On The Bus With Kathy Jo: Good Mom, Bad Kids
I'm trying to hide on the back of the bus but couldn't get a window seat -- no staring outside while my headphones blast, no pretending that I don't know who's on the bus. No hiding. Shit.I spotted them at the stop long before I reached the corner. I'd seen the three of them before. Flurry swirled around them -- they moved like little wooden people on a broken cuckoo clock that keeps striking. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.I hung a right at the corner and walked to a different stop. I don't think they saw me. I'd feel bad because I'm sure they're used to being avoided. But I just wanted one morning where the weather was finally nice and I could walk to and get on a bus without any trauma. Just get from home to work without an event. It's happened before. I know it's possible.The bus screeches to a stop. The thin skin of my lips tightens, my mouth swells dry. They're coming. I feel like a blinking beacon: "Please ignore me" "Please forgive me" but close my eyes and figure they'll sit up front.Something lands on the seat next to me with a force that displaces me. I knew it. This is exactly what I get.I can smell the last hit of her cigarette when she yells at her kids. Even with my eyes closed, I can see them. Her bleached hair, uncombed. Over-sized sunglasses sitting crooked on her face, giving her a constant confused look. Her kids, wrinkled, unruly, wired. The boy wearing new tennis shoes that aren't tied. Cute lady-bug barrettes in the girl's knotted hair.She is the mother from hell with her two demon children. I've seen her at the bustop, smoking Camels, drinking coffee, her kids constantly antagonizing each other like a scene out of a FOX sitcom -- it'd have to be a cartoon though, and every time she swung at one of them, you'd see their heads disappear into their torsos, hear the echo of exaggerated laughter in their chests until their heads pop back up and say "missed me." She keeps swinging.But she's not mean, you can tell she loves her kids, that she tries so hard. Even though they are wretched. Well all kids are wretched but I mean hers have that Children of the Corn paperback glaze in their eyes. I know she's losing her mind, I know what it's like to have kids on the bus. I don't know where to begin, what to say to her. But I can't sit right next to them, not this trio, and act like I don't notice them.After I open my eyes, I see everyone looking at her like she's a terrible mom -- their eyes narrow but glistening with attention. Not wanting to look but feeling entitled. I'd seen the same look a hundred times when I was with my son. We spent about three hours a day on busses for the seven and a half years I went to college.On the days he was good, everyone looked at me like I was the kind of gal you'd see in a Blue Bonnet commercial. On the days he was trying to twirl down the poles or kicked dents in my shins (that I still have) with his Stride Rite shoes because I wouldn't let him run around the bus, everyone looked at me like I was trash. Even bus drivers glared at me from rear-view mirrors.I decide to pull a classic bus maneuver, talk to her, making damn sure that everyone else will hear me. All the world's a bus.I pull off my headset, lean forward and tell her how glad I am that my bus-riding days with my son were over. That's all I said and she whips around and starts talking without breath about how everyone looks at her like the mother from hell and that she has to take those kids everywhere on busses, how just going to the eye doctor takes over an hour each way.Still facing me, she suddenly screams at the kids so loud I jumped thinking I did something wrong. That I was gonna be slapped upside my head. But then she turns and orders her son to sit down and tells her daughter to leave him alone. It was amazing how she was talking to me and still heard everything those kids were doing. Like her life was one short tape that played over and over and over.She was harsh but they listened. I told her stories about my son's lunch box opening and milk spilling everywhere, about how much trouble I had with him. How humiliating it was trying to get help, why I put it off until he was eight.I don't know what I hoped to accomplish. It just made me so mad to see everyone looking at her so harshly while she was obviously so stressed. On top of the grief with her kids, she has to deal with that shit. She knew what everyone was thinking. So she got to tell the bus how hard she was trying.And she calmed down. The kids even seemed to feel bad and mellow out a little. I didn't give her advice or any phone numbers, I just wanted to tell her that it wasn't just her. Even a lady in a mall commercial admitted she hated taking her children in public.But man, everyone looking at her, obviously having such a hard time. Oh, why is it so hard to offer a smile to those who need it most? And what is it about me that made me turn the corner? And what makes me so relieved when I see the next stop is mine?