School is great!

I never realized how stressful a school bus was.

Outside of an early school bus trauma (when I was little, my parents got me all prepared for my first day of kindergarten, but apparently didn’t tell me that the school bus would bring me back home again, and I was pretty traumatized by the whole experience — I wonder where I thought I was going?), I always felt pretty ambivalent about the school bus.  I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my most favorite place to be, either.

Yesterday, waiting for B’s bus to drop him off, I was absolutely stressed out.  Until last week, our plan had been for me to pick B up every day at school — a plan I wasn’t 100% thrilled with, since it meant a second hour and a half round trip each day, both with Liam, and requiring Liam to either give up his daily nap or nap in the stroller.  But, the school buses are expensive, and the stop nearest our house is one of the last on the route, which would have effectively extended B’s day by about an hour.  So, I was going to pick him up each day … until we discovered last week that Dan’s work reimburses most of the cost AND that there is another stop, only 5 minutes further away from home, which would get B home half an hour earlier.  When B weighed in that he’d like to take the bus, we figured we’d give it a try.

In the mornings, Dan will take him in (since it’s only a little out of his way), so yesterday afternoon was our first bus experience.  Liam and I went over to the spot to wait.  The “stop” is at a square in Vienna, but around the square, which is a city block on each side, I didn’t know where to be.  Two sides were pretty much out, because of the traffic patterns, but that left two other adjacent sides for me to keep watch over.  The minutes ticked by and I was constantly vigilant, watching up and down both streets.  As the moment approached, my mind was full of questions and concerns — would they see me (they wouldn’t drop him off if I didn’t meet them)?  Would I get to them in time before they pulled away (and then took him back to the school)?  Had he, in fact, gotten on the right bus?  Was I in the right place?  How had his bus ride been?  Was it safe, comfortable, scary???  And, of course, I was also anxiously awaiting the details of his whole first day — how was the teacher?  How were the other kids?  Had he made any new friends?  How was lunch?  Was he able to figure out the cafeteria?  Was he happy???

photoAI was pretty tense.  But then, the big gray bus (no yellow here) came around the corner and stopped about halfway down the block from where I was.  I hurried over and collected my boy.  All was well.

And after a big hug, I got a full report:

  • School was great!
  • The bus was great!
  • He had two recesses, and he saw his best buddy (who is in a different grade) both times!
  • They had gym class …
  • … and music class …
  • … and lunch was SO GOOD!  And, it’s not even Friday, but they had chocolate cake for dessert!
  • He couldn’t find his gym clothes, but it was ok (no idea — they were “hidden” on his coat hook)
  • And the teacher read some stories about monsters, but they were too scary, so B asked for a different story … so she read a story with no monsters instead!

It was a good day.  All was well, and everyone got home safely.  I’m very, very happy, and so is my little guy.


Bus problems

Generally, public transportation in Vienna is functional and pleasant.  Everything runs mostly on time, and is quite clean.  People usually board and disembark in an orderly fashion, vocal volume is low, people (more or less) make way for the elderly and disabled, and strollers are managed without too much trouble.  We don’t have a car, and we’ve gotten around Vienna (and beyond) very well using public transport these past 3 years.  If you can think of a piece of common sense when it comes to public transportation, it probably happens here (except that Austrians don’t queue properly, ever, and many will go out of their way to wait for an elevator).

Sure, there are always exceptions — groups of rowdy teenagers, drunk people, self-absorbed individuals.  But Austrians are a reliably orderly lot in general.

But the bus line I use to take the boys to school in the morning is a complete anomaly.  I’ve come to the conclusion that is the most dysfunctional piece of all of Vienna’s public transportation system.  The problem has nothing to do with the route itself, but with the passengers.  The regularity with which we encounter uncharacteristic dysfunction is kind of shocking.  There was the old lady who told me off for not making a space available for her (I was standing, my boys were sitting, the seats across from and behind us were free, but she wanted THAT ONE … but hadn’t asked), the time a mother left her unsecured stroller rolling around the center aisle of the bus while she looked on (no kid inside, thankfully) and the grown woman who pushed past Liam (coming close to knocking him down) to get the seat she wanted.  Every day, it’s a struggle to get off the bus while people refuse to make way and/or push past departing people to get in first.  Getting a stroller off is next to impossible with people being so impatient that they have to get on before you get it off.  (We’ve basically abandoned the idea of taking the stroller at all when we go to school.)  And, in the past week, two different people have actually sat down in Benjamin’s seat with him.  (I know he’s pretty small, but WHAT?!?)

You might think, from these descriptions, that this is a massively crowded bus line.  It’s not.  Although there are times that we’re packed in like sardines, the VAST majority of the time (including all of the specific incidents I mentioned) the bus is about half full or less.

For anyone local, the line is the 92A between Donaustadtbrücke and Kaisermühlen.  For anyone not local, this is not the city center, but the mostly residential outer section of Vienna.  I’ve been pondering the phenomenon of horrible behavior on this line, and I was perplexed.  No idea why it should be so bad.

