• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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He Sees Angels in the Architecture

This morning while I was driving to the gym, I saw a little girl, maybe six or seven, refuse to get on the bus. Her mother picked her up to put her on the bus, but the girl thrashed so violently that the mother had to step back off the bus, nearly losing her balance. Then the girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist. A line of cars had formed by now, no one going anywhere until the school bus lifted its stop sign. The mother leaned over the little girl and whispered something to her. By now all the kids on the bus pooled around the front to taste a piece of the action. Then the mother tried to disentangle herself from the daughter’s grip, but she wouldn’t have any of  it. She  picked her up again,  the small body ramrod, and with even more determination  hoisted her on to the bus. I heard her scream, “you have to go to school.” And then the mother descended the bus steps, her head low, and marched grimly home. The school bus heaved a sigh, or so it seemed, and carried on. The ten or so cars also rolled along Dayton Street into an otherwise overcast Monday, each thinking their own thoughts. Me, I cried.

Who are you in this story?

95 Responses

  1. I am the little girl, only it’s my father’s legs that I wouldn’t let go of, as he dragged me into my kindergarten classroom. It was over 40 years ago and I still think about it sometimes. I am the mother, but with my own kids I overcompensated, making myself “available” for them outside the preschool classroom in case they needed me, which of course they never did. I am Betsy, because I would have cried too. I am the bus driver, wishing the little shit would just get on the bus. I am the line of cars, late for an appointment.

  2. The sad little woman in her bathrobe who got in her car and followed the bus all the way to the school to make sure her small son did not hurl himself out the window.

  3. I’m actually both. I’m the little girl as I hated school and I’m the parent as I am now a full time care partner for my young husband with Alzheimer’s, who too will sometimes cling for all his might, for the fear that some moments may bring.

  4. I am the little girl’s ineffectual friend in hand-me-down sneakers, fishing a cookie out of my lunchbox to offer in commiseration. She passes my seat and I eat the cookie myself, as though I meant to.

    • This breaks my heart, Averil.

      I will never pass your seat and I will always accept your cookies.

    • Let’s believe the unchecked emotions of the schoolmate are so scary as to give the shy friend pause. Perhaps, fearing the embarassment if those tears and cries were repurposed into anger at her, she nibbles the cookie to calm her own anxieties.Grateful that her mom packed several, the view ousidet the bus window distracts the shy friend, too. You can forget that you are sitting alone when the sights zipping past the smudgy window creates its own story.

      • Yes you can. But now I have Sarah sitting next to me and we’re playing cat’s cradle with a piece of frayed yarn, trying to do the ladder.

    • You’re such a good egg.

    • Maybe she had to eat gluten free, or was nut allergic. Maybe her mother said to never take food from a stranger. Maybe she was scared or never saw the cookie. Maybe she was a bitch. Maybe, to this day she lives with the regret that she never took the cookie. That’s why she weights four hundred pounds now and her nickname is Tollhouse.

      • More likely she just didn’t notice. When you’re in pain, nobody else matters.

    • I interpreted this as the “ineffectual friend” being too shy to offer her the cookie, not that she turned it down. Sadder and sweeter. Love the tiny portrait here.

  5. I’m almost the mom, but I would have walked grimly home with the kid and let her stay home and watch TV all day while one part berating myself for being such a bad parent, one part being relieved that I didn’t have to watch her cry and one part realizing with self-loathing that tomorrow would be even worse because my daughter had just learned that Mom can be bent to her will pretty damn easily.

    Then I’d tell my daughter that today was special and since I let her stay home today she’d have to go to school without any trouble for the rest of the school year. I’d turn off the TV to make sure she was listening and make her repeat what I’d just said to see if she’d gotten any of my lecture.

    Finally, I’d sneak the treat I was planning to eat when I was alone into my bedroom, turn on my TV and eat until the guilt of snacking on junk food overtook the guilt of letting my kid skip school.

  6. It took me decades to understand that what I remembered as “hazy” images from my kindergarten days were actually what I saw through my tears.

  7. I’m the mom and I pick up the little girl and take her home and say to myself, “We’ll try again another day.” I didn’t want her on that fucking smelly bus anyway.

  8. Spinning in infinity. . .

  9. I’m the reader and the critic, thinking about how you managed to make us cry too.

    My one-year old cries when I drop her at child care, cries when I’m in the same house but have to go upstairs to work. And yet when we’re together, she’s happy to motor off and explore the world and leave me in her wake. The only leaving she can live with is the one she initiates. I don’t imagine that will ever change.

    At least at six or seven she’ll be able to tell me why she’s crying, but that won’t make it easier.

