When my husband and I announced my pregnancy our families breathed a collective sigh of relief and said: “Well you’ll definitely have to learn to drive now.”
Aged 38 and 39 respectively when the happy event occurred, we had managed to live very effectively in various parts of the UK without being able to drive a car. Over the years this caused raised eyebrows whenever the subject arose, despite the fact that we lived in cities where driving was never a very good idea and certainly not necessary. But the reaction of others suggested a belief deep within the British psyche that you are not a “proper” grown up unless you drive a car, or at least have the ability to do so. This attitude is, in my experience, particularly prevalent amongst the older generation. My husband’s mother has, I’m sure, a frown line arising solely from this issue. And thus the hope from our loved ones that a baby would mean we would have to grow up at last and get behind that wheel.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. 16 months into our daughter’s life we still haven’t quite got around to arranging the lessons. And the interesting thing is that, in my humble opinion, we manage just fine without.
Some might think we didn’t have an auspicious start, when we left the house with little B. aged two weeks for her first bus trip. (I waited two weeks to give her some chance of developing a basic immune system.) No sooner had our little family unit headed for the bus stop across the road, when we were greeted by a local “gentleman of the road”. I had spotted him from our flat window on previous occasions but this was our first meeting. He tended to wait outside the Oxfam shop to accost donors with the line: “Is there anything worth having in there?” whilst nodding at their bin bags.
On this occasion, catching sight of the baby in her pram he shuffled over and peered in, congratulating us and cooing over her. Obviously excited by her beauty, he announced that he would do a dance for us. My husband took this opportunity to mutter that he had to go to Superdrug and darted off, leaving me and the two week old to deal with our new friend. He took a step back and then launched into an extempore modern jazz routine which ended with him opening his coat with a flourish. I was relieved to see that he had clothes on underneath. I clapped nervously and then as the phrase goes, made my excuses and left. Thus little B. began her journey on public transport. A good omen I think.
Since then the two of us have spent a lot of time on the grand old Lothian buses. All mothers will know the main drawbacks of travelling with young babies on the buses: the dreaded words from the driver, “I’ve already got two on”, and the embarrassment when the baby decides to have a screaming meltdown while the eyes of what feels like an entire battalion of Edinburgh matrons bore into the back of your neck. There is also the stress of queue jumping buggies but on the one occasion this happened to me I was delighted to find that my fellow passengers all rounded on the woman in question and insisted I embark first.
But the buses have also meant that my daughter is very much a people person and people watcher and greets most of humanity as if they are friends she hasn’t yet made. I put this down to the affectionate attention she received from fellow bus passengers from that very first trip onwards. The fact that she can have a good look around and peer at the strange shenanigans that almost inevitably occur on public transport make journeys much easier than I think they would be were she alone in the back of a car whilst I, by necessity, ignored her in the front.
Longer trips are mostly made by flying, although we did manage one very seamless train-ferry combo for a holiday in Arran. This does cause some eco-guilt in me and I know it’s not ideal, but with relatives in Birmingham and Bristol, the alternative would be five to seven hour train journeys and I’m afraid the heart just quails at that prospect.
I’ve undertaken many trips alone with B. on planes and she’s a great little traveller. I’ve been lucky in that her screaming is kept to a minimum and she is content to stay sitting on my lap. For now. Other passengers, who obviously sigh internally when they see us get on board and no doubt think, “please don’t sit next to me”, have been pleasantly surprised and have complimented the baby on her aeroplane manners. One elderly gentleman insisted that my little boy had behaved really well, despite me repeatedly correcting his “he” to “she” and despite the fact that she was wearing a dress, but you take what you can get and in the end I smiled politely.
One word of warning though: changing the little blighters in the toilet cublicle is generally a nightmare. Confined space, tiny pull-down changing table, always turbulence just at the wrong moment moment and a hopefully irrational fear that the baby will slide down the rubbish chute and out of the plane.
It may be that my experience of a car free life avec child is unusually positive but I don’t think so. I fully acknowledge that if we lived in a rural area it would be much, much more difficult but to an extent we do arrange our lives for our convenience. Who knows, maybe one day one of us will finally step into the right-hand front seat of a car and know what to do with it. Maybe when the child needs to be carted around her various improving activities. But then again maybe not – we’ve just bought a baby seat for our bikes….
Guest blogger: Farrhat
Lives in Scotland with her husband and toddler and is reluctantly contemplating returning to work as a lawyer