What’s Normal?

IMAG0239Yesterday, I got a Zipcar to pick up the 10-year-old at my parents house in the suburbs. On the walk to the Zipcar parking spot, the 8-year old negotiated a chance to play with my phone in the car. His excuse:  “we never ride in cars, won’t you let me play games on your phone while we’re in traffic?”

It’s hard for me to resist that sweet boy at times, and he had a point, we would be stuck in traffic for awhile.

Later I found it kind of interesting that while playing with the phone, he chose to snap this photo to document something that seemed odd from his perspective: his mom at the wheel of an automobile.

That was my first clue that the mobility choices we’ve made in the past few years had really changed our kids’ attitudes about typical transportation.

After dinner, we headed to a big box store with a red bullseye for a logo. A rented car for the evening  = great excuse to go to the mall and stock up on giant packages of toilet paper that would normally take up too much space on the bike.

As we drove into the parking lot the kids’ excitement escalated. I’m talking about over-the-top excitement. Like weird, hyper, this-is-kind-of-freaky excitement. It completely caught me off guard. They were squealing and pointing at stores and exclaiming the names of them all followed by, “I want to go in there”!

Who are these children, I wondered? Have they been living in a cave?

When I asked them why they were so excited, they both said, “we’re in a car and we’re at a mall. COOL!”

But then, in case there was any doubt as to who was responsible for this state of affairs, they spelled it out for me. “We don’t have a car, mom; we’re not normal”.

My first response was a little too fierce and maybe a tad defensive, too.

“Of course we’re normal! Who says we’re not normal?”

And then I thought about it for a few seconds and grinned. They’re completely right, we’re not normal.

So, I went on to lecture anyway (the kids love that term) about how we’d be perfectly “normal” in other parts of the world where most people don’t do everything by car. We’re just not normal here.

When we started this whole CarFreeDays thing, it was to give us a break from being behind the wheel all the time, and to give them a break from being strapped into carseats all the time. Sure, we wanted to drive less than we had been, but neither of us suspected then we’d been depriving our kids of their American-given right to drive and shop at big box stores with all the “normal” people.

While this wasn’t my first taste of kid disapproval about our transportation choices, it did make me jump ahead a few years and wonder how teenage rebellion will manifest itself in our family. Kent Peterson has written about carfree kids transitioning to adulthood before; do any other  of you “abnormal” families out there have thoughts on the subject?

I’m not sure what the future will bring but it’s sure to be interesting!

 – Anne

10 responses to “What’s Normal?

  1. It took me years to break free from what I viewed as “Normal” and my only wish is that it had happened sooner! Growing up in the ‘burbs I had to have a car at 16 to escape…etc…etc…don’t even mention malls…

    Anyway, for now they’ll appreciate these little forays into “normal” like little mini vacations and down the road…who knows? The kids over at Ecovelo ended up wanting to build their own fixies and don’t have drivers licences, so you never know!

  2. Pingback: Streetsblog.net » The Road Less Taken: Car-Free Family Life

  3. We are not car free as my Dad is in a wheel chair in another place and we are his frequent care givers. Our kids have the mix of long trips from the Midwest to New England in our bus mixed with our biked life in Chicago. They talk often about being alike and different from friends especially in the winter as that’s when we seem to stick out on our school commute. Having ridden in Europe and here in many other cities they know that it’s not just us but also accept that this is different– even when you ride almost all of the time and do have a car. I am finding it is not teen age time that these bigger questions show themselves really. My oldest is ten now and for the past year we talk often about the highs and lows of being different. He deeply understands that he has the power to move himself pretty much anywhere he needs to go on his own bike but that our city hasn’t caught up with him yet. For him it becomes the larger question of why is it like this and what are we doing now to make it better. It’s good and bad that he has such a good sense of how large a change needs to take place in Chicago and beyond. He already talks about how later in his life if we haven’t made significant change he can choose to be in a place that has already made the mode shift that we are trying to make on our own with other riding families.
    Thanks as always for your blog and for the happiness of reading about all the other riding families out there!

  4. My husband and I have been car-free for 11 years, and have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old. We rented a car for the weekend recently, and as we started to drive out of town, my older daughter said hopefully, “Mom, do you think people will think this is OUR car?”

    She knows why we have chosen to be car-free, and she seems to have internalized it, but car-envy does sometimes pop up. (Frankly, sometimes when I’m in a car, I get a little intoxicated about the mobility and the cargo capacity! So I understand her feelings.) We encourage her to think about driving as a transportation option that is occasionally appropriate for long trips or big cargos. However, a lot of her friends live in car-light households, and we live in a biking-and-transit-heavy neighborhood, so it’s actually not all that abnormal for her. For her, actually, riding a bike on her own (a new thing for her) is sort of like a “normal” kid getting a driver’s license – it means independence, power, and freedom, because in her world (the inner neighborhoods of Portland), riding a bike is a grown-up thing to do. So we’ll see – if “normal” in our neighborhood keeps getting more and more bikey, she may never rebel!

