A Mom Can’t Mom Without a Car

A mom can’t go grocery shopping, pick up kids from soccer practice & take family dog to the vet on a bicycle. Not anti-bike; just saying…😉

— Jodie Emery (@JodieEmery) August 5, 2017


Seven years ago we mulled over getting rid of our car and at the time it was an audacious and unconventional move. At the time we just had the one kid and we lived in a highly walkable area of Vancouver. People told us we’d regret it, we’d  have emergencies and be stuck, but that never happened. Instead, we paid off a bunch of debt, felt free-er (as free-er as you can feel with a toddler) and saved more money to pay off our consumer debts and student loans. We had a lot of life changes for the next few years, moving overseas, growing our family and moving house a few times and finally moving back to Canada.

With each transition we evaluated if we really needed a car. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. Our last transition was almost a year ago when we no longer needed a vehicle to get our son to school. Our car was used once in a month and then we paid over $400 for it to be serviced. That’s one expensive trip. It was time to reevaluate if we needed a car and our conclusion was we didn’t. So we’ve spent the last year getting our three young kids around mostly by walking, sometimes by using transit, by cargo bike and infrequently by car with a car-share or a car rental.

Vancouver is a fantastic city for transportation options. In July I spent two weeks on a course that was on the west side of Vancouver. The location was an 1 hour walk/12 minute drive/35 minute bike/35 minute bus ride away. And I used all of those transport options over the week. Some days I walked there, enjoying the beautiful weather and the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains as I walked over the Burrard Street bridge. It was really the best way to start my day. The downside to it was that I had to leave before my kids woke up so I missed seeing them (yeah I will try to avoid ever getting a job I need to leave the house at 6:50am for). Many days I took a Mobi bikeshare bike to the course. The bike lanes and routes lined up well for the trip and it was safe and convenient. It was a refreshing start to the day and I loved that I had the option to not bike home (also didn’t have to worry about a bike being stolen – bike theft is very high in Vancouver). The bus was also pretty convenient: there’s a stop kitty corner to my apartment building and if I wanted to get out early to stretch my legs and walk some of the way there it was easy to do. A few days when I needed to get home quickly or there was an emergency (kids were sick) I used Car2Go. It was faster and cheaper than a taxi. The con to it was driving in stop and go traffic – my tolerance for sitting in a car in traffic is low. Much rather sit in a bus if the streets are busy or get out and walk or bike.

Now, I know you’re thinking, that’s all well and good but she didn’t have any kids along. True. But it’s still pretty easy to get around with my crew of three along without a car. They really enjoy skytrain (our subway system) and the bus. We’ve been visiting a relative that’s ill and taking a long skytrain ride out multiple times a week to visit her. The kids are not bothered by the long train ride at all. In comparison, five minutes into a drive they are asking if we are there yet. And there are so many other ways to get around with kids. Follow that tweet link above for a swift and expansive rebuttal from many parents that don’t own a car and get out there with their kids and do stuff. Like us, many of them use cargo bikes. And they make choices like living in a higher density area or building their family schedule with extra time to bike or walk. They order groceries for delivery, they take kids on transit to soccer and they do everything else many families do just without using a car.

walking home from Costco - yes you can go to Costco without a car!
walking home from Costco – yes you can go to Costco without a car!

The other exciting change to our transportation option is that my oldest son is now riding his bike longer distances.I should clarify: he has learned to ride a bike. For many reasons we waited to teach him how to ride a bike  until he was 7.5 years old and you guys, it has been a parenting highlight for me. From his first time on the bike it took him about six weeks to build up his skills and enough endurance to do a long-ish ride from our home to Granville Island and back. His pride at this accomplishment, his joy at riding his bike – it has literally brought tears to my eyes (he’s not a kid that things come easy to). And our four year old has really upped his endurance with walking so even more of the city is opening up to us. I can see the future and the future is bigger kids that walk and bike where they need to go. Love our stroller but I can’t wait to be free of it after eight years of using them.

