We are a one-car family; my husband and I share an economical, sensible vehicle that is no larger than what we absolutely need. During the weekday, the car is with my husband at work, leaving Han Solo (my new internet pet-name for my boy because yes, we are geeks) and I sans personal transportation. You may be thinking how noble we are to make such a sacrifice for the environment, to reduce our entire family's carbon footprint to that of just one person. If you spotted me and my boy waiting at the bus stop, his stroller laden down with groceries in reusable shopping bags, you might nod approvingly as you sped by in your air-conditioned SUV, thinking, now there's a true environmentalist.
I wonder if you would think the same thing about the Mexican lady sitting on the bench next to me, who is also toting children and groceries. The thing is, she's probably there for the exact same reason I am--her family cannot afford for her to have a car. Like me, she's probably grateful to have any transportation option at all, and considers a walk (it's a half mile from my front door to the bus stop and I'm guessing that's about average) followed by a five to fifteen minute wait in the sun and humidity while traffic whizzes by just feet away, to be a reasonable price to pay to be able to leave the house and go somewhere. Yet my hypothetical SUV driving environmentalist would probably not notice her at all, relegating her to the background, just another expected part of an everyday commute.
I say this not to point out what a racist a-hole the SUV driver is (though I am starting to dislike this pretend person), but to illustrate how unusual it is for a white woman my age to take her young child on the crosstown bus. Sometimes I catch people looking at us with a quizzical expression, as if wondering what the hell happened to put us in such a position.
For the most part, my bus-riding experiences have been positive. People smile at my son, help me lift my stroller if it's obvious I'm having trouble juggling all the crap I'm carrying, and switch seats just to give Han a better view. But there are also some unsavory characters on the bus, young guys who swear loudly and holler at the young ladies on their way to the community college, folks who are clearly a little deranged, and rundown types who smell like they just crawled out of a bottle of Night Train. Some of the bus drivers are surly cranks who gaze at my son with undisguised hostility, seeing us as yet another in a string of time-consuming hassles putting everyone behind schedule. It's a mixed bag, is what I'm saying, and I never know what to expect.
There are two ways of looking at this. One, it is terrible that I have to subject my son to potentially frightening strangers just to get to the grocery store. It sucks that buses are not only designed without regard to mothers transporting young children, but they seem to actively inhibit them. It blows that it may be up to a year before we get our finances to the point where a second car is even possible. It bugs me that buses are exclusively the domain of poor people, and that the SUV environmentalist will never truly understand the situation that I and the unnoticed Mexican lady share.
All of these things are true, but I still prefer to look at this from a second perspective: every bus ride is an adventure. This sounds stupid at first (at least it did to me) until you remember that "adventure" is not synonymous with "fun." Think about the great adventures of movies and literature--they were each a series of tests, designed to educate and toughen the characters. The heroes of these stories learned from, and were often made better by, the trials and tribulations they overcame while trying to reach their goals.
Now, our goal is just to get to the grocery store and back, and we are rarely tested by anything we can't easily handle. But there's a sense whenever we walk away from the house, of setting off, of knowing where we're going but not everything that will happen between here and there. I want my boy to know that we can handle whatever comes, that we are no better or worse than the people around us, and that fear is normal but you can't let it stop you from going where you need to go.