Monday, 14 July 2014

The urbanist's no-nonsense guide to carting a baby around London

I've read a few blog entries lately with tips about taking your baby around with you on public transport in London, and they all seem distinctly tame, possibly even verging on the cowardly. The Big Bad city is in fact, while big, actually not very bad at all, and carting a baby or toddler around all over the place is easy-peasy and will make maternity leave a lot less boring and repetetive. Of course, unless you are a bus driver or go everywhere in a black cab, it's almost always quicker to get the tube or train, or to cycle... we don't own a car at all... so here's how I did it.

Colin and Tommy take a simultaneous snooze on Network Southeastern
  • Just do it. Don't fanny around being nervous of going on the tube, think carefully: what's the worst that could happen? If you ask, someone will always help you, so get out there.
  • Always ask for a seat if no one stands up when you get onto a vehicle holding your child. Be confident and assertive, don't be timid. I enjoy the vicarious thrill of embarrassing people who've studiously been ignoring my presence, heads buried in the Metro, by politely but firmly asking them if I can sit down. You'll also find that middle aged women are the most likely to vacate seats for you - they remember what it's like having a little one (or more) in tow.
  • While the child can't walk, use a sling. This makes all forms of transport a billion, trillion times easier to use and means you can travel at rush hour (useful if you're commuting to childcare), which is impossible with a buggy unless you are incredibly pushy and immune to social stigma and disapproval.
Tommy free to roam on the Overland to Dalston Junction
Train from Seven Sisters to Liverpool Street.
  • The moment they can walk, make them walk. If their little legs get tired, they can ride on your shoulders or you can carry them for short periods. This saves lugging a buggy about and keeps them fit. They're children, powered from within by a mysterious force like Duracell bunnies, it's YOU that needs to be carted about in a pushchair while you have a snooze.
  • Trust that they won't fall over and die on tubes and trains, and they will learn to hold on if you allow them to learn. My 2 year old never falls, and when the train jerks he grabs the nearest pole. This causes consternation amongst my fellow travellers, who entertainingly try and catch him when they think he's going to fall. Again, this requires a certain amount of chutzpah as you might encounter disapproval, but you'll also be surprised at how much fun people have interacting with your child, if you let them. Remember, you're in a sealed box, no one can steal your offspring.
  • Need to feed baby using your breasts? Do it, no one cares. The most you will get is an indulgent smile and, if you're really lucky, some sneaky looks from curious souls. I continue with this philosophy with my two year old, although his cries of "Tommy wants mama milk from the mama boob" can be a tiny bit embarrassing at times, so I stick my breast in his mouth to shut him up.
  • Make entertainments from whatever is around - pat-a-cake, looking at pictures in free newspapers, or tearing up free newspapers to make dogs, boats, hats etc. is all invaluable toddler entertainment.
  • If they're potty trained, keep a paper cup in your bag as an emergency wee receptacle.
  • Always carry a few baby wipes or tissues..
    ...but pack light and minimise all other luggage. Be ruthless, carry only what you absolutely 100% cannot do without. Top tip: this does not include a changing mat, hairbrush or change of clothes for your child (the child will survive until you get home, even covered in wee. If the worst comes to the worst and they shit in their trousers, in London you are never more than 15m from a Primark, and can purchase some new clothes. Rinse the child off under the tap in a toilet somewhere, or give them a wipe-wash). 
  • Breastfeeding on the 06.48 to Glasgow Central. Now that was a long journey.
  •  Finally... don't worry - sometimes things go wrong but (unless you are supremely unlucky) no one will die and tomorrow is another day.

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