You don’t have to be car-free to use and enjoy alternative modes of transportation. Even when we have owned cars we’ve always tried to use them as a last option. Walking is always our first choice, then bikes and public transit depending on the weather. I wish this message was out there more: keep your car but try to use it less. There are lots of families with cars that still bike places, commute by bus or train to avoid expensive parking and having to sit in traffic or make more time in their day so they can walk places. 

Ways to reduce your car dependancy as a family:

  • Try a new way to get there. Maybe it’s just once a week that you leave the car at home, walk with the kids to school and catch the bus from there. I know if it adds even 20 minutes to your day it feels hard but you might be surprised how much you look forward to that once a week break from the car.
  • Choose activities that you don’t need a car to get to or participate in. Set a limit on how much and how far you are willing to drive regularly for an activity.
  • Have a car free day regularly. Make a game of it, plan for it and have everyone pick activities that you can do at home or without driving. It’s like having a no spend day: it makes you much more aware of how you much you drive.
  • Look for opportunities with change and growth. Hunting for a new job? Cost out how much you could save if you found a job that didn’t require a car. Kids getting older? Maybe it’s time they biked or walked to school instead of getting a ride from mom or dad. Moving? Set a wish list for what you would like to be within easy distance of your new home to reduce your car dependency.

Book Review: The Condo Kids

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Last year my oldest son brought home a fire safety pamphlet he received at school when the fire department did an informational visit. I laughed when I saw the basic ‘what to do in event of fire’ safety steps spelled out and illustrated for kids. The pamphlet showed a rancher style house. I don’t think any of my son’s classmates that year lived in a detached home; most of them lived in condos and a few in townhouses. Most of the kids in our neighbourhood have never lived in a detached house and likely will never live in a detached house. Yet, fire safety pamphlets and, the point of this post, most kid’s books assume that we all live in a suburban neighbourhood in a house. This frustrates me.

My children read stories about kids with backyards and their own bedroom that live on quiet streets. We live in a loud part of the city, they sleep three to a room and our backyard is a little courtyard sixteen floors down that we share with the hundreds of other people living in our building. We love all the great things about city living – we can walk to EVERYTHING, great parks and the seawall a few blocks away – but it’s certainly hard to keep that in mind when every book we read shows all the perks of suburban living (and none of the downsides like Billy spends two hours a day in the car!).

So I was excited to hear about a new book series Jackie Burns has started called The Condo Kids. Jackie is a condo parent herself to two boys and her family lives in a condo in Toronto. I connected with Jackie and requested a review copy of The Condo Kids first book and Jackie was kind enough to send one to me. We recently read the book over three nights to our two, four and seven year old.

My kids were pretty excited about this book before we even read it. We were finishing up another chapter book and they had to wait a few days until we started The Condo Kids. I told them what the book was about and they were anxious to start reading it.

Kids. In Condos. My middle kid kept saying “just like us!” whenever they talked about elevators, living in the city and condo pools. They liked and I loved this ‘normal’ look at kids living in apartments. Living in a condo isn’t treated as an oddity or something that makes the kids special – it’s just where they live. It’s as normal to share a room with your brother

The book takes a bit of a fantastical turn when the kids sheep-nap a Barbary sheep from the zoo. Hilarity ensues of course and my kids did indeed think stowing a sheep in a condo was hilarious.

There is an 80s laissez faire parenting style to the book that I found refreshing and also lent to the magical adventure of the story. These kids have their own apartment keys and can roam wherever they like. Hopefully my kids won’t start asking for the long leash these kids have going to the pool without a parent and walking to the grocery store solo (that last one is coming sooner in our family than the unsupervised pool time).

Here’s my condo kids playing a recent at home game of piggyback your brother and fall into a pile of pillows:

This book would be great for a young reader of 8+ and was a nice short chapter book with illustrations to read together as a family. We’re already looking forward to the second book in the series that comes out this fall. Thanks Jackie!

 

What My Son’s Disabilities Have Taught Me About Minimalism

 

I’ve spent the last two years not writing this post. The first year it was because I felt that if I said my son had a disability(ies), it would be true (and I really really really did not want it to be true). Later it was that I thought I should keep this part of my/our life private. But I’ve realized over the last few months that if you know us, if you ever get to know my son, then what I write here will not be a great surprise. And after being truthful and open with other families recently, I’ve seen that we are not alone. I’ve met some kindred parents in the last few weeks and had wonderful wholehearted conversations with people who ‘get it’. The kind of conversations that I’ve been craving for years. So maybe I can find a few more of us from writing this post.

