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Adventures underground

According to Marie Curie, “nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.’ I’m pretty sure she wasn’t talking about the London Underground system, but when it comes to me and the Tube, her words ring all too true. When my eldest was three and my daughter eighteen months I’d taken them on the Tube twice. In total. And not even at the same time! I was ashamed of my cowardice because there is just so much to explore in and around London, especially as the grow up. I didn’t want them to miss out due to my fear of the struggle.

But I did always feel the travel struggle was real. Clambering on the Tube with kids in tow? Fretful. I’d be flustered at navigating the steps and stairs. Minding the gap to spare their little feet and my big buggy. Looking so hapless and helpless that a kind commuter would have to save me, my children and all the ‘essentials’ I’d have on board. The cultural ‘shame to be saved’ may be a British thing, but I’m sure many of you taking young ones on the Underground would also ‘get the ick’ asking a stranger for help.

When I have taken the train, I’ve planned out my route in meticulous detail. And by that I mean I went the long way round to make it as step free as possible from platform to pavement. Add to the mix that I really do not like crowds and the fact the Tube seems to house half of London’s population (plus almost every tourist in the UK). Truth be told, I just avoided the whole situation as best and as often as I could.

Yet possibly the worst part of it all: my son adores the Tube! We spent a not insignificant amount of his second year hanging outside Willesden Green station simply to watch the trains speed by. To watch. Yet not to brave jumping on board. And to think back then I only had him to look after…

A little while ago my daughter and I stepped outside my comfort zone. We dared to take the Tube to Central London. Please believe me when I tell you this: it was so easy! In fact, I was somewhat aghast at how I had built it up to be something it honestly wasn’t. Simple, and actually quite pleasant. Of course it wasn’t seamless. I had to hike her up the stairs at Great Portland Street. But she’s little, the buggy is light and my personal training is clearly paying off. We arrived earlier than expected and, for the return journey, took full advantage of ‘zone one’, enjoying a sunny stroll through Regents Park to catch the Overground home.

This adventure taught me to embrace my fear more often. I will certainly go again. And next time I’ll take both kids and plan to be out for longer. I will pack less, be lighter on our feet, and remember to have options for my kids of different ages, ability and stamina. Taking our wheeled board and a sling I can alternate between walking, sitting, being pushed and being carried dependent on, you know, tiredness, mood, need to nap etc. (And that’s just me…!)

Pro tip: if you do do this often, invest in a lightweight stroller. It doesn’t have to break the bank. There is so much choice for easy-to-collapse, foldable, carry-on-your-shoulder models. ‘Fully reclining’ is a bonus so you won’t be held hostage by nap times.

My no longer fearing the Tube has (re)opened a whole window of possibilities for me and my two. So watch out, Daddy. We’re coming to meet you for a lunch date soon. Marie Curie would be proud!

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Double trouble or twice as nice?

“We’re expecting number two!” you announce. “Bought a double buggy yet?!” joke your friends.

And just like that reality bites. Should you really double up in the pram stakes? Are you kicking yourself for not buying the convert-to-double buggy model the first time round? So. Many. Questions.

Well you’re in good company. I, for one, spent the best part of a trimester figuring out how I would get from A to B with two under two. I played out all the scenarios in my head. I researched online and road tested in store. I carried out ‘stop and search’ on mums with two kids in cafes. I quizzed dads manoeuvring double buggies round supermarket aisles. I was overwhelmed – lost deep in a fog that was part baby brain, part buggy bewilderment.

I soon realised I wouldn’t know if I’d made the right decision until the time came. Because the right buggy for you, is one that fits your lifestyle. So because you can’t just Google the answer, I hope sharing my considerations will help lift the buggy fog for many of you!

‘How much will I actually use a pram for getting out and about?’

For me, the answer was daily. At that time I was living in an inner London flat with a supermarket at both ends of my road – within walking distance of an underground station, a park and my son’s nursery. I thrived on leaving the flat each day, to run errands and meet friends, and even though my two year old son was already a strong walker, I couldn’t rely on his little legs making a round trip each time.

‘But what will I really need to use it for?’

Side-by-side and up-and-down buggies are fantastic options if you’ll mostly be running errands on foot and doing stuff without a need for much lugging in and out of the car. And thanks to their multiple configurations you can switch it up whenever you like – the seat can face you with the baby, turn out for the toddler and you can attach a car seat if baby needs to be transferred to or from the car whilst napping.

Double strollers tick the ‘functional’ box. For a supermarket sweep or midst airport transfer you can pin down both kids, they can be stowed away in a car boot and still leave enough room for shopping bags or suitcases. Plus most boast lie flat modes for naps and some are even multi-way. All this without making too much of a dent in your wallet.

‘And what other alternatives are there?’

Sling it up. Correct, not technically a buggy, but let’s talk about baby carriers. An excellent early days option, especially as newborns crave being held close during the fourth trimester. They allow you to get on with life in and out the house. They gift you the use of both arms to attend to an older sibling’s needs, or simply to hold their hand when crossing a road.

I found a soft style wrap a real advantage during the first few months. Five months in, I replaced it with a more structured sling. And a year on, my daughter was still happy to be carried. The market is evolving fast – so whether you’ve used a sling before or couldn’t quite get on with one in the past, I’d urge you to seek professional advice from a ‘baby wearing expert’ rather than a department store employee. As new brands and ranges emerge thick and fast retailers don’t always understand tech such as ergonomic fit, nor will many have first-hand experience in securing a wriggly baby in place. Best to get down to a local sling library, try a few on for size and read some e-reviews from experts and mums.

Wheeled boards. Another excellent alternative to a double pushchair for those of you with a more active kid in tow. Hop on (but also beware: hop off!) boards are great for when your little walker starts to lose steam.. Plus they can be easily stored when not in use. Boards are super easy to trial in store and, depending on the height of your child, you’ll see in real life if they are tall enough to grab the handle bars, co-ordinated enough to get on (and stay on!) as you push, and generally get them used to the freedom of not being harnessed in. One watch out: navigation. Bumps in the road and lots of kerbs make for a less than smooth ride for both you as the pusher as well as for your little passenger.

Scooters. Look away now if the ‘s’ word fills you with dread, but they are increasingly popular with bigger kids. If ‘scootering ‘ is already your toddler’s thing, and they are competently streetwise, they can be a great alternative to a double buggy. Yet do consider where and when you’ll use it most. Flat roads to nursery? Hilly parks on the weekend? I challenge you to find one mum or dad of a scooter mad tot who hasn’t walked some of the way home with their toddler on their shoulders! And be mindful of storage. Until buggy manufacturers figure out where to fix a scooter on a travel system, it might not be that convenient with a baby in tow.

After months of listing pros and cons, I opted for an up-and-down double buggy. A year in and I used it more as a single pram with a wheeled board for my then three year old, and it proved to have been the right decision for us and our lifestyle. The choices out there are overwhelming, so don’t be afraid to take your time, test and trial. You’ll soon enough have your hands full. Anything to make life easier is worth investing a bit of thought up front.