My thought, all along, has been that people must just be markedly more rude during the morning rush hour.  But that just hasn’t been my experience when I travel in other parts of Vienna during rush hour.  After considering it for a while, and observing this behavior for almost 3 years now, I have come to an embarrassing conclusion: I think it’s us.  Not “us” our family, but “us” the Americans, or at least the foreigners.  This bus line, just 2 miles and 10 stops long, serves English-speaking Webster University (which seems to host a lot of rowdy and self-involved American teenagers and young adults) and the UN (which seems to host a lot of “important”, “busy” and hurried adults from around the world . . . including a lot of people that I know and like — I’m not saying it’s everyone).  A really high number of people foreign to Vienna travel through this part of the city every day.  So I wonder if we’ve broken the system.  I wonder if we outsiders have introduced so much impatience, dysfunction and selfishness into the system that we’ve brought out the inner “man for himself” in even the orderly, patient, local Austrians who use that line to commute every day.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it’s some other kind of bad luck that has turned that bus line into the “Lord of the Flies” of the Viennese public transportation system.

Going on an adventure

Every so often, we make a plan to spend some one-on-one time with each of the kids. (The goal is to do it with each of the boys about once a month, but so often, things get in the way — travel, illness, incompatible combinations of available free time and the desired activity — and we really do it a lot less frequently than that.) Part of the fun of having the time together is that the kids get to be the one to decide the activity. It’s completely open ended, as long as it’s something we can do in about an hour. We’ve been surprised that so far, the kids’ requests have been incredibly modest — so far, we’ve gone on bus rides, ridden on the U-Bahn just to see where it goes, gone out for hot chocolate or cookies, gone to the playground.

20130426-234036.jpgYesterday, Liam and I finally got a chance to have our hour together, after over a month of trying to find the right time (which is really ridiculous, given that I spend 3-4 hours alone with Liam every day). He wanted to go for a bus ride, to see where the bus that we ride every day would go if we didn’t get off until the end.

So we rode out to the end of the line, to a part of Vienna called Aspern. Liam looked out the window of the bus and told me all about everything he could see. Once we arrived out in Aspern, we saw that it was mostly residential with a cute little town center. It didn’t feel like being in Vienna at all (and truly is almost at the edge of what is actually Vienna). It was a beautiful spring day, and we enjoyed a little walk around (Liam got to navigate) and then I got turned around when it was time to head home and ended up walking twice as far to find the bus as was really necessary. We had a great time exploring, and Liam took a bit of a nap on the way home. It was a good adventure.

And, since it’s spring again, and we’re all feeling (relatively) healthy, we’ll be exploring and adventuring a lot more. I have a list of places to go and things to see, and I’m ready to start on it. And I’m sure Benjamin and Liam will each continue to add their own destinations, as well. I love these adventures with them.

Getting around

My language class finished on Monday.  Benjamin starts preschool next Monday.  So, next week, our schedule as a family will be completely different.  Between now and then, though, we don’t have any need of our old schedule, we don’t need to be on our new schedule, and we don’t have anything in particular that we need to accomplish.  I’m in schedule limbo.  It’s a weird sensation (especially for me, tightly wound as I am).

So, I’ve decided that the next few days should be a like a vacation and we should try to do things we don’t always get a chance to do.  This morning, I decided to pack the boys up and go explore a park on the other side of town.  We went there once before, but as soon as we got there last time, Liam had a meltdown and we ended up leaving pretty quickly, before we got a chance to really check it out.  The weather today was beautiful and perfect for the park, so we got ready to go out.

After I’d gotten everyone dressed, Liam threw up all over himself and me.  (It’s amazing how frustrating it can be, even when you don’t have anywhere in particular to go, to *almost* get out the door and then have to turn right back around and undo everything.)  So, I got him and myself cleaned up and dressed again, got out the door . . . and Benjamin slipped on the freshly mopped floor on our landing and fell.  Back inside for ice on his head and lots of kisses.  Back out again.


We got on the bus and rode to the end of the line, near where the park is.  We got off, and I was immediately stopped and asked for directions (as usual).  But, aha!  Now that I’ve taken German classes, I can give directions in German!  Woo hoo!  I explained exactly where to go, turned around, and realized I was somewhere different than I thought I was.  Not that I’d gotten off the bus in the wrong place, but I’d just lost my bearings, so I’d given these poor people the exact wrong directions.  (But, at least I did it in German!)

010We walked around the park a little and had a nice time — it’s very pretty.  We looked around, petted some dogs, had a snack.  We still didn’t see all that there was to see, but we made some definite progress.  Then, as it was getting to be towards nap time, we decided to head home.  Benjamin wanted to ride the strassenbahn home, so we found a stop, and boarded a train.  We got off to switch trains, and decided to take the U-Bahn home instead.  We all made it, in one piece, with no further catastrophe.  So, today, we rode the three major forms of Viennese public transport (bus, strassenbahn, U-Bahn), went to the park, and even gave directions (never mind that they were wrong . . . ) — we’re definitely making progress.