  10. The mom. All the way.

  11. I’m the old-fashioned parent who would have taught my child around the age of three that the penalty for that kind of behavior would be a good spanking. By the age of six, and maybe as many as a dozen good spankings later, that lesson would have been learned and there would have been no such scene on the streets while the school bus was delayed and the traffic backed up.

    A good, flat-handed spanking on the butt, maybe five or ten smacks, works wonders. You don’t even have to pull the pants down.

    • Letting her stay home works out fine. I know.

    • I’m the kid you spanked and now you’re old and alone and wondering why I never visit.

    • I’m right here with you, Tetman, minus the spanking. Expectation and boundaries are critical for children. Fear, not so much.

    • (Smile) There is something to be said for this. Sometimes I overhear a dad who drops off his boy at my daughter’s school, and he’s all about soft parenting and the feelings his son might have about putting or not putting on his shoes. I wonder if I sound like that – at least when I’m not administering the tough-love lessons that in the end may be better for society as a whole. Oh, I’m the mom, grim, so grim until I remember that it’s a small moment in life and I don’t have to go down the vortex. Yippee!

    • Oh,Tet, no, no, no.
      Say it ain’t so.
      You cannot spank acceptable behavior into a child. If you were my dad I’d be running to the bus to get away from you. Oh wait, I was. My dad spanked, not much, but just enough to know it doesn’t work, it just hurt, humiliated and made me pee my pants.
      BUT my dad was one of the greatest human beings who ever walked this earth. He did what he thought he was supposed to do.
      Am I damaged ?
      I don’t remember my father ever reading me a book but I remember every spanking.

    • Nope. Telling a kid it’s not good to hit someone then hitting them when they don’t act in the proper prescribed manner sends the wrong message. I’m not soft, but I want my child to listen and think rather than fear. Easier said than done.

      • I hear you, Mike D. My brother has been in jail for a week for domestic assault. Yesterday I was talking with our dad who is so distraught, and he was going on and on with “where does he get this? who taught him to act this way?” And all I could think was, “Uh, ahem….”

      • I should point out he gave worse than spankings, but still.

      • Sorry to hear about your brother and feel worse for the person (spouse?) he assaulted. It’s good he has you and hopefully the cycle will be broken, not from fear of incarceration, — although it is a powerful deterrent — but from gaining insight into his destructive behavior.

      • Sadly they have a cycle. He beats his wife. She calls the police. He’s remorseful. She spends everyday after trying to get him out of jail. Wash, rinse, repeat.

        No amount of bail money can help that.

      • Teri, it’s more like Sully, Stain, Repeat Offender.

      • Yes, Tetman, yours is a FAR more accurate depiction. Sad as that is.

  12. There was a brief period for my daughter when she wouldn’t get on the bus. She stood in the queue, and the closer she got to the door the more she panicked. The first time the vice principal rode the bus home with her, the second her mother ( a teacher in the school) was called to come get her.
    My thought on it was that if she was willing to risk humiliation from her peers to be seen crying and panicked to get on the bus, it was out of her control. Most of us know that sort of anxiety, and to have it in a kid, it’s heartbreaking.
    I’d be the stepmom who said, if many people I know had help when they were that young, and they learned skills to deal with anxiety…they might have ended in a different place.
    We got her to talk to somebody.

  13. I’m the mom who never had a 5 year old to put on the bus, and though I tell everyone that’s okay, that I didn’t miss anything, it’s all a big lie.

    • And my heart breaks…

      • No worries. When my future grandkids are five, and their parents insist on the bus, I’ll spoil them and take them to school.

    • I remember the day I put my eldest on the bus for the first time. She barely waved goodbye and my own heart hurt. Sometimes I wish I made her father walk her to the stop that day.

    • Spoil away. The best conversations I have had are in the car when they can’t go anywhere and all we get to do is talk. It’s wonderful.

  14. I’m the mother driving her own child to school three cars back from the bus, part of her wishing she had the extra $600 to pay for bus service so she wouldn’t have to sprint into work from the parking lot, part of her determined that her daughter won’t be bullied and groped and beaten down like she was almost every single school day, there and back.

    But the rest of her is just happy to have the time to talk with her daughter and practice singing “The Twelve Cats of Christmas” (number seven on the CD) over and over until they finally get moving again.

  15. When my son was nearly four he cried and clung to me every single morning when I took him to nursery. We’d just come to Italy from Africa. I wept every day. Now I wonder why I even enrolled him there. He’d just been through hell with his father, we all had, and I was trying to normalise everything, maybe too fast. I am the mother, not grim-faced but crying. We never really know what’s behind these scenes.