Also, our son’s disabilities have been a big part of our life the last two years. It has taken up a lot of my mental and emotional capacity. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t been writing on the blog as much. I’m hoping that by sharing here I’ll feel more comfortable writing in this space about our continued quest to live a bit smaller and simpler – without feeling that I have to censor myself. The ‘secret’, a very common one that shouldn’t need to be hidden, is out.

One of my children has several disabilities that make our life complicated, often stressful and far from simple. Some days it really sucks. Some days I feel very isolated. Luckily I don’t have a lot of those days and when I do I try to remind myself that everyone faces challenges, some we see, some we don’t. And I also remind myself that I’m learning a lot about myself, becoming a bit more resilient and a lot more patient, parenting a child that faces a lot of challenges in his day to day life.

My son’s disabilities have also forced us to be minimalist-ish in a lot of areas of our life. I think my son’s disabilities, the challenges they present to our family, is one of the reasons I continue to be so attracted to minimalism. When things I cannot control are complicated, I feel the need to make the things I can control as simple as possible  My son’s disabilities have taught me a lot about minimalism, why we need it and why he specifically needs it to make his life a bit easier.

Keep Simple Routines & Easy Schedules

Over-scheduling for our family looks different than for most. We can only have one half day ‘big’ event at a time. That day needs to be followed by a quiet day of rest and routine. So going to a model train exhibition in the morning and a birthday party in the afternoon, with a full day event the next day, is a recipe for a lot of tears and meltdowns and leaving early. All that ‘fun’ quickly becomes unfun for us. Our two other children can handle more taxing events and when it’s possible for them to do that, we try to make it happen. But the overall schedule for the family is mostly dictated by what works for our child with the greatest needs. So we do a lot of the same easy and local activities that we can easily adjust/drop out of if need be.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

After a few years of your child not having a typical development pattern you FINALLY learn to stop comparing your kid (and yourself) to others. A few years of leaving parent teacher conferences with red rimmed eyes, have got me to a place of only comparing my son to himself. His progress is on a graph with… his progress. It’s been very hard to get here but I feel that I’ve stopped comparing him to other kids and in turn, I’ve let go of another layer of comparing my life to others. One of the ways we get in the buy more/want more cycle is watching our neighbours, counting what they have and comparing it to our own pile of stuff.  Having a child with disabilities really pushes you to stop comparing yourself/your kids with others.

Boil it Down to the Essential

We simply can’t do ‘everything’ for all three of our children. We don’t have enough time and energy and money to run our own part-time forest school, teach them a second language and do whatever else is on the ‘must do to achieve any success in life’ checklist these days. We do the basics: brush teeth, read as many books as we can and get time outdoors. The ‘essentials’ for our son with disabilities include therapies, tutoring, doctor’s appointments, medications that have to be adjusted and notes taken on and lots more. We don’t have the bandwidth to find extra, nonessential ways to complicate our life even more. The basics are good enough!

Own Less Stuff

If you have a child that is highly distracted and gets overwhelmed, it’s best to not have a lot of stuff for them to get distracted and overwhelmed by. So yes, we do have toys, but we try to keep them in one place and not have too many of them. We cull their stuff regularly and remove what isn’t being used. We give modest and few gifts at birthdays and at Christmas. We are slow to introduce new things. The kids are 2, 4 and 7 and are just learning to ride bikes for the first time now.  For many years they all just had kick scooters to get around on and have fun with and that was enough. Introducing another option for them complicates things, can overwhelm them and gives us three more things to maintain, store and worry about.

Try to Live in the Present

I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about the past (what did I do wrong that caused this? how could I have gotten him help earlier?) and the future (how will he learn to ____? what will life look like for him at ____? how will we get ____ help?) for my son with special needs. But as we have gone further down the diagnosis route and finally into the therapy/management phase of his disabilities, I’ve learned to live in today a bit more. I cannot change the past, I do not know the future, I can only do the work of today. I’m not perfect at living in the present (nor will I likely ever be) but I feel myself living more in the day right now than I ever have before. Credit to my quirky beautiful son that keeps me here.

