My preschool son Theo ran straight to our heavily bumper-stickered Subaru Outback, which greeted the two of us when we returned from Atlanta last Sunday at midnight. He threw open the door and jumped into the comforting embrace of his beloved convertible car seat.

“There’s Theo’s car!” enthused my husband, who had driven to the Portland Jetport from Brunswick to pick us up. It always feels like a homecoming when we return to Maine, where being a committed one-car family with a snow-suited Subaru or a fuel-efficient hybrid, and a husband who walks or bike-commutes to work, is a cliché we are happy – and admittedly privileged – to embrace.

We loved visiting my sister Elaine, whose family just welcomed their second son (I’m due myself in September). We soaked up Atlanta’s cultural and even sustainable attractions, such as the developing 22-mile BeltLine corridor, encircling downtown by rail and trail, to connect the city’s in-town neighborhoods and ample parks.

That’s a breath of fresh air from the SUV-driving commuters who clog interstates going to and from the city’s sprawling suburbs. Atlantans live farther away from their workplaces than commuters in any other large metro area in the nation, according to a recent Brookings report.

Still, my sister, whose family flocks to Belgrade Lakes for summer respites from the heat, brings some Maine eco-transportation values back to the South. She bought a Subaru shortly after we did and remains the only one of her friends to drive one; many of ours here do. We crammed three car seats into the back of hers during our visit. (The families I polled on Facebook through my Maine New Mama Tribe secret (shh!) group posted about the chaotic juggling act of staying single-car, or no-car, with a new baby, or when adding a second or third baby, especially when both parents go back to work full time.)

My sister’s family technically owns only one car now, too. Instead of replacing his old second car, her husband, Shep, enrolled in Clutch, a monthly subscription service expected to roll out to other cities soon; it allows him to lease a sporty or fuel-efficient car for commuting, which he can then exchange for a pickup truck, for example, for a weekend of yard-work hauling.

With myriad car-sharing and carpooling apps, public transport and bike-commuting options, one-car families – once the norm in an era of 1950s housewives with husbands who train-commuted to the city for work – appear to be on the rise again, not just in green southern Maine but across the nation.

Perhaps we’ve finally realized that long traffic-jammed commutes tax our well-being, gobbling up time better used for sleep, exercise, cooking and social interaction. The research shows that such unpleasant trade-offs make us less satisfied with our lives in general.

Imposing the simplifying constraint of one car upon our family is a “commitment device,” says my economist husband, Dan, forcing us to walk, bike and carpool more than we otherwise would.

As a couple, we’ve shared one car for much of our 12 years together. In fact, we were both car-free when we met in New York City, where owning a car is an expensive hassle. When Dan moved to Baltimore for grad school, he ran errands with his late grandfather’s Toyota Camry. When I followed him there, he donated the old Toyota to public radio, and I sprang for a Honda Civic hybrid for my 45-minute reverse-commute to the most rural bureau of The Baltimore Sun.

We have the luxury to stay one-car because my husband works predictable hours as a college professor. In Brunswick, we’re not uncommon, as many of my husband’s colleagues also walk or bike to work. We paid a premium to buy a house in a near-campus neighborhood, where the real estate market is tight and inflated. But we bought a Cape half the size of what our money would buy in a neighboring town. Our small house takes fewer resources to heat, plus we save the extra $9,000 per year on average it costs to own and operate a second car – which wouldn’t fit into our Cape’s one-car garage come winter anyway.

Bicycling makes the one-car lifestyle more feasible. It’s the second-favorite transportation mode of car-obsessed Theo, who turns 4 this month. He’s just taken his borrowed big-boy bike, sans training wheels, out for a successful solo ride. Kids learn young these days.

Since Theo was 3 months old, I’ve also bike-commuted with him attached in our Craigslist-scored, rugged Chariot trailer. We often travel to the farmers market or food coop this way, both when we lived in Car-Free Day-celebrating Corvallis, Oregon, and now here in Maine.

In community-minded Brunswick, we one-car families help each other out. In a pinch, when I had a late afternoon work assignment, my husband’s colleague drove him to ferry our son home from day care. And I installed a second second-hand car seat in our Subaru to drive Theo and his one-car family buddy, Zella, to a Music Together class in Bath most Fridays. That enabled Zella’s father, a musician who must remove her center car seat to accommodate his ample bass every time he drives his hatchback to a gig, to stay home with Zella’s infant sister.

Having one car keeps conspicuous consumption in check, too. We run errands in consolidated trips. And when my husband has our only car and I am carless, it encourages creative improvisation in the kitchen, requiring substitutes as in my flexible fruit crisp recipe below.

I must confess we’ll cheat next year on my husband’s academic sabbatical, visiting the University of Virginia in his hometown of Charlottesville. He’ll trade his 10-minute walk to Bowdoin for an unfeasible hour-long walk to campus from the house we’re subletting. Fortunately, the lease includes free light use of an old Ford Taurus.

Come fall, I’ll be tied down with a second babe, anyway. And I’ll welcome those long walks into town to burn off the baby fat and lull our newborn to sleep.

CAR-FREE RHUBARB, OAT AND PECAN CRUMBLE

A lazy gardener, I favor perennial plants – rhubarb, raspberries – that bear fruit year after year, despite my neglect. A lazy baker, I prefer fruit crisps to pies, which require making and rolling pie crusts. When you’re without the family car, use whatever fruit is on hand. And if your kitchen is bare of flour, sugar, butter, pecans or cornstarch, substitute what you have on hand – barley or buckwheat flour, maple syrup or honey, coconut oil or lard, almonds or walnuts or tapioca pearls. This recipe comes from the cookbook “Rustic Fruit Desserts,” a personal favorite, by Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber.

Serves 8 to 12

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, for dish

FOR THE CRUMBLE:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING:

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 1/2 pounds rhubarb (I just eye-balled enough to fill my baking pan), trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces; about 10 1/2 cups prepped

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart baking dish.

To make the crumble, mix the flour, oats, brown sugar, pecans and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the butter, then press the mixture together with your hands to form a few small clumps.

Freeze while you assemble the filling.

To make the filling, rub the sugar and cornstarch together in a large bowl, add the rhubarb and vanilla and toss until the fruit is evenly coated.

Transfer the rhubarb mixture into the prepared pan and scatter the crumble over the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the filling bubbles up through it.

Cool for 20 minutes before serving.

STORAGE: This crisp is best served the day it is made, but leftovers are good the next morning for breakfast. Keeps at room temperature for two to three days.

Laura McCandlish is a Brunswick-based food writer and radio producer. Follow her on Twitter @baltimoregon and read her blog at baltimoregon.com.