  16. This post hurts my heart. I was the mom. She’s over 30 now and I can still feel her wailing “noooooo”

  17. Considering it’s the month of May and school is almost done for the year, I’d say this kid was running a temperature and only needed a bowl of chicken soup and some loving cuddles from mom. Either that or there’s some bullying going on on that there bus and mom needs to get on the playground and sort it out. A kid doesn’t just get rigid after 8 months of routine expectation. Now if it were September and you were asking this question, I’d have a completely different response. I’d be the mom walking victoriously down the street, ready to punch out anyone waving a judgmental finger.

    • I was thinking the same thing. It’s May. My mind jumped straight to taunting of some kind or a riff with a formerly comfortable friend. Some of those kids are real douchebags on the bus.

  18. For years, I was the sad bus driver, wary and watching. Children and parents came, went, grew.

    I smile at my grandchildren now, and wonder about all those others, hoping they are well, children and parents.

    • I’ve often wondered about the school bus drivers. Never have I seen one smiling as they clutch that wheel, steering students along our bumpy streets. There was one bus driver, I recall, who stenciled the name “Lena Lamonte” right below her side window. I so wanted to ask if this was a wry comment or if that truly was her name.

  19. Wise words MSB.

    I was the mom/mum three Septembers ago for six weeks, having to peel my kid off me. I’d been looking forward to the victorious walk but by the time she settled, I was on my knees .

  20. I am everyone.

    Standing in the middle of the road in front of our house I wailed because I did not want to go to school. My mother watched from the front window. When the curtain fell across the glass, she disappeared, I walked to school alone.

    One daughter’s face framed by the bus window, she smiled and waved, so excited by the first day. The other leaned against me trembling; a reed against the coming storm, then bravely marched up the steps. Walking toward the house, as the big yellow bus pulled away, I cried, my girls were gone to growing up.

    At drop-off a little boy, hunched under the weight of his huge backpack stepped from his mother’s car and walked the length of the parking lot sidewalk, a hundred yards or so. The mother in the car, sat and watched his every step, first alone, then lost in a gaggle of children. A long line of cars behind her, she did not pull away until he disappeared into the school. My daughters were almost late. I did not begrudge her watching.

    In my mini-van delivering the childhood of my children to the education system of the state I listened more than spoke, and learned more than assumed, as they jabbered on about the coming day. Returning home was more the same. I miss who I was, I miss who they were.

  21. There’s no way I would force that little girl to get on the bus. I have enough trouble just putting my horse in his paddock and driving away.

  22. I’m the little girl in 1st grade, just starting at a new school full of wealthy doctor, lawyer, banker, executive offspring. The trendiest clothes and most perfect haircuts surrounded my tomboy hand-me-downs, unkempt hair and love for worms. My mother was allowed into the classroom to comfort me for a few days. Then my teacher finally forced her to leave. I felt physically sick with loss. I cried a lot that year.

    Nineteen years later my mother drove with me to my new apartment in Bangor, ME where I’d gotten my first “real” job out of grad school. I knew no one, I was 11 hours from home and everything familiar, including my boyfriend of almost 5 years, was gone. My mom stayed for two days, helping me settle in. When we finished a tearful hug goodbye and she drove off in the red Chevy pick-up, the lonely first-grader in me surfaced and I ached for my mother like I hadn’t in almost 2 decades.

    I would have cried on seeing the scene with the kid, the mom and the bus.

  23. I’m neither. But I’m thinking about the rash of articles lately about parents sending their kids to school with a hidden wire and finding out something terrible was going on. There may have been a very good reason why that little girl didn’t want to get on the bus or go to school.

  24. Bus driver

  25. I changed my mind. I’m that exhausted teacher who has to console sensitive young Averil and attempt to teach Tetman’s kid, the boy who keeps popping up out of his seat because his butt cheeks are sore. I have a parent-teacher conference scheduled with MSB after school, though, so that’s something to look forward to.

  26. I am the mother but I like to think I would have had some deep reserve within to determine what was the matter with the kid and why the trauma/drama that morning. If it was because she wanted the pink shirt and not the green or fruit loops instead of cheerios, the girl is on the bus. But MacDougalstreet is right, the routine should be honed right now and it’s happy time in elementary school this time of year so it’s possible something more was troubling the girl. I hope that mom isn’t some kind of mommy dearest, scaring the kid forever. We just don’t know…. I’ve definitely put a teary kid on the bus in my day (I wince about it sometimes) and she still seems to like me now at 25.

    I also might be one of the “cool” kids in the back of the bus sneering at the crying girl because my mother was like Tetman.

