In early June 2021, Mom was in the throes of postpartum recovery and desperate for a well-earned nap, so I volunteered to take our newborn baby, Lena, for a few hours between nursing sessions. I wanted to check out a new pavilion in Occidental Park designed by local architecture firm Olson Kundig, but it was a long walk from our Squire Park home.
So I hailed the bus.
For the bus driver, a parent with a stroller is unremarkable. For me, it was a first-time experience, as just about everything was in those early days of Lena’s life. I tried to play it cool, but I likely blurted out “I’ve never done this before” as I popped the front wheels up onto the bus entrance, which the driver had lowered closer to the curb.
While I had to fend off the well-meaning but unsolicited attention my adorable newborn elicited from fellow passengers — later solved by a trip to Village Maternity for a stroller cover — the rest of the ride was remarkably uneventful. The rocking seemed to lull Lena into an even deeper sleep as the bus made pickups and drop-offs.
Before I knew it, I was lounging under the London plane trees drinking a latte from Caffè Umbria while Lena dozed away. A short while later, I rolled onto the First Hill Streetcar, whose thoughtful accessible design keeps the platform and entrance at the same height — no wheel-popping required. I was home in time for Mom to wake up and nurse.
Thus began my most unexpected parenthood revelation: Falling back in love with transit. In college and in my 20s, I was a transit geek who carried paper timetables in the days before the Google Maps app. But for the last several years, I’ve hitched up my bike for just about everything, whether commuting to work, meeting my wife for date night, visiting friends across town, or cruising to the lake for a swim. Riding a bike is usually the fastest way to get around Seattle, and I was usually a busy guy always on the brink of running late.
Lena brought that busy lifestyle to a screeching halt and Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program provided me with the leisure of 12 paid weeks off from my freelance writing career. If having a baby entailed a kind of “slow travel” lifestyle, then swapping a bike lock key for an ORCA card was a natural next step. When you’re not always in a race against the clock, waiting for the bus becomes less of an exercise in impatience.
What’s more, Seattle transit punched above its weight. The frequent 3 and 4 bus routes near our house whisked us to Swedish First Hill for lactation consultant appointments and the Polyclinic for checkups, then later to downtown for trips to Pike Place Market and visits to fellow parent friends in Belltown. The First Hill streetcar ferried us home from Chinatown with a stroller laden with Uwajimaya groceries or from Pioneer Square after cheering at a Mariners game or browsing baby clothes at Flora and Henri. After walking with Lena in a carrier along our favorite trails and staircases in Leschi and Madrona to reach Lake Washington, the 27 or the 2 hauled us back uphill.
Along the way, bus drivers and passengers were unflaggingly courteous and helpful — giving up a seat or ensuring the stroller was secure before continuing to the next stop. Suddenly, I wasn’t just another anonymous passenger but a caretaker who people were looking out for.
While we do own a car, I treated our parental leave summer as an opportunity to set the tone for how we will raise Lena. As Brazilian architect Jaime Lerner once said, “A car is like a mother-in-law — if you let it, it will rule your life.” While that quip is vaguely sexist, its underlying sentiment is spot-on. I didn’t want to abandon my convictions entirely — namely, the belief that private cars should be used sparingly to get around walkable, transit-friendly cities like Seattle — just because I became a parent.
Even now that we’re back to work and a version of that harried lifestyle has returned, so far the pattern we set over the summer has persisted into the fall. The streetcar took us to and from October’s First Thursday Art Walk in Pioneer Square — a new version of date night, with Lena in tow — and the bus carried us back and forth from Pier 62, where we met up with fellow parent friends for Earshot Jazz Festival’s outdoor concert. Lena was also among the many who rode Link on the first day the Northgate extension opened.
As for Lena’s 6th birthday present? She’ll probably ask for a pony, but I know for sure she’ll be getting an ORCA Youth Card.
[Editor’s Note: Good news Lena! Starting Sept 1, 2022, youth up to age 19 will ride buses, light rail, water taxis, and streetcars for free!)
Originally published Oct. 27, 2021
More adventures with babies: