On the Bus With Kathy Jo: Babies & The Bus
There's a baby across the aisle from me who starts shaking his bunny rattle until he gets so excited that he bangs himself right between the eyes with it.After the first hit, he's startled. After the second th-wack, he's startled and quite concerned. He shakes the rattle harder. His mother offers him another toy. He refuses. The mother returns with a "then-don't-listen-to-me-and-we'll-see-what-happens-ya-little-bastard" look, almost a smile.The third time he whacks himself right upside the head. His face wrinkles with injustice as he cries. The mother tries again to get the rattle. No chance.People on the bus show signs of annoyance. The mother offers him a cracker from a Barney bag. He accepts. He immediately bangs himself in the head with it but instead of crying, he eats what's left in his fist. Funny bastard. I mean baby.The bus breathes and the normal drone returns. I inadvertently look over to find the baby staring at me. Smiling as maternally as I can on a bus, I say "hi, little baby."He never blinks as he inhales enough air to let loose a scream that gets even the bus-driver's attention. Never before has a baby looked at me and seen something so wretched, so heinous, that it made him scream bloody murder. It's a real esteem booster for a weekly passholder like myself.Babies, dogs and cats (creatures in our lives with the least intelligence) are often seen in movies as portals of a higher intelligence, a pure intuition. I know what everybody on the bus is thinking: whatever made the baby wail at the sight of me was something hideous in my very soul.I think I smell garlic. The Laura Petri wanna-be with her stirrup pants from The Limited and headband from Hills is bouncing the screaming baby roughly on her knee. All she has to do is give him another cracker but it's like she wants to prolong the effects of my evil to intensify it.One minute I'm riding high, venerating motherhood, contemplating the violence that innocence succumbs to . . . then suddenly everyone's looking at me like I'm a blood-drooling whore carrying Satan's baby.Ah, headphones...I look out the window and calm quickly. I know the mother will only hate me as long as the kid cries. I've never owned a car and have been on the bus with my son, Leo, since he was a baby.When he was three (he's now ten), I started going to Community College on the North Side in Pittsburg. I'd feel like I was the heroine of some After School Special about the realities of parenthood. We started on the Carrick bus at 7 AM: me with my bookbag, him with his Joe Cool lunch box.We arrived in the North Side around 8:30 and I'd be completely spent. Leo used to try and slide down the poles like a fireman. He'd try to stand in the middle of the bus to see if he could keep his balance while it moved. He wanted to run up and down the center aisle. I know how Stride Right shoes feel as they crack your shins while your child throws a fit.I remember how people looked at me as I struggled with him. I could tell who had kids and who didn't by the way they reacted. Other parents see little monsters on the bus and look grateful because theirs aren't with them. When they've experienced a bus ride with a child, they look grateful and scared.Non-parents smirk as they fold their arms over their chests and emit what is part sigh, part huff. They suffer from Pre-Parental Denial. This assures the propagation of our species. After seeing "little brats" throw "fits" on the bus or in the grocery store, they're convinced their children would never behave like that or they'd never have any.Let them think it. Someday the fruit of their loins will peel and eat chewing gum off the black-rubber floor of a bus. Someday they'll understand. But not all of them. Some women on the bus with grown children suffer from Post-Parental Denial. Their children were perfect, just darling. These women were always telling me to put a hat on Leo, to fuss with him constantly, always suggesting something was wrong with him. These are the Moms who wonder why their children never call.Parenthood is an incredible test of character. Knowing that I'm the only person to take care of Leo gives me strength and keeps me grounded. I can't imagine not having him.I lie. Having a child-free life is a re-occurring fantasy. My apartment would stay clean. I would never buy or be tempted to eat another Twinkie. I also love thinking about being a kid again -- people begging me to eat. Man.And I contemplate the days when beating your children was encouraged and even admired. Frightened children are obedient. One night I thought Leo was playing with his Tinker Toys and instead found him cutting holes in the back of all of his shirts 'cause he didn't like tags. My thoughts turned back on the glory days of parenting: Dads with belts, Moms with wooden spoons or hairbrushes -- and a cruel twist, when we'd get a paddle ball as a party favor, as soon as the rubber string broke, Mom would add it to her panoply.That night, Leo was around four, I started telling him how lucky he was that I didn't beat him. I wanted to tell him every gruesome story from my childhood but stopped when I realized that he shouldn't be made to feel grateful for being treated with respect. That's every child's birthright. It didn't seem right to ask him to thank me for it. Besides, I'm not always so good at it.By the end of every August, the boy got whacked. I'd been with him all summer with no money and no car, day and night. Unless you have kids, you can't fathom the variety of ways that they invent to make your life as miserable. The problem is feeling that they do them deliberately. But after hitting Leo and seeing the how-could-you? in his eyes, I knew it was wrong. So I don't abuse Leo, I just fantasize about it.Downtown. I didn't even notice that the baby was gone. Okay. Maybe I got a little intense. It wasn't all that bad -- never is once it's over. But everything seems so intense when strangers are watching, but the more intense things get, the more quickly they're forgotten.No. They're not forgotten, they're actively ignored. I've learned the difference. The crossing guards at Leo's school were issued bullet-proof vests. He and one of his friends were jumped by a bunch of kids outside of his school. He got over it almost instantly. I started eating handfuls of Rolaids. How do you get over being attacked for no reason? And why would five older kids need to do that or even want to?Why don't people seem to understand that although frightened children are obedient, they grow-up to be terrifying teenagers?The low, gray sky looks too tired to rain. How many times have I prayed for a bus; although, it's almost certain one will be coming? I guess that's the whole concept behind faith. That's why I have so little, especially when it concerns our children. No one seems to understand the "our" part.And here's the bus. I get a window seat and take my headphones off. I listen to the engine of the bus rise and fall -- just like everything.Maybe it's a miracle that things aren't a lot worse. Maybe that's the bullshit that justifies what is happening. Ride a bus. Even the worst of us aren't all bad. Even our little wretched children.