Staying Stylish in Suburbia

Tackling My Sense Of Adventure As A Mom By Train

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

There is a certain sense of adventure that comes with trains. You buy a ticket and let the tracks take you away. That first lurch forward is an exhilarating feeling that can become addictive. I can remember boarding a train in Seville and watching the Spanish countryside rolling slowly by, olive groves and blue sky giving way to the cliffs of a seaside town in Portugal. All there was to do was sit back and observe the world.

Train travel is a writer's dream in that way. There's something about the rhythm of motion, coupled with the ever-changing view that sparks the imagination and stirs the mind. There is even a Writer's Residency program through Amtrak now. If that had been around before I had children, you better believe I would have applied for it. Who knows maybe I still will at some point. 

My husband takes the Virginia Rail Express (VRE) into work every day, preferring it to the hellish stop-and-go commute by car. I like hearing the faint sound of the train whistle blowing from the bedroom in the morning. I imagine him chugging along as the sun slowly rises over the Capitol. 

When I first became a mother, I promised myself that I wouldn't lose my sense of adventure. I wanted to be the kind of mom that didn't let my fear get in the way of having new and exciting experiences with my kids. For the most part I think I do well in that regard, although sometimes I let my anxiety get the best of me. It's one thing to hop on on a train into the city when all you have to worry about is your own well being. It's another thing when you have to worry about the safety of two other helpless little beings. 

I could pretend that I don't worry about every little thing that could go wrong, but that would be a lie. The reality is that it's a huge responsibility, and one that I don't take lightly. I want them to have experiences and I want to keep them safe. Finding that balance is the tricky part. Not to mention all the logistics of traveling with a rambunctious three year old and a nursing baby in diapers. I can drive myself crazy thinking of all the things that could go wrong. What if Esmae runs into the road and I'm stuck with the baby in the stroller? What if the baby screams the entire train ride? What if Esmae pees in her pants, or my phone runs out of batteries, or I get my wallet stolen and we are left at the mercy of the big, bad city? Or worst of all, what if I turn my attention to the needs of one child and the other one gets snatched from me? Following that spiral of, "what if" I can talk myself out of doing pretty much anything. 

When my husband came home the other day with free tickets to ride the VRE, I was excited. Then I started spiraling into the world of, what if. I almost talked myself out of it but then I remembered my promise to myself. Didn't I owe it to myself and to them to at least try? There was an expiration date on the ticket which also motivated me to take the leap and give train travel with the kids a try. 

On Friday morning I woke the girls up bright and early. The VRE only runs during commuter times which meant we had to be at the station at 7:30am. The plan was to take the train into the city to see the Butterfly Pavilion at the Museum of Natural History, after which, we would meet my husband for lunch. He planned to take the rest of the day off so that we could do some exploring and return on the 3:50 train all together. It was going to be a long day for the girls but we were all excited. 

I snapped the picture above as we waited for the train and posted it to my Facebook wall. All the comments I got were from other mamas who clearly thought I was nuts for taking the girls solo to the city. "Brave mama!" "Quite a project!" "Good luck, lady!" were a few of the responses I got. It almost made me want to reconsider but the look of glee in Esmae's eyes let me know we were on the right track (pun intended). So, I validated my ticket at the machine and hoped for the best. 

When the train pulled up one of the conductors spotted us and offered to help. The only real issue I had was that my double stroller wouldn't fit through the entryway without being broken down. This meant that I had to take the baby out of the stroller and put her up on the train in her car seat while I wrestled with the stroller on the platform. It was nerve-racking to say the least. I felt like the beginning of my worst nightmare. I imagined Esmae and I left on the platform as my baby sped away on a train. Luckily, the conductor was extremely nice. She stayed with the baby the whole time, assuring me that the train wouldn't take off without us.

After that, we settled into our seats with the promise from that she would be back around to help us off at our stop. The ride into the city was really fun. Everyone on the VRE was friendly and understanding of the little ones. Esmae and I enjoyed the view from the window and Mazzy seemed calmed by the motion of the train. 

We arrived around 9:30, which was half an hour before the museum opened. The guard at the entrance of the Museum of Natural History was nice enough to suggest we wait at the nearest Starbucks. He gave me directions and I enjoyed walking through the city, taking in all the sights. The double stroller proved difficult once again when we got to the coffee shop. It was too big to fit in the door. This time I just took out purse and left the stroller itself on the patio while we ordered drinks and a snack. I couldn't see out, and spent much of the time in line praying that it wouldn't get stolen, which it didn't. 

The butterfly Pavilion was on the second floor of the Museum of Natural History. The museum itself is free to the public but we paid a small fee (6 dollars for me and 5 dollars for Esmae) to enter the pavilion. The baby had fallen asleep (YAY!) But of course they didn't allow the cursed stroller in the Pavilion, (BOO!)  I had to wake her up and put her in the carrier instead. Who knew a stroller, something meant to make your life easier, could prove such a hassle!?

Once inside, we were surrounded by all kinds of live butterflies, flittering and fluttering about. They landed on flowers and even on the visitors. We were asked not to touch the live butterflies but the museum workers were great about informing us about the different varieties. There was also a bowl full of wings that the children could touch and look at through a magnifying glass, along with a live caterpillar that they were allowed to hold. I highly recommend the exhibit to adults and kids alike. 

After the museum we were ready to eat. We met my husband at a nearby restaurant called Aria. I was more than a little happy to see him. Having an extra pair of hands is always nice. There was a  farmers market set up nearby and a band playing live music. We ate out on the patio and it was a festive city scene with great people watching. Lunch went off without a hitch and we walked around some more, ending up at a bookstore. The girls were getting grumpy by then and it was time to catch the train home.

I was proud of myself for having braved the trip into the city with the kiddos. Of course I was also really relieved to have my husband with me on the way back. My only real suggestion to others doing the same trip would be to bring a stroller that's not so wide. Also, having someone to help you on the other side isn't such a bad idea. Meltdowns tend to happen at the end of a long day. We were also witness to the aftermath of a violent assault on our walk back to the train station. We also saw what we believed to be a woman frantically looking for a lost child. Just a reminder that the big city isn't a place you can let your guard down, especially with kids. 

All in all though it was a successful trip. I will say that I was glad to get back to the burbs and our quiet little cul-de-sac away from the rush of it all. I guess that's how motherhood has changed me. I'm still up for an adventure but I appreciate coming home to calm at the end of the day. 

P.S. I am fully aware that there are plenty of people who raise their kids in the city without a problem. Things can go wrong no matter where you are. It's not that I fear the city itself (I have lived in several cities and loved the experience) but that I am not yet familiar enough with our particular city to feel completely at ease with my kids there. With time I hope that will change. xoxo


  1. Checking out your blog! Love it! It sounds like your day was awesome.