One of the first things I mildly panicked about when I found out I was having twins was how in the hell I was going to get them on the bus and get us around town. I called the bus company to see if they had any ideas. Could I use the lift? Could I keep them in the stroller? No, and no. They further scared me by saying that if I needed to make more than one trip onto the bus to get my kids and folded up stroller on, I needed to remind the bus driver not to drive off with my kids. Yeekers!
When the kids were babies, I decided that it was just not possible to take them on the bus. They were using their car seats in a Graco duo-glider travel system, which is like driving a bus in and of itself. There was no way I could get them snapped out of the stroller, haul the car seats on the bus, fold up the stroller and get in on the bus, then sit on the bus and manage all that so none of it went flying. Since I had moved into my father's house, which is very conveniently blocks from light rail. I relegated us to light rail. Light rail is extremely easy to ride with kids in strollers. You just drive 'em in and park 'em. No need for stroller gymnastics.
When the kids were around one, I bought a cheap-o double umbrella stroller specifically for the bus. It was small, light, and relatively easy to fold up. The kids were old enough to sit up in it and did not need to travel with full car-seat gear anymore. The only other prerequisite I had was that they learn to at least walk a little so I could set them down on their feet while I folded up the stroller and not have to sit them down on their butts in the wet grass. But they were one year olds, so that would happen any time now, right? Heh. Well, Naim walked in late March, but we had to wait until about July for Aaron to catch up. Then all systems were go!
Well, not so much. Then I had to work on the fact that they needed to stay with me when I set them down and not immediately wander off, oh I don't know, say in front of an oncoming bus? We have been working on that for a while now, Naim is very good about it (shyness comes in handy) but Aaron is a wander-and-darter. So it has taken some work.
I have gotten very, very good at getting anywhere I need to go entirely by light rail. But this is often because I decided that if I couldn't get there by light rail, I didn't need to go that bad. I have been procrastinating the bus thing a bit. But finally, we did it. We made our virgin trip together on the city bus last Saturday. We survived OK...but I'll just say that I am very much looking forward to the post stroller era of childhood in this regard. Bus travel is something we are going to do sparingly until the kids can independently walk up the bus stairs and sit down and get around without the need for a stroller.
So I took pictures for ya! But they really are not very good because I was trying to be a bit inconspicuous and I couldn't safely step away from them to take the pictures. Combine that with my lousy photography skills anyway, and well...you get what you get.
Our mission was a trip to Sears to pick up their pictures that I got at Sears photo studio. The destination was a mall that required a train ride to a transit center, and then a bus to another transit center. I picked this trip because we were going from transit center to transit center rather than just a random stop along a road, so I thought this might give us more time to get on board. That was dumb of me. I think it almost made it harder because there were so many people around that the bus drivers were really not paying much attention to me. It may have been better to have been at a stop where I was the only one getting on the bus. But whatever. There is no real ideal or graceful way to get two toddlers, a stroller, a diaper bag, and a blind person on a bus.
First of all, when you are blind, you need two things to travel on public transportation. A white cane (or guide dog) and a transit access book. The cane is supposed to identify you to bus drivers so they will call out the bus numbers to you and call out the stops. This works about 75% of the time. Bus drivers are either the most wonderful, helpful people on the planet that I would trust my kids with, or total jackasses. There is no in-between. But there is a good majority of the nicer ones here, so usually it works out OK. A transit access book is just a book of numbers in it so you can hold up which number of bus you want and they will stop for you and tell you that they are your bus.
The transit access book. These numbers are Brailled as well. There is also a TAXI card and a LIFT VAN card. I very occasionally take taxis but never take paratransit unless it is a last resort. It is a way underfunded service and I'd rather leave it for the people who have no other choice.
So, we walked to our very suburban, way out in the hinterlands train station and waited. The kids love the train and are quite familiar with it. They like to watch it coming and know that when the train crossing bells sound that a train is coming.
We have what are called "low floor" train cars here. This means that the entrance to the train is about even with the platform. It is actually a few inches higher, but for disabled passengers, a little ramp comes out like a bridge on designated doors. Then there are open spaces for wheelchairs to fit right inside those doors. I don't generally need to deploy the ramp because I can pop the stroller up the little step, but D uses the ramp when he rides. The hard thing about this is that not all the cars are low floor cars. Some are the older cars that have about 5 steps up into the train. When the train comes, you have to basically run to the right car if you want the low floor car. This can be hard if you can't see well. But I can usually tell by where the doors are positioned and by where the bend is in the car that comes by. We always take the disabled doors because it is really the only place to park a double stroller. I don't know if you can see this, but I tried to get a picture of the small step up into the train:
And here are the kids on the train. They usually sit happily and just watch the people and the doors open and shut and stuff. One thing I thought of is how next to impossible travelling with them would be if we had to travel to work/daycare during rush hour. The train is standing room only then, and when I used to have my guide dog (and thus took up the square footage of three standing passengers) it was real hell sometimes to get on the train and find room for us in a wall of people. There were times we just wouldn't fit and I had to wait for the next train. D has also been trapped amid people and unable to get off at his stop because he couldn't get out. Even the buses, especially certain routes, are standing room crowded during rush hour. I don't know how I would manage then. I guess it is another reason I am lucky to be able to not have to pull a 9-5 right now.