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Having a child with disabilities has made me lean into minimalism. It’s not a pretty Instagram-able kind of minimalism of nicely folded clothing and spartan rooms with white walls. Some days it’s an exhausting, tearful frustrated kind of minimalism that leads you to make sandwiches for dinner so you can simply sit with that kid that really needs you, needs to be hugged and seen, needs a level of patience that is hard for anyone other than his family to give him, in the time you would usually prepare dinner. It’s a kind of minimalism that has you putting the spring community center programming guide into the recycle bin as soon as it arrives because your child is not in a season of being able to follow instructions, participate or enjoy after school soccer. It’s the kind of minimalism that has nothing to do with what your home looks like but rather what your home feels like: a safe and easy place for your child to just be his or her self.

Storing (Less) Kid’s Clothing

 

It’s been a while since I talked about kid’s clothing and how we try and keep things minimalist-ish with three young kids. So I thought I would give an update on what we’re doing now, how things are changing as our kids get older (and bigger) and share some of my favourite strategies that work for our family for keeping clothing under control.

Above is what we have stored for our three kids. The top box is shoes and rain boots. The bottom box is summer clothing and hand-me-downs. My kids are now 7, 4 and 2 and our family is complete as they say/ we’re done with babies!! There is a three size gap between the seven year-old and four year-old and a one or no size gap between the four year-old and two year-old. We have cool to cold winters with a lot of rain and the occasional snow day and our summers can go as high as 30C.

Strategies for Small Kid Wardrobes

We’ve made it the last year and a half with two IKEA Antonius units storing all the kids clothes and diapers. It’s getting tight. The culprit: our oldest is wearing a school uniform this year (and they have TWO different uniforms) plus his clothing is getting bigger, just likehim. Luckily the school uniform will be gone at the end of June and we’ll get back 25% of the space once our youngest potty trains in a year and we’re out of diapers. In general I think we do a good job of keeping the kid’s wardrobes modest while still keeping them appropriately clothed. Things we do that help us have less clothing:

  • we don’t buy/accept a lot of clothing – simple but it helps immensely
  • we regularly cull the kids wardrobes for things that aren’t being worn or no longer fit
  • we think holes in the knees of jeans are cool. Someone asked me if we put holes in the knees of the youngest jeans ourselves, like as an ode to distressed jean fashion. I laughed. Nope. He’s just the third kid to wear those size 2T jeans.
  • if the outfit was clean at the end of the day (exception: underwear) it gets worn the next day
  • we try to invest in durable brands for our oldest son that will last through another kid or two. Especially in outerwear and rain boots.
  • we try and wear out items. I won’t send my kids out in torn (besides knees on jeans) clothing or items with big stains on them, but fading or some fraying from lots of use, that makes me happy. So we don’t replace things simply because they look old.

I’m not very particular about what my kids wear and so far they aren’t very particular about what they wear either. I know we are really lucky on this front. There aren’t fights about what to wear in the morning and, THANKFULLY, no one is asking me to go the mall and buy them the latest on trend piece from H&M. We do laundry frequently so at most my kids need a week’s worth of clothes. We try to wash clothing after it’s been worn two or even three times if possible and this increases the longevity of the clothing.

We don’t store a lot of hand-me downs

One thing I am seeing as my kids get bigger: the clothes are wearing out faster. We don’t have as many hand-me-downs to store as you might expect. Sometimes the middle child will be the last to wear something that was originally the oldest. Usually it’s because both of them wore that size for 2+ years so, combined with wearing things more frequently than a lot of North Americans do, the t-shirt is ready to be cut into rags or the jeans are ready to be made into jean shorts or sent to textile recycling.

I *never* buy ahead in sizes during sale season

My oldest did not grow in a steady pattern at all so I decided early on not to buy ahead at end of season sales. It’s just not worth it to me to spend money and take up our limited storage with things that may, or may not, fit one of my kids next year. A lot of our winter and fall clothing comes from Grandmas at birthdays and Christmas and if they have bought in a generous size I’ll store those items for next year. But that’s it. If buying ahead works for you, awesome. But my kids are all over the growth chart and we have very little storage so we get things in season as we need them most of the time.

