muscles are pissed.
Pedaling Through the Golden Age
My SUV-driving girlfriend, whose family recently moved into a newly built exurban home, once called my bike trips to the grocery store “cute.” I’d like to think she meant “incredibly cost-savvy, saving thousands of dollars each year by not driving.”
But I think she meant just what she said — cute. And possibly a little crazy. Can’t you just imagine me riding a bike around town with my three kids, she laughed.
It’s true, I can’t imagine my friend riding a bike around town with her three kids — but I know one mom who does. She lives near me, and I know her only because we happen to frequent the same playground, almost always on bike. With three kids in her trailer, she’s hard to miss.
This mom has told me she hates to drive when everything is so close. And sometimes, her circumstances make biking the best option: Often, she taxis her oldest to and from kindergarten because the district won’t bus kids living less than a mile and a half from school.
I’ll face the same dilemma in another year. But for now, I’m in a sort of Golden Age of parenting.
After two years of living with just one car, I’ve discovered that my problems are few if I follow a handful of simple rules: Know my limitations. Get organized. Don’t forget my wallet and thus need to return home during an outing that cascades into a series of two-year-old tantrums, a lost pink stuffed bunny, and instead of lunch at the neighborhood coffee shop, a few slices of pizza at that local gas station because naptime is something nobody wants to see ignored.
Of course there are bad days, but mostly my uncomplicated life is just loads of fun. I have finally learned to relax and allow myself to simply enjoy hanging out with my daughters. Despite signing up for more organized activities than I’d care to admit, our summer is reserved mostly for rides to the local nature preserve, the community pool, the empty university campus near our house and, as boring as this sounds, the grocery store. It seems there’s no end to the lessons and entertainment these simple trips provide.
When one mom tells me her son hardly ever watches television because her kids are involved in so many activities, I am tempted to jump in and play her game. My laundry line, compost heap, and CSA membership have proven to be great educational tools for my daughters — and fun, too. With the right spin, they have the potential to be very impressive to the over-extended mommy set.
Of course, my best efforts at super-parenting are often overshadowed by my shortcomings. My kids watch television. I bribe them with suckers. I yell at them sometimes. My thighs get tired from the biking. And so I run.
Preschool’s Out for Summer
This summer, my husband and I are facing a new challenge. We intended to enroll our four-year-old daughter in the only affordable preschool within walking distance of my house. After learning that this fall’s session is already full, I went into panic mode.
This reaction was not without merit, judging by the expressions of other moms from my daughter’s swim class. They said I should start looking around, and right away. “Maybe you can get on some waiting lists,” one suggested.
They told me their daughters’ preschool, which is five miles from my house and too far toward affluence to be on a bus route, was one of many that filled quickly.
Despite experts who say children need more unstructured playtime, I knew I needed something, because if my daughter didn’t know her alphabet by the time she was in kindergarten, obviously it would ruin her life.
I even began to wonder if we needed a second car to safeguard her future.
At some point, I realized buying a car was not a logical solution to educating my children. Instead, I put my daughter on the waiting list of the nearby school and started a Sesame Street-inspired letter-of-the-day program at my house. I’ll let her play with the worms from our garden, pick some wildflowers, and help me bake cupcakes. I’ll hope for the best.
It’s pretty obvious I’m not super enough to compete in a race to see whose child can fill a résumé first. But that’s not why I’m running.
Get Grist in your inbox