Sunday, January 03, 2010

BUS STORY # 166 (Babies On Board)

There’s a charter school along one of my routes. During the school year, the students make up a sizeable portion of the commuter ridership.

Given that one of the purposes of charter schools is to serve students with families, it’s not surprising there are several young mothers with children among the students.

“Babies raising babies,” says Davis,* a semi-regular commuter I’ve gotten to know some since we get on and get off the bus at the same stops.

He says this in a voice that sounds compassionate rather than judgmental or “oh well,” and when I get in a sidelong look at his face, I wonder if he knows something about this business most of the rest of us don’t.

Davis and I have followed one of the young moms from the time she showed up at the bus stop with an armful of blanket and a diaper bag almost as big as she is. She was very quiet, kept to herself, and her baby was the whole of her world.

Last fall, when the weather was cooling off, we both had some concerns about her baby’s bare feet and thin clothing. Davis told me he was thinking about getting some baby shoes and winter clothes for her. I offered to go halves, but we worried about inadvertently offending mom: two old guys suggesting maybe she wasn’t taking good enough care of her baby – especially if done where others could see. But doing it privately had way too much creep-out potential. We thought about how to do this anonymously. I was wondering if we could enlist the bus driver.

We were both relieved on the first chilly day when baby had shoes, knit hat, and a heavy blanket. These days, we know she’s in good hands.

Several times last year, we saw her with a young boy who was as small and quiet as she was. We thought he was pretty attentive to mom and baby, and we liked that he was there. We found ourselves pulling for them. Sometimes he’d ride with her to school, sometimes he’d just see them off at the stop. And sometimes he wasn’t there.

We haven’t seen him for quite a while, now. But she’s still going to school and still has her baby as the center of her world. She seems more relaxed and connected with her fellow student-moms these days.

If I leave work early enough, I’ll catch a bunch of them boarding with their strollers and bags. They’re all chattering away while pulling the kids out of the strollers and folding up the wheels and rearranging their bags and settling in with the kids on their laps or cradled in their arms, all done with an efficiency and effortlessness that make me wonder about my struggle with my backpack.

This semester, I haven’t gotten off from work early enough to catch the “school” bus more than two or three times. But when I have, I’ve noticed an anomaly: a dad with a baby, stroller, bag and all.

The last time I saw him, I was in the back end of a 300, and he and all the moms rolled their strollers back and settled in all around me. I noticed he was as familiar and easy with the settling-in routine as the moms, and I figured he’d been doing this for a while.

There was a lot of good-natured bantering, and he could talk home care with the best of them. And like the moms, he didn’t miss a sound or a squirm from his baby, no matter what was going on.

I thought about how comfortable this guy seemed in a situation I suspected most of his peers would find uncomfortably not macho.

And then I got to thinking about the flip side: here he was, surrounded by – heck, taken in by – a bunch of young girls who had to be impressed by what a dad he was, and maybe wishing the fathers of their children were even just a little like this guy . . .

Next thing I know, I’ve re-imagined a Jim Beam ad on TV: sensitive young single dads with their cute babies surrounded by beautiful young women alternating their adoring glances between baby and dad . . . cut to the line of guys in front of the rent-a-baby booth and the voiceover: “Guys never change.”

My little Dreamworks was obliterated by a loud and angry voice. His. He was on his cell and he looked like he wanted to stand up and stomp around.

“Why are you calling?”

It sounded domestic, and I sensed he did not want to hear and very much wanted to hear whatever she – no question it was a she – had to say.

“You walk out on us for two months, we don’t know where you are, and now you want to come back because you say you miss us!”

He was oblivious to all of us. We, of course, were stunned and riveted. I could see he was distracted for once from the baby in his lap. He looked like he wanted to explode.

The conversation ran its angry course. He snapped the cell shut and thrust it into his pants pocket.

“I can’t _______ believe the nerve of her!”

The moms wisely refrained from trying to soothe him.

A few minutes later, I reached my stop. I remember thinking I couldn’t believe any of those babies, especially his, hadn’t started crying with all that anger swirling in the air. It was easier than thinking about the harder stuff.

*Real name changed.

The photo at the top of this story is titled On the Bus Heading Back to Boseong and is posted with the kind permission of cholmondelly. You can see this and all cholmondelly's photos on Flickr at:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved this story, you take a situation that I once considered all wrong and help me realize it is a lifestyle choice and it isn't going to go away because of my disapproval. These are young people making the most of their situations and perhaps are better parents than many "grown-ups".

11:36 AM  
Blogger Nathaniel said...

Wow. Your writing is amazing and you really bring this story to life about the dad - it's always good to remember sometimes the dads do stick around and are quiet heroes.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thank you both for your kind words.

9:58 PM  

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