Tag Archive for: public transportation

Staving off Germs on Public Transport with Kids

This is the filth on a good day.

This is the filth on a good day.

They might as well name a garbage/rubbish incinerator after us Villanos before we clear out of London at the end of this year. How else would the locals commemorate (or, um, publicly shame) the inordinate number of wipes we have been using every time we take the Tube?

No exaggeration: On most trips we break into double-digits. The reason: Bannisters.

You see, L has a tendency to tell stories wherever she goes. And when she’s telling stories, she’s not exactly paying attention to where she’s going. Over the course of her life, the child has fallen down more flights of stairs than just about any of us can imagine. So in an effort to keep her from tumbling down staircases in the Tube (many of which have about 200 stairs), we’ve implored her to use the bannister.

The good news is that she has listened (and has not fallen…yet). The bad news is that the bannisters here in London’s subway system are some of the filthiest surfaces 0n earth.

Every single time we take the subway, the kid’s hand turns sooty black in a matter of seconds. This past weekend, while simply heading down from street level to the ticket booths at our local stop, the situation got so bad it looked like she had wiped her hands in tar. Or coal dust. Or sludge.

When this sort of thing happens, my gut reaction is to ignore it until she realizes she is the one who controls how dirty things get. Then my neuroses kick in. What if she puts that filth in her mouth or wipes it on her face? What if it leads to some obscure strain of sores? What if the sores spread all over her body?

I’m not Donald Trump when it comes to germs, but I have been known to spaz a bit on the subject. And what we’re calling “Tube Hands” syndrome has triggered a few sweat-through-your-shirt moments (for me), which is why we’ve been overusing those wipes.

Lest you think I hate the environment, we’ve tried more eco-friendly methods such as hand sanitizer and Witch Hazel. Quite frankly, these don’t remove the black.

We also have tried the old-fashioned strategy of negotiating with L to wash her hands more frequently, but if you’ve ever dealt with a 4-year-old, you understand that we’re lucky if the kid actually washes her hands after she pees.

We even have proposed that L wears gloves when we ride the Tube, though L seems adamantly opposed to that approach. (In many ways, this is a blessing; when coupled with my staunch “no face photos” philosophy, the notion of forcing gloves on the kids really would make me feel like Michael Jackson.)

And so, until something better comes along, wipes are our way to go. I apologize in advance to the British government for contributing to the garbage problem. The VINCINERATOR has a nice ring.

How do you keep your kids’ hands clean on public transportation during family trips?


Lessons Learned After One Month in London

Another lesson: London parks kick ass.

A major lesson: London parks kick ass.

Hard to believe it, but today is our one-month anniversary on the road here in London. This means tomorrow will mark the longest amount of time our kids have been away from home (last summer, we spent 30 consecutive days traveling in Hawaii). It also means that three months remain in this grand adventure.

Since I’m a big fan of self-reflection, I figured this milestone would be a natural time to look back and “synopsize” (Powerwoman’s word) some of the lessons (and Villano family tendencies on the road) we’ve learned so far.

Public transportation is the ultimate distraction tool
It doesn’t matter if we’re riding a bus, train, or (river or canal) boat—my kids *love* taking public transportation. The passion is so deep that that as soon as we climb aboard one of these vehicles, the girls forget that they’re tired/hungry/cranky/insert other problem here, chill out and, quite literally, simply enjoy the ride.

To put it differently, my Oyster Card is the key to vanquishing tantrums when we’re out and about.

For L, the obsession was born on her very first ride; for R, it was a more gradual process (if you recall, she hated the Tube at first).

Overall, both girls prefer the bus (the “double-bus, as R says”), and like sitting up top. That said, the Tube is OK by them as well, especially if we get to change trains so they can watch (and wave to) trains entering and leaving the station. The bottom line: Public Transportation is our friend.

You can never schlep too many snacks
Back in the 1990s, when my family had season tickets at Yankee Stadium, my Dad would stuff his backpack full of snacks and harass us all game long to eat. I nicknamed him “Bodega Man,” because he often offered a selection that was more varied than the stuff you’d find at the local bodega. He took the ribbing quietly, almost knowing that someday, the tables would turn.

That day is now. Here in London. Every time we go out and about, I’m the dad with the backpack of random snacks. And it always—ALWAYS—comes in handy.

What I’ve learned about being Bodega Man 2.0 is that incorporating a diverse array of snack options actually improves the success rate tenfold.  Put differently: The more stuff you schlep, the more likely you’ll have something the kids will eat.

(Dad, I get it now. Sorry I didn’t learn the lesson sooner.)

Routines rule
One of the most exciting things about traveling and living abroad is the notion that every new day brings new experiences, new people and new points of view. Especially when you’re traveling with young kids, however, there can be great comfort in a predictable schedule from day to day.

Basically, I’m saying that everyone breathes more easily with a bit of a routine.

It was a struggle for me to embrace this approach, but we’ve learned this routine doesn’t have to be elaborate. Aside from L’s school (which she attends weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon), our daily schedule is simple: Wake-up by 7:30 a.m., naptime for R (and downtime for L) around 1:30 p.m., park time around 4:30 p.m., tubs at 7 p.m.

The girls don’t come out and say they appreciate these predictable patterns, but on those rare days when we deviate from the plan—including the one day a week when we pull L out of school to explore London—the free-style schedule triggers a greater number of tired spells and associated meltdowns (as sophisticated as L is, she still is only 4).

Not all playgrounds are created equal
Back home, we can count on one hand the number of playgrounds our kids would rate as “awesome” or “super awesome.” Here, however, it seems there’s a kick-ass playground in every single park.

All of these playgrounds boast crazy wooden play structures, old-school metal slides, and spinny carousel type things (none of which you’d find in the U.S., where child play areas are made to be uber-safe and minimize lawsuits). Most of the playgrounds here also have bigger and boxier “baby” swings, which enable me to get R and L side-by-side and push them both at the same time (this comes in handy when I’m solo with the girls). Some even have huge sand pits. And a separate area for kids over the age of five.

The best thing about London playgrounds, of course, are the cafes; at play time, I’m never more than 200 feet from a hot Americano or a fresh-baked scone.

In short, this family can’t go wrong with a trip to one of London’s parks. (Also: we Americans have a LOT to learn from how they roll with playground development over here.)

I’ll end each month with a similar look-back (thanks, Kara Williams, for the idea). I’ll also use these pieces as an opportunity to mention what lies ahead. On the docket for the next four weeks: R’s birthday celebration at The London Eye, a trip to Bath, a visit from one set of grandparents and a 10-day (half-term) jaunt to Ireland. Stay tuned!

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned through family travel?