I let my kids grow into and out of things

I let the t-shirts get a bit short in the body before going to the next size and that oversize sweatshirt gets to be a fitted style before it’s passed down. My oldest just passed down a zip up sweatshirt he has been wearing for over three years. We have adjustable waistbands on EVERYTHING. We roll up cuffs and sleeves for a few months while a child grows into things.

We keep shoes to a minimum

Our oldest is the shoe-a-holic out of the kids. He has four pairs: rain boots, athletic shoes, formal school shoes, pair of Converse. The other two kids have rain boots and a pair of running shoes. They each have a pair of slip-on style summer sandals that we keep out in the winter to wear to the condo pool downstairs.

Of course, I know we could be more minimalist. We spent a month overseas and the kids took about 2/3rds of their wardrobe and with frequent laundry going we did just fine. I’m all about finding the sweet spot between making life comfortable and having less stuff. Right now this is what works for us.

For parents of many, how do you manage storing hand-me-downs? I would love to hear from those of you with big families, those of you that are the buy ahead type and anyone with an more elaborate or more stream lined system than mine.

How to Handle Dental Emergencies

How to Handle Dental Emergencies

Imagine biting into your food only to feel a sharp pain. You look in the mirror and find your tooth has cracked. That’s when you have to take a trip to the emergency dentist. And emergency dentists are going to cost. There are a variety of ways in which you can pay for an emergency dentist, and we’re going to show them.

Check if Insurance Covers It

Some insurance policies cover emergency dentistry. If you happen to be on one of these great policies your insurance company will cover it. However, check the terms and conditions first. There may be restrictions on the emergency dentist you can use. Don’t accept any treatment until you can confirm that your insurer will cover you.

And under current healthcare rules, children under the age of 18 are covered by the insurance plans of their parents. Most emergency dental procedures may already be covered for your family under your existing insurance policy.

Pay in Installments

Dentists understand that not everyone has cash available to cover an emergency. Many accept payments in installments. You’ll need to deposit a small amount of money as a first-time payment and they’ll likely conduct a credit check. If everything makes sense you can take this option to keep your payments down. Try to shop around because some emergency dentists will pay better than others.

Do remember that dentists are not financial institutions. However, there are companies that specialize in dental financing. When you pay in installments with a dentist the chances are you’ll be going through a third party. In other words, you won’t be paying the dentist themselves. You’ll be paying the third-party organization, which will conduct all credit checks.

The dentist does get to define their own parameters, so some dentists may be stricter than others. But they’re outsourcing all the hard work.

Take Out a Small Quick Loan

Alternatively, a short-term cash loan can be a great option if you only need the money until your next paycheck. A few hundred dollars at a time is within the reach of most people. When you need a loan, quick cash loans are designed for weeks at a time, so make sure you pay them off in full on your next payday. These small loans are easy to obtain even if you have bad credit.

Research providers by using comparison websites. You’ll be able to find the best deal at a glance and most loan providers will give you a decision within 24 hours.

Put it on the Credit Card

For low-cost procedures, you can always put the cost of the procedure on your credit card. Do some calculations and figure out whether you’ll be able to make the repayments. This is simple math and will largely depend on your credit record.

Credit reporting agencies recommend that you try to avoid borrowing more than 30% of your overall balance at once. This can hurt your credit score. But if you need to pay for an emergency dentist and you only go above this limit for a short period of time it won’t cause too much damage to your score.

Borrow the Money from Family and Friends

Sometimes you don’t have the credit score or the insurance policy to cover an emergency dentist. As a last resort, you can try borrowing money from family and friends. Draw up a contract and both sign it. You don’t need a lawyer to make this legally binding in court.

This may seem official, but it’s really there to ensure both parties are aware of their obligations.

Prepare for the Worst 

Don’t scramble around if you need an emergency dentist. Prepare for this possibility by making sure you’re covered under your medical insurance policy. Failing that, save some money every month to put aside for emergency expenses like this.

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