  27. I am the wet-faced witness, devastated by the bare terror and grief of the mother and the child. And, ultimately, I am the teacher, confounded by the sad little girl who shuffles into my classroom, encased in her fear and anxiety, unable to see or feel how much I want to make things ok for her at school. I am the teacher, bound by NCLB and CCSS, and all the other buzzy acronyms that wring the color from learning. I am the teacher, and I am sad, too…

  28. I’m the whisper in the child’s ear, known only by two people, guessed at by many and ultimately lost in the breeze.
    I feel bad for the mother because I know how horrible and helpless she must have felt. And I feel even worse for the little girl who for who knows what reasons didn’t want to go to school or get on that bus. Hopefully it was nothing serious and the child just didn’t get enough sleep or was having an escalating tantrum, settling into the day once she got to see her little buddies. If it was something serious, hopefully it will be addressed by a teacher who is still dedicated enough to recognize problems. The mother? She was bound to feel like shit all day, awaiting the arrival of the afternoon bus with anxiety and anticipation, her heart melting like hot candle wax at the slightest hint of a shy smile. Children know, and hopefully they talk.

  29. Oh Betsy, how do you do it? A stunning post, in every meaning of the word.

  30. I am the school psychologist waiting at the school. Seriously, this is what I do.

    • By coincidence, I just got off the phone with our school psychologist. My 9 year old daughter has had some difficulty on the bus these past few weeks. Start with some bullies, add a screaming teacher who’s better suited as a corrections officer and you’ve got yourself a problem. Me. The break in the clouds is that my sweet child knows I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure she has a rightful spot among her peers and that the only people who will be ostracized are the instigators. The message is clear. You mess with my kids, you mess with me. I will never ever back down.

      • My daughter is nine too! 3rd grade. Sigh. End of third grade is usually when I start getting the start of social issues between girls and last week was my turn to be on the MOM end of the equation. We laid in bed talking it through for almost an hour. It is so much harder (emotionally) when it’s your child…

      • My eldest is starting middle school next year. Oy.

  31. I have been the mom, marching grimly, heart breaking. Those are hard times. And, I would have cried, too.

  32. I love Hello Kitty. And, as a Hello Kitty fan I would have driven my daughter to school after finding out what was wrong. Whoops, I DID drive my child to school…for years…and relished in our time together.

    • My little girl rides the bus most days, but once a week or so I drive her in and it’s hard to tell who enjoys the “daddy bus” ride more.

    • Some of the best moments, and most enlightening, were in the car while we went for a drive and talked.

      • I agree. My daughter is grown and I can’t wait for next week when we are going on a day-long road-trip.

  33. I’m the driver in the first car behind the bus. Wondering what is behind the child’s actions. Such emotional energy emanating from the child and mother is like a sunamic wave enveloping me. Its intensity hitting me like a blow to the chest. And I’m back there again, that kid who suffered fear, insecurity, loneliness. As the bus finally drives off I breath out. As I drive past the walking mom I send a silent wish tomorrow will be better for them both.

  34. Betsy…I read your post every day and as everyone who comes here knows I comment quite often. (Hey Tet, spank-man, how was that lunch?)

    Todays post and the comments have brought me to tears over and over again. That you watched and wrote and cried and told us is your gift. Thank you Betsy, from the bottom of my grieving heart.

    • Wry-wry, that lunch was delicious. We walked down a street in a strange world, saw the cattle in the marketplace, bought one and ducked back down the alleyway, did the bonedigger dance and shouted hallelujah, slaughtered the beast, washed our sins away in its blood, spitted the chine and roasted it over an open bonfire of all our vanities (a roaring blaze!), shared it with the scatterlings from the orphanages, and washed it down with shots of redemption.

  35. I am the bus. Trying to hold it all in.

  36. Obvious child.

  37. This little piece makes me think of my son when he went to first grade. It wasn’t the bus it was the classroom door that I shoved him through. Insisting that is was what was best for him. As soon as the teacher would turn her back for long enough for him to make an escape he would. Run home screaming that his heart had stopped beating.

    This went on for months. Lead to a couple visits to a child psychologist actually. I was fierce and afraid as he was very convincing. Came through the door grasping his chest, sweating, and having difficulty breathing.

    Fast forward. I was told years later when I went to visit a clairvoyant that my son was killed in Vietnam which was only about fifteen years before his birth. She said he’d reincarnated immediately and that is what the fear was around. I didn’t want to give her any authority in my life as I am a true skeptic but she told me a few other things that I could not deny and should could never have known.

    I’m finally over the guilt of not being more tender with my young son. But I do wish I knew now… That I could go back and try again.

  38. I’m the bus driver, sad to see a mother and daughter not getting along, not singing about Candy Mountain, and not making kitty masks out of paper plates.

    I don’t want to see conflict, don’t want to be around anger or sadness. I did that for far too long.

    I wrote about it. Help publish it, please.

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