  5. This is a long reply but here it goes:
    First off Background: I’m good ol’ Texas boy. Our family has 2 cars. I’m also an elementary teacher; I’m currently living in the Suburbs of San Antonio, Texas. I don’t have any children of my own.
    Down here in Texas it isn’t that bike friendly. Many people feel that there are 2 types of cyclists: 1: Fitness nuts on Road Bikes/Mountain Bikes 2: Poor/illegal immigrants/drunks/mentally handicap people.
    Once I saw a bumper sticker that said “Ban Bicycles on Rural Roads”. (Some cyclists have an entitlement attitude that hurts the cycling community). Public transportation isn’t that great either. At one point I looked into riding the bus to work 6 miles away (biking there would be dangerous). But, I’d have to catch it at 4 am only to arrive at the campus 45 minutes late at 8:30 pm…. yes it requires 3 transfers and it’s slow! The density of the city doesn’t help with cycling..we are spread out in the suburbs but Downtown there is a great bicycle infrastructure and many commute by bike.
    The current mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, is all about cycling, we just drafted a bicycle master-plan and there are signs throughout downtown proclaiming “Bicycle Friendly Community 2011-2014”. We recently became the first city in Texas to have a bike share program (Bcycle) but Austin, Texas does do the yellow bike project (but that isn’t quite the same).
    When I grew-up in San Angelo, Texas (population 90K) I rode everywhere on my bike it was a smaller town and I could do that easily and didn’t own a car until got married and my wife bought her Honda Element and gave me her old truck. In truth I did drive a 1998 Jeep Wrangler my parents had to commute to college.
    Despite the efforts of the city of San Antonio, drivers aren’t that positive toward cyclist. I’ve had a milkshake thrown at me, been yelled at often (love the Doppler Effect), I know multiple people that were run off the road by drivers multiple times one is the county’s bicycle coordinator! A few weeks ago on a local grocery getting trip (car free) a car made it a point to move out of the far left lane to crowd in the right lane while honking at me… note there were NO other cars on the road early that morning. It really can be a war zone out but coming…slowly is change.
    My attitude toward all this is I will ride when it is safe and when I can….to show drivers that cyclists are out there. San Antonio has increased biking facilities something like 764% in the past 5 years, but that is mostly downtown and green ways. The biking infrastructure has 360 miles or so but it’s not connected and they are working toward connecting the grid. The city recently passed a 3 foot law saying bicycles should get 3 feet clearance from cars. I see that San Antonio is on the starting point in the right directions. All buses have bike racks and more and more I see the city taking active steps to educate drivers. A few city buses are wrapped and messages about cycling. A bicycle culture is developing especially downtown (there is a social ride almost every night of the week). Local laws and commercial building codes are changing. But the Texas Governor’s office doesn’t give a care about bicycles Rick Perry is all big business and big highways….google Trans Texas Corridor (Side note: It’s scary to think he might run for President in 2012. That’s a whole different topic.)

    What does this have to do with CFDs post: ???
    We’ll it might be helpful to explain to the kids that cycling is a option in transportation and in some places it is a better choice than others. For example where you live you are able to safely get around because the community has taking steps to support cycling as transportation, but in other places it might not be the best choice so other options are out there including cars.
    Also, Keep in mind that there is a sense of “Freedom” that comes driving a car and kids pick up on that. Remind them there is freedom with riding a bicycle too. It’s also part of wanting to be other adults they see…. They can’t drive yet….but mommy and daddy can…So as they get older they will want to experience that. To say that it’s normal to drive to the mall in a car depends on the community in which you live. And it is ok to be different.
    Also, try talking to them about your motives behind wanting to be car-free, be open and honest and listen to their feedback. Explain to them about the impact of owning a car/driving a car on the family budget. Remember to include costs of ownership such as insurance, loan payments, gas, repairs, etc. Present it at their age level but don’t “dumb it down” then as a family compare that to cycling. Talk about the environmental and health impact of riding a bike…vs. cars, busses, etc. The teacher in me says that once you lay all this out there in an open and frank discussion they will be excited that they aren’t normal. You may have already done this. A family pro and con list might be eye opening.
    I seem to recall a post in which Anne wasn’t feeling good and was tempted to take the car but the youngest said…. NO!
    Looking forward to a follow-up on what is normal!

  6. I just tell my kids you’re Amish and leave it at that.

  7. My kid is still little, but what I see in my neighborhood is that the tween kids with bus passes and bikes have WAY more freedom than the car-dependent kids where I was a middle schooler. They can go basically anywhere. They go around in packs with no adults all summer, and seem so competent and self-assured. I spent half my summers at that age moping around trying to convince my mom to drive me somewhere. I don’t expect my kid to be grateful, since he won’t know different…but I do expect he’ll be alert, independent, and mobile.

    16+ is a different story. We’ll see.

  8. You are completely normal. You are just not typical.

  9. The best compliment we receive is when we do take our car to do something and friends see us, act surprised, and say, “Hey, we didn’t recognize you in a car!”

    So love not being ‘normal’ in this way. But we aren’t car-free, just car-lite so my fellows may not see things in the same way your kiddos do. My sons’ only complaint with taking bikes all the time is if they are in the middle of a book they want to keep reading (and yes, we are mean parents that won’t let them read on the back of the longtails; they used to be able in the bakfiets).

    I am very intrigued to see how my fellows will transition to adulthood and how they will feel about bikes vs. cars when they can totally make their own choices.

  10. Pingback: Car-free parenting: What’s Normal? | Flat Iron Bike

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