Bus Stop Friends
By Molly Sabourin
"Elijah! I am not kidding! You have got to get up this instant!"
I have approximately 15 minutes to get my oldest out of bed and fed, his lunch made and shoes on my younger three before we all run out the door to the end of the street where the bus will pick him up for school. We have only lived in this neighborhood for five months but I have quickly come to realize that the bus stop is a real hub of activity for parents of young children. This is where I find out about the best preschools, parks, teachers and pediatricians. It is fifteen minutes of adult community before a busy day of mothering begins.
Recently, two of my bus top friends and I have started taking turns hosting each other for coffee and play dates. As soon as we wave goodbye to our older kids, we walk with our little ones to one of our three houses in an effort to get to know each other while the children play. Besides the occasional “No, no sweetheart! That stays in the play room!” there is little interruption throughout the hour-long visit.
Being the newcomer, I tried my best, that first time, to portray myself as a mothering veteran who had complete control over her children while also allowing room for fun and flexibility. Throughout the conversation, I nodded appropriately, chimed in with fitting mothering anecdotes, and offered advice based on my eight years of experience as a stay-at-home mom. I liked my new friends. They were funny, hardworking and dedicated to their families. I wanted them to know that I too limit television watching and promote positive, moral behavior. All in all it was a pleasant engagement that naturally wrapped itself up as infants started needing naps and the playroom floor became unrecognizable under toys, books and stuffed animals. I gave the five-minute warning and then we all picked up as best we could. Finally, I had my baby strapped in the stroller, sandals on my daughter, and my diaper bag over my shoulder. “C’mon Benji” I said gently, “It’s time to head out buddy.”
With this announcement Benjamin, my three-year-old, had a complete screaming, kicking, hysterical temper tantrum. Patiently, I knelt down beside him, rubbed his little back and expressed empathy for his feelings of frustration. “I know it’s hard to leave honey but we’ll come back next week and you can play with the toys then.” My two mom friends looked on sympathetically and sweetly confirmed that Ben could absolutely come back and play. For some reason this sound and logical reasoning did not resonate with my son and he replied by upping the volume and reinforcing his death grip on the Buzz Lightyear toy he found in my neighbor’s bathroom. My previous fortitude was now starting to crumble and I leaned in for a stern, whispering reprimand. “Benjamin Leonard, that is enough. Put the toy down and come with me immediately!”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Priscilla had taken off her sandals and Mary was pulling a Houdini with her stroller straps. There was no way this was going to end well for me. All of the work I put forth to portray my family as loving, cohesive and respectful was now being hopelessly unraveled by a vision of me pushing my stroller with one hand, clenching a flailing preschooler by the waist with the other and beckoning a barefoot five-year-old to please follow this train wreck back to our house across the street. “Good bye” I waved nonchalantly like there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary going on here, “thanks so much for having us!”
Thomas Merton once wrote that “Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” It is ironic to me that while waging a battle against the enemy of frustration, guilt, worry and exhaustion we, as mothers, continue to wear our suits of armor even in the presence of our teammates and fellow warriors. This impenetrable exterior certainly disguises weakness but is also very tiring to walk in for long periods of time. After awhile it is only natural to want to rip off your helmet and breathe in some fresh air. Vulnerabilities don’t turn friends away. In fact, without them it is impossible to develop true friendships at all. I was forced to show my hand early on. It is hard to bluff perfectionism when your kids aren’t interested in playing the game.
What seemed humiliating was in fact quite humanizing and my bus stops friends responded by bravely peeling back some layers of their own and thus deepening the trust and appreciation between us. I learned a lot that day. Being forthcoming about imperfections takes a lot of courage… and a few animal crackers make it much easier to lure a preschooler back home.