The other morning, Kiddo and I took the bus down to the grocery store. He likes these rides, and we have fun together on our Bus Adventures. Even at the sophisticated age of four, he'll still relish the time to sit in my lap and talk about what we see out the window as we sail down Portland streets.
Our children need us to teach them how to use public transit, and for youngsters, riding with a parent is the best way to go. When it comes to my son, I feel like it's my civic duty to make sure he knows the drill so that when he's older, he'll have the experience and confidence he needs to get where he needs to go--when he's old enough to go alone. I myself grew up in Honolulu, and as a young child, rode buses all over Oahu with my mother and sister. Moving to the mainland at the age of 6, we became a two-car family, but when we moved to Portland in my late teens, using the bus was no trouble because I was so comfortable with it.
Riding the bus with kids is actually easier than it looks, and here are some pointers for getting around town without the car:
1. Get a decent umbrella stroller that folds up easily. This can cost as much or as little as you choose. We 'splurged' on a Chicco that held up well for a couple years; it was purchased on sale with a coupon, and was about $60 or so. Umbrella strollers aren't built to last, but they are made to collapse with relative ease. An umbrella stroller and a backpack will make things much easier in getting on and off the bus, and will save you the frustration of trying to collapse one of those behemoth plastic strollers after you board.
2. Wear your little one, if you can. Wearing my son saved me so much work, so if your baby is still happy to be on your front, consider wearing them. It'll also keep your hands free for holding bags, paying the fare and possibly holding onto the umbrella stroller you'll use when you de-board.
3. Buy your fare in advance. Likely, your local transit service providers sell tickets and passes at grocery stores and other more convenient locales. I purchase a book of tickets at a time and have found it to have some real advantages: I never have to look for fare; if rates increase, they'll still honor previously sold tickets, so I'm not surprised on the bus; I only have one ticket to hold and don't have to coax bills and change into a farebox. Altogether easier by far.
4. Keep kids on their bottoms at all times. We have to teach our children bus safety. Because drivers must deal with unpredictable traffic, buses have the potential for fast, quick stops which can cause accidents if children aren't seated on the bottoms. Looking out the window is best done from an adult lap. While parents want to let their children see out the window, it's important for them to understand that they must be seated. For our little ones, looking out the window is best done from an adult lap. The drivers don't have time to tell you to make your kids sit down if they must stop short. Parents are best at ensuring their own child's safety.
5. Give them a snack while you are waiting at the stop. The bus is plastered with signs that ask us to keep food in containers, so modeling this now is a great way for them to know this rule later. We try to pack travel-friendly snacks: nuts, string cheese, apple slices, water bottle, and have these in the time getting to/waiting at the bus stop. Fed kids are happy kids.
6. Bring a few books. Our backpack always has a couple of Frog and Toad books and a magna-doodle-type drawing toy these days. Sometimes the wait seems a little longer or occasionally a bus is delayed at a stop. Fidgety kids are often better read to than anything else. It takes their mind off the world around them and helps them center a bit.
7. Handle those awkward social moments as appropriately as possible. Several months ago, my then three-year old son pointed at two very rough-looking homeless men and asked me "Who are those people?" in a loud voice. "Oh, well, they're passengers on the bus,just like you and me and everyone else riding." Neutralize what you can, ignore what you can, and sometimes, just nod and say "oh" when people who don't know you tell you way too much about themselves. Kids are sometimes magnets for people who might behave atypically; sometimes we have to be protective and sometimes we should have compassion and kindness. Be open to both.
8. Lastly, choose your bus times well. I mean this in two ways: check the bus schedule (to make sure when and if you have a return bus) and check your kid. Some days are just not going to be bus adventure days. When the kids are tired, squalling, or there's a lot on your own list of things to do, this won't be the best experience for anyone. Choose trips for days when you have more time to get things done, less of an agenda, and more patience for the child, the bus passengers (there's a certain amount of giving up control of one's environment when you step onto a bus) and the bus itself.