I lucked out when I got to the first transit center. I got the kids unbuckled and unloaded their bag and stuff off the stroller. I had them sit there (which was hard for Aaron with no seat belt) until the bus came. Then I had to move quickly to get them out of the stroller, fold it up and get them on the bus. I was lucky here because a woman helped me fold up the stroller and I carried both kids on while she carried my stroller. Woo hoo! for random acts of kindness. We were on the bus!
I sat where I used to always sit with my guide dog. In the disabled seating behind the bus driver with my stroller, rather than my dog, tucked under the seat. The kids sat next to me. They were not used to being in a vehicle unrestrained. I think they thought it was pretty cool. But the novelty wore off quickly. They had no idea of bus decorum yet, so my main rule and job was enforcing the butts stay on the seat rule. Aaron was getting very squirmy by the end. You don't want to bring a bunch of toys because you've got to be ready to get them off the bus as fast as you got them on, and you don't want to be rounding up a bunch of crap during that time, but I highly recommend just one book per child. Preferably one of those books with a lot of bells and whistles and textures and flaps and what not.
Our same nice lady helped us off the bus, and we had made our destination. It took about an hour, so the kids were antsy by the end of the trip. Here we are at the transit center at the mall. By the way, for those that are not fluent in bus speak, a transit center is just like a bus airport. A place where a bunch of buses stop so you can transfer to a different bus. The hard thing about this when you can't see is the signage. You have to know whereabouts to stand to catch the bus you want, because there are about ten to fifteen buses that come, but they all park around a big oval or some such shape. If you can't see the signs, you need to memorize where the buses park so you know where to wait for your bus.
Here are a couple of shots of the kids playing at the
cesspool of bacteria play area in the mall. My trick here is to park myself by the entry so my kids don't get out. I figure if they stay within the play area, they are pretty safe. They come and check on me constantly, though. Or I go around and play with them. All the other parents sit and rest on the benches. I'm constantly moving and I find the whole thing exhausting. But when you are going to stick your kids on a bus for two hours round trip, you've gotta give them something. But after a while I finally couldn't take it anymore and we had to leave when Aaron kept getting stranger kid's shoes out of the cubbies and scattering them about the play area. I'm sure the parents loved watching me try to find the matches and put them all back.
After the play area, I went to Sears where again, what I thought would be a five minute thing lasted about 40 fucking years because Sears Portrait Studio has the slowest customer service on the planet! And then, we had another first. And no, I am not proud of this, but desperate mall trips call for desperate measures. The kids had their first happy meal. [Covers head in shame.] I brought some juice and crackers, but I knew that it had taken us so long that that wasn't going to cut it. I was hungry myself, and the only place I wasn't completely overwhelmed by was McDonald's because it was separate and had its own seating and wasn't in the food court. The thought of navigating that food court with the stroller and food and trying to find a table in the chaos was more than any human should have to bear. So, I went to the McDonald's and ordered them a chicken nuggets happy meal with milk. They happily ate it and happily played with the box and whatever the hell the toy was all the way home on the bus.
I was on my own on the bus ride on the way home. I told the bus driver I needed to make two trips to get on (ended up being three) and he informed me that he was four minutes late and neither cared about or was particularly happy about my predicament. But we made it on and he did apologize to me when we got off at other transit center. (I think he made up his time.) I had this idea that I would put the kids down to walk on their own in the bus and have them wait for me at the stairs while I put the stroller down on the sidewalk. Then I could reach up and grab them. Well, Naim waited for me, but when I turned around to get them, Aaron was turned around backwards, crawling down those gross, dirty steps baby style on his belly. So, we'll have to work on our dismount. But after that, we were home free. To the train we went, which was easy, then back to our station.
Then home for naps. They were practically asleep the moment they touched their beds.
So, we need a bit more practice on some procedural things, but we can now take the bus. The whole city is mine once again. Though, I have to say, probably not very often.
One thing I always think about when taking a trip with the kids to some public place like the mall is how much we, and I assume other women with small children, take advantage of all the disability access stuff. Curb cuts, automatic doors, the low floor trains and disabled seating, elevators, the tray assistance and even the wheelchair access table at McDonald's that I just pulled the stroller up to, disabled bathroom stalls where we all fit, transit centers made with even thresholds from bus station to train station, etc. etc. etc. All moms should be giving a little nod to all the disability rights activists that fought for the ADA and for these provisions to be in place. I'll bet it was much harder for our mothers and grandmothers to get around with their babies and packages and whatnot. This is the promise of universal design realized, that what benefits the disabled benefits all.