Is Driving An Essential Requirement for the Middle Class Parent?

Being a parent very often feels like being on trial.  One of those televised American trials where the defendant appears, hair unwashed, wearing a drab ill-fitting suit, to find the eyes of the media are upon them, probably having given them some hideous nickname, like “Foxy Knoxy” or something a lot less flattering.  I sometimes imagine myself in one of these courtrooms, make-up free and wearing leggings smeared with food thrown by a toddler.  And the case for the prosecution would go something like this.

Accused of being not middle class enough in my parenting, I plead Not Guilty.  I desperately remind the courtroom of my university credentials, my professional job and my relatively neutral accent.  The prosecution is not so sure…

“Is it true that you do not own a car?”

“Well yes, but…”

“And you have to travel everywhere…” (the lawyer splutters in disgust at the mere thought) “…by bus?”

“Well, not exactly.  We get the train sometimes.  Or we walk.”

“WALK?  You aren’t middle class enough to live sufficiently near the city centre to walk anywhere worth visiting.  Is it true that there’s not even a Costa in your local area, let alone an artisan bakery staffed by men with nineteenth century beards?”

“Yes, but there is a cafe.”

“Man cannot live on bread alone, as they say, but taking swimming lessons with your toddler will help to alleviate the damage caused to the child by not growing up with frequent access to a nearby Waitrose.  Is it true you take your son to swimming lessons?”

“Yes.”  Things are suddenly looking up.

“How do you get there?”

“By bus.”

“BY BUS? Have you no car?”

“No, no car.”

At this point, the lawyer for the prosecution turns to the jury triumphantly.  “No car, you see.”

The jury are taking notes.

“How can one be a true middle class parent WITHOUT A CAR?”

It’s true.  I am a disgrace to the middle classes.  After ten years living in London, within easy reach of public transport and in a flat which not only had no parking space, but which stipulated in the terms of the lease that I was not even allowed to apply for a resident’s permit, I was used to not only not needing a car, but seeing cars as an active hindrance to my life.  My brother paid so many parking fines when he came to visit, he practically single-handedly funded the building of the borough’s new civic centre.  Cars were just a pain in the backside and anyway, you would only get caught in traffic for hours on end or stung by the congestion charge if you tried to drive one.

A year later, I am in The Provinces and everyone has a car.  Especially, it seems, people with children.  Some of them have never even been on a bus.  And then there is me.  Me with my pushchair parked outside the swimming pool, come rain or shine, taking nearly an hour to get to the pool by bus when Google Maps claims it’s only an eleven minute drive, and relying on the kindness of friends and family to drive us anywhere that isn’t on the bus route.  And I have an even more terrible confession to make; one that will certainly have me convicted in the Trial of Middle Class Parenting.

Piglet still has his newborn car seat, over a year past the recommended age limit.  Kill me now, people, for I am a monster.  But forking our hundreds for a car seat with no car to put it in feels like profligate ridiculousness, especially as surely I need to save my pennies for the time when I finally learn to drive and have to endure the fateful moment I have long been putting off: the moment I actually have to drive a car, on my own, with the precious cargo of my child in that car.  Then I will need the world’s most expensive car seat; super-safe, bolted on to the chassis of the car with flameproof diamond bolts, to protect my firstborn from my own inexperienced and inevitably terrible driving.

And the places where children go, these places are always designed with the middle class car-driving public in mind.  Nowhere do I see in the promotional material of any soft play-providing establishment anywhere a mini map, explaining how it’s not at the end of a motorway down a tiny country lane in the middle of an industrial estate, but on the high street, close to all the local amenities and on several major bus routes.  Instead they are always in some godforsaken place surrounded by a bleak but vast expanse of car park and nothingness.  Perhaps people don’t like living near soft play, in the same way that they don’t like living near wind farms, electricity sub stations or the proposed third runway at Heathrow.  I’m not sure I would want to either, if I didn’t have a two year old who enjoys the pleasures of a set of rollers and a crash mat.

And so I continue to load the pushchair onto the bus for yet another journey into the unknown, or play hide and seek in a car park with a small child as we wait for our lift, and he attempts to fill his nappy in peace behind a nearby car, and watch all the other parents, the real middle class parents with husbands and 4x4s, return to their suburban semis with their age-appropriate car seats.  And I hope that driving is not an essential qualification for the middle class parent, for if it is, I have failed the test.

