Monday, 16 February 2015

How to commute, by foot and train, with a 3 yr old in a historically snowy Boston winter

Just over 3 weeks ago, we moved to a little apartment in Cambridgeport, near Boston, from San Diego. This of course was a shock for many reasons, and the little guy spent the first few days with a stupefied look on his face every time we braved the outdoors. We are an adult-paced 10 minute walk from the Redline train. If the train runs normally, it should take about 18 minutes to get to the UMass Boston stop, followed by another 10 minute walk to the preschool (and then another 10 minutes from there to my office).

So, there’s the setup – this seems reasonable, right?! I had visions of Ryder and I reading books, drawing, and discussing life on the train, and chatting as we walked on either side of the ride. I thought the walking would be good for my lazy bones, which have little interest in surfing in a frozen ocean. I hoped to take advantage of additional bonding time during our commute instead of dropping him off somewhere near home and then commuting alone and being apart even longer each day.

Of course this is not how it works.

Well, first we keep having snow days – six for us in the past three weeks – so on those days there is no commuting at all. The non-snow days, the snow is still there, but theoretically some people have made an effort to dig out sidewalks and the roads are more or less plowed.

Perhaps I should clarify that Challenge A' is getting out of the house

Challenge A: How to get to the actual train

1.    First, the child must be dressed for the weather. This means normal indoor clothing, as I would dress him in San Diego, followed by snow pants, snow jacket, snow boots, hat and mittens. I am much too impatient to let him just get dressed by himself (I estimate this would take between 1-24 hours), so this means struggling down on the floor with a resistant, floppy, 35-lb octopus for approximately 10 minutes (every time we want to go outside…WTF?!). I admit, there are typically some mild threats or bribery involved to get him to either not run into the kitchen after each article of clothing is administered, or not collapse onto the floor while I am trying to get on the snow pants.

2.   Next, you must get yourself, your child, your work accouterment, and the preschool things onto said train. You have several choices:
       a.     Walking: Theoretically, 3-yr olds can walk pretty well. However they have essentially no motivation to walk in a determined manner from one location to the other (unless that location is, for instance, the ice cream shop). Why move forward when one can just stand around and look at things, pick up trash, eat snow, and then sit down and get completely filthy and wet in the slush?
       b.     Carrying: Maybe if you are more fit than I am, you’d be eager to engage in the full-body workout presented by carrying 15 lbs of work/preschool crap and a limp/wiggling 35-lb child encased in slippery outerwear. I, shockingly, am not interested in this option.
       c.     Pulling: After a snowstorm, pulling the child and gear on a sled could be a decent option. It actually takes very little energy to pull 50 lbs of stuff on a plastic sled over the snow. But then there are the overzealous people who shovel and salt their sections of sidewalk immediately – and pulling 50 lbs of crap in a sled over concrete freaking sucks. As does asking the child to stand up and walk for 10 feet on each block, which they will of course refuse to do.
Sledding down the middle of the street is great before it gets plowed
      d.     Pushing: The last option is to use a stroller to push the child & junk to the station. This is also not without its challenges.
                                               i.     Have you ever pushed a stroller through dry sand while wearing ice skates? Neither have I, but I imagine this exercise may require a similar amount of effort to pushing a stroller through several inches of snow, slush, or ice. These surfaces present resistance to the forward motion of the stroller, while providing essentially no grip for your shoes to create said motion.
                                             ii.     Normal strollers with small wheels, as I originally had, are completely useless in the snow, so you must use a jogging stroller. Also, the sidewalks in Boston are old and shitty and cracked, so even without snow to plow through the large wheels will be helpful.
                                            iii.     Jogging strollers have a really wide wheel base, which sucks when people get frustrated by all the snow and give up on shoveling the sidewalks properly, forcing us to walk in the road.
Impassable with a stroller
Challenge B: How to survive the train ride

1.   Get on the train. This doesn’t work well when the weather throws everyone into a tizzy and the MBTA reduces its schedule: fewer trains + more riders who don’t want to walk or drive = you will only get on the train if it happens to stop with the doors directly in front of you, and only if you then you just shove yourself and your giant jogging stroller on while making everyone else mad.

2.   Try not to immediately die of heat stroke on the train. After bundling for freezing temperatures, cramming yourselves like sardines onto a heated train is somewhat unpleasant. It’s helpful if you can maneuver enough to remove at least a hat or mittens from yourself and the child, and/or unzip your jacket.

3.  The child will rather quickly tire of being strapped into the stroller surrounded by legs, and will request with increasing volume to get out (though there is nowhere to go). Bribe the child to stay quiet until the train starts to thin out with food, toys, your phone, or whatever else will entertain him briefly in this hellish situation.

4.   When the train thins out and you get to move from blocking half the doorway to blocking half the aisle with the giant stroller, do so and sit down. Allow the child to escape the stroller for the final few stops, but note that he will expend much energy trying to get off the seat he requested and sit or lie on the filthy floor, slick with melted snow. Throw all hopes of bonding over books, etc. out the window immediately.

You’ve made it to the other end of your train commute! Now it’s just time to repeat Challenge A for the morning, go have a full day at work, and do it all over again in the evening! I highly recommend bringing some sort of sweet treat (cookies, etc.) to get both yourself and your child through at least the first stage of the trek home with mild sugar-induced happiness.

(Note, I will not even mention Challenge C: scraping up the energy to enthusiastically play with the child, make dinner, etc. instead of just collapsing onto the couch for the evening).

What are you waiting for? Come join me in the Northeast, preferably right before several extreme record-breaking snowfall events!
Ryder is becoming quite the iPhone photographer, chronicling our walk in the street to the train station

1 comment:

  1. I can't even imagine this struggle everyday, guess we chose the wrong year to move to the northeast...sigh.