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'90s FAMILY | REAL LIFE

Commuting With Junior Can Work for Everyone

September 15, 1996|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When 4-year-old Brandon Kavanaugh started kindergarten this fall, he grabbed his Power Rangers lunch box and backpack and climbed into the car with his parents for an 18-mile commute.

Like many schoolchildren, he's used to it. Ever since he was born, his parents, Lou and Mike Kavanaugh of Chino Hills, have been taking him--and later his two younger sisters--with them to Fullerton where they work. The children stay with her mother and now Brandon has enrolled in school there.

Little commuters like Brandon are growing up on freeways, city buses and trains as a result of some traditional, some new and some expanding options for working parents: private school, school choice, open enrollment, on-site day care and even a few new public schools at the work site. Like many decisions for today's working families, it's a trade-off.

Lou Kavanaugh, an office manager at Fullerton College, said she can be close to her children in case of an emergency, plus she knows they're safe. "I don't trust anyone other than my mom to care for them," she said.

But the family has to rise at 4:45 every morning to get ready for the 40-minute drive, an experience that rivals a family car vacation. Once, Lou said, Brandon asked if they could pick up their house in Chino Hills and just move it to his grandmother's neighborhood.

Likewise, 5-year-old Robby Abramowitz has been commuting on Amtrak from Fullerton to downtown Los Angeles since he was 3 months old. His mother, Penny Nagler, an attorney, said that for her, it's been wonderful having his day care in the same building as her office. She read to him and played with him on the train. "I didn't miss his childhood."

But recently, he began to complain. "His day was so long. He would just get home at night, eat and go to sleep." Plus, she said, "He wanted friends. Any play date was always two hours away on the weekend." When he entered kindergarten, she opted for a neighborhood school in Yorba Linda. His father, a consultant, can pick him up from school.

A former commuter mom, Marylouise Carlisle of Rancho Santa Margarita, traveled by train for two years with her 5-year-old son, Jackson, to Fullerton College, where she worked as an administrator and he went to day care.

The train moms I talked to said their children enjoyed the commute and delighted the conductors and (some) fellow commuters who watched the children grow up. But the schedules prevented them from making connections with neighbors--even those fleeting ties with shopkeepers, teachers and parents of children's friends--that add up to a sense of community.

Neva Root, a child development instructor at Fullerton College, said the commuting parents who miss those connections can still create them with intentional efforts to sign their children up for teams and lessons on evenings and weekends. Now working at home, Carlisle said she chose a neighborhood kindergarten for Jackson partly for the quality and partly, she said, because "I want him to feel he has a block, a street. . . . I wanted him to know this was his home. I think community means home."

* Lynn Smith's column appears on Sundays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or via e-mail at lynn.smith@latimes.com. Please include a telephone number.

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