Pink Pear Bear

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma says:

    Well I might have a car but it’s not a middle-class car, I call it the shit tip on wheels, so I must be failing too. Our island and the narrow lanes are clogged up with those monster 4×4 cars and we find ourselves sat in traffic to make a short journey. It’s crazy! If school was in our parish then I would walk it or if there was a decent bus service then I would bus it as these roads drive me crazy.

    1. Min says:

      I can imagine that a car must be essential over there. The bus service here is bad enough. Maybe you could move to Sark. Actually, maybe I will too.

  2. I think you’re only truly middle class these days if you have more than one car. You need to keep up!

    1. Min says:

      That’s true. And maybe more. There are quite a few people in my street who have a whole fleet of cars, mostly in lurid colours like bright green and with spoilers attached, and I wouldn’t describe them as middle class.

  3. Lex Jackson says:

    Oh I’m with you. We don’t have a car either, we live in Manchester though not London. To be honest, if I lived in London I’d probably not have a car even more (if that makes any sense, I’m sleep deprived) and make use of the excellent travel means they have all over the place. Luckily, I am in walking distance to most of my needed places so having a car would be more hard work than needed – I even have a Costa in walking distant. I know I’m showing off now! #bigpinklink

    1. Min says:

      Ooh lucky you! We do have a cafe, but the opening hours are fairly limited and I have to say I prefer the coffee in Costa. Luckily I have one near where I work, although it’s an expensive hobby! I’m glad I’m not the only one without a car 🙂

  4. Meg says:

    You have no idea how much this post resonated with me. (Not that I would necessarily call myself middle class. I don’ think we’re quite there, haha!). I can’t drive. I rely on buses and walking for pretty much everything. It is a pain in the bum. I often wonder what it would be like to have the freedom to throw everything in the car and go and get a Costa instead of having to walk 40 minutes to get there.

    And yes to the soft play thing: WHY are they always in the middle of nowhere on industrial estates?! Why?!


    1. Min says:

      Me too! And the freedom to go away for the weekend, go camping with all your luggage in the boot rather than on and off trains, go to a big supermarket instead of a local one….it must be bliss!

  5. Sarah says:

    Oh DON’T. I’ve failed 5 times now. Five. London is evil and everyone driving around it is a maniac and it is costing me so much bloody money 🙁 Thanks for linking up to #chucklemums!

    1. Min says:

      I know! Tbh that’s not giving me much hope for when I finally start learning again. How do other people do it?

  6. Alina says:

    And I am just the same only baby is six months now. We go by bus everywhere. No train as I can’t lift the pushchair and baby on the infinite stairs of the stone age Perivale station. And here I am walking back and forth or taking the bus around London. I am scared of being stuck in traffic with the baby getting hungry and screaming her head off so a car is exactly what will help me get there/

    1. Min says:

      I have been on many a West London bus with a screaming baby so I feel your pain! And I have a post about lugging the pushchair up the stairs at South Ruislip! What is it with that Central Line?

  7. MMT says:

    Who wants to be a middle class parent anyway?! Sod em!

    For what it’s worth Min, even if you could drive, and did have said car, you would only be judged by the TYPE of car you have anyway…

    Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub

    1. Min says:

      True dat. But then in my imaginary world where I have a car, it’s always something sensible but with a hint of cool, which is pretty much how I’m styling myself these days. I hope.

  8. I wish I was brave enough to attempt public transport with my two. I’m sure it would save us a lot more money and relieve a lot of stress from paying out for our wreck of a car! Thank you for sharing with #bigpinklink x

    1. Min says:

      Thanks for hosting!

  9. Totally get where you’re coming from! I’m so glad I’m not the only one! Although I am now taking lessons and working up the confidence to take another test ? It’s so bloody expensive but I do like the idea of having more freedom. It does frustrate me how some people react when I say I don’t drive though! Great post!

    1. Min says:

      I know-some people who drive seem to think that life is literally impossible without a car. Although it can be slightly inconvenient, it’s really not a major problem!

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