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Driving me crazy

February 6th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Through Ben Hyde’s link I read two posts at Crooked Timber: Driving hard and Walking to School . Both pieces examine how much we drive: why kids don’t walk to school and how much time workers spend commuting.

These pieces reminded me of a study I had seen last year. I did a little Google research to find this Washington Post piece The Road Too Much Travelled :

For the first time, the federal government’s national survey on travel habits includes children 5 and younger. The National Household Travel Survey, conducted every six years and released this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation, found that three-fourths of children 5 and younger rode in private cars daily.

Nationwide, young children averaged 65 minutes a day in cars. Those 6 to 18 spent an average of 61 minutes, not including time on a school bus, according to Pat Hu, director of the Center for Transportation Analysis at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which assisted in analyzing the survey.

In interviews, however, some parents say it’s more like two to three hours a day, especially for children not in school. For stay-at-home parents, wherever Mom or Dad goes, the young ones go. Children of working parents tag along on often lengthy commutes to day-care centers near a parent’s workplace. One transportation researcher refers to driving as “mobile day care.”

Parents say their children spend far more time on the road than they did growing up. Fetching a carton of milk used to mean toting children along to the corner store. Now, it means strapping them in for a 20-minute drive to the Kmart.

For a while last year, Ted and I did not have a reliable vehicle to transport our family of five. I had to carefully consider each trip I would make in that van. We were also watching the cost of gas. This situation forced me to evaluate my driving. What was I doing and where was I going? Although stressful, that time in our lives changed how we still live now, even with a more reliable vehicle.

We have tried to make conscious choices to live a quieter lifestyle. Ted works at home and our kids school at home too. Our odometer readings are lower than average, to the amazement of our insurance agent. But still it is amazing to me how the miles add up.

Right now the only driving dates on our schedule each week are:
ballet class 2 x
homeschool group meeting 1 x
grocery store 1 x (or more!)

But that doesn’t include if I need to go to the post office or the hardware store. It doesn’t take into account a rainy day desire to go get books at the library or a sunny day playtime at the park. To say nothing about doctor appointments, dentist appointments or trips to repair shops. A need for new skillet or new shoes. A trip to Grandma’s or the zoo.

(An ironic note: Even trying to live a “natural” lifestyle may result in more time in the car; we need to drive to buy running shoes, recycle our cardboard and acquire organic gardening supplies.)

Living on Bainbridge our shopping options are limited, unless we want to go off the island. The cluster of department stores and mall, not only for our county, but for the greater region of this tip of the state, are located about 45 minutes from our home in Silverdale. I try to only go to Silverdale once a month. The rest of the time I try to find it on the island. Or maybe across the bridge in Poulsbo. Or, more often than not, we do without. We’ve had to prioritize.

Ironically though, as noted in the excerpt above, I think that the girls may spend more time in the car because I homeschool them. The comments and links above describe dangers children face as pedestrians but our neighborhood is wonderful for walking to school. Unlike many areas on the island, we have sidewalks. At the first place we rented here, I strode on a narrow gravel shoulder, while nearly nine months pregnant, feeling like a moving target, hoping no one would hit me as they sped past. But here it’s great. We’re located across the street from two middle schools. To get to the high school from our neighborhood, one has to walk up a dirt hill and into the baseball fields. Yet I still see kids going in cars to school in the mornings. If our girls went to school, they would probably still have an activity or two that would require an automobile ride. They would not have to accompany me on errands though.

I wish we didn’t have to spend all this time driving for shopping and activities. But I’m not sure what our options are.

I’ve made deliberate choices to reduce our activities and consumption. Yet some days I feel we are driving and driving more than I would like. Some days I know the girls and I are both tired of the car. And sometimes that happens before 65 minutes. (“When are we getting there?!” “This is taking too long, Mom!”)

Complete self-suffiency would be great, but I don’t think it’s feasible for our family to buy a farm, or for most families in America either. Plus I don’t know how to teach my daughter ballet or how to immunize my baby or how to clean Ted’s teeth. And there are social benefits to getting out and about, as well as emotional, mental and physical growth.

It seems we have designed our lifestyles for driving. Our country has a culture of the car. I don’t know how to make what I need. I’ve gone to college so I could get a job and spend my wages at Wal-Mart. I’ve been educated so that I can buy stuff. It’s as if I am supposed to get caught up in consumerism, driving to the big box stores to constantly replenish supplies.

There’s a driving in our culture. A driving not done with wheels on the road but wheels in the mind. In addition to necessities, it seems we find ourselves pursuing what we think we need, what we think our children need, all the while spending hours on the road. After moving in to a new neighborhood, I felt the pressure to have a home that looked cut from a catalog. And the same is true for our children. It’s tempting to try to sign them up for all kinds of classes. I’ve gotten stressed because we’re not yet doing this or that, such as music or swimming, and they’re not even six years old. I can worry how unbalanced they will be. Ted and I though are striving for simplicity. For family. For a life without much “mobile day care”. The time we spent with an unreliable van only helped us refine our priorities – yet it also revealed to us how difficult it was to stop the driving.

I can fight it. But I can’t defeat it completely. Yet I can be wise with what I choose to do.

Yeah I have my days when I feel the kids are driving me crazy. But what’s really driving me crazy is the driving.

Tags: family

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Feb 8, 2004 at 8:26 am

    I have been dealing with this too. I try to pick as many of our activities to be as close to home as possible. We are fortunate to have the Sunnyvale Community Center 5 minutes from our home. The kids take drama and dance classes there. It’s about 10 minutes to sports league and gymnastics class. 6 minutes to chess class. 12 minutes to band. But French class is 20 minutes. So we combine it with band so as to only drive that direction once a week. I feel like with homeschooling it’s great to get out at some point during the day to see other families and kids and get a change of scene. Would be great to be able to walk, though! I have always had a dream of being able to walk to church. Now that would be cool.