First and third grades, here they come!
My Chicklet is a woman’s woman. Almost as soon as she could talk, she was proudly asserting her gender identity – and allegiance. Now she’s eight and a half, and for the last few months, she’s been talking about feminism and women’s rights in ways I hadn’t even thought to introduce to her yet. Her delivery is a bit on the self-righteous and unforgiving side – she comes by that naturally (ahem) – but she’s not wrong about any of it.
Chicklet’s newfound feminism has caused some sibling tension. Whenever she makes an assertion about men’s role in women’s oppression, or asks to participate in something that is for girls only, her little brother gets upset. Really upset.
In their most recent exchange, he burst into tears as soon as the subject came up. “Don’t say stuff like that,” he sobbed. “You’re making me feel bad about my gender!”
Sweet Busling is one of the most open-hearted, fair, and inclusive people I have ever known. In his world, the power balance is clearly tilted in favor of his older sister, whom he adores and looks up to. And, though his dad and I have been proactive about teaching the historical roots of racism, we have kept most of our discussions about gender to general concepts of equality, which Busling has taken to heart. He simply doesn’t see sexism as something that hurts women. Instead, he sees any attempt to single out or exclude someone based on their gender as wrong. And, he is personally offended by any suggestion that there is something wrong with being male.
For months, I have struggled with how to handle Busling’s reactions to his sister’s gender-related complaints and assertions. My instinct has been to comfort him, to push aside my daughter’s very valid critiques in the interest of protecting his feelings. After all, he has no context for understanding women’s oppression. And he certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. Plus, he’s my baby! Every time I look at his sweet face, I want to reassure him that everything is OK.
But here’s the thing: Everything is not OK. Sexism and misogyny pervade our culture. If I avoid or dismiss or sugar coat the truth so that my child can feel good, I have done him – and all of the girls and women he will interact with in the future – a disservice. And really, we’ve had enough recent examples of self-absorbed, entitled young men who see their feelings as more important than someone else’s freedom or safety.
My son’s perspective about women’s equality is my responsibility. (Actually, it’s mine and his father’s, but you get the idea.) He doesn’t have any context about women’s oppression because he is new to the world, so it’s my job to provide it. This doesn’t mean I should teach him to feel bad or guilty about being a boy. Instead, I must teach him that oppressive, hierarchical systems hurt everyone, that his freedom is bound up with everyone else’s, and that it is his responsibility to challenge systems that harm people.
Experiencing my own child’s inability to recognize sexism has helped clarify many things for me, including the refusal of many seemingly sane white people to acknowledge the existence of racism. In the past, I assumed that such people feigned ignorance to mask their hostility or indifference to black and brown pain. But now, I am starting to understand that they simply have no context.
Racism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy are facts of life in the United States — part of the very foundation of our country. And yet, it is possible for white children to make it to adulthood without ever being forced to deal with this reality. Schools do not teach the truth, and parents – even those who consider themselves anti-racist – often exacerbate the problem by avoiding difficult conversations or substituting platitudes like “skin color doesn’t matter” for substantive dialog.
Of course we want our children to feel good and have a pleasant life, but our children’s comfort cannot come at the expense of justice. Parents of white children must educate their families (starting with themselves) about racism. They must teach the truth about our nation’s history. They must point out examples of racism and give their children the tools to recognize and resist it in their own lives.
We are all born into systems of oppression we had no hand in creating. Sometimes, they benefit us (in an immediate, individual sense, though certainly not in a long-term collective one); often, they don’t. Either way, it’s our responsibility to help dismantle them. Even if it’s uncomfortable.
Parenting is really hard. It’s harder than I ever imagined, and I imagined that it was going to be hard. My baby whispering skills are legendary, but with actual children, I have no idea what I’m doing. Most days, I feel like I’m messing up motherhood — and maybe even my kids.
Then yesterday, at the 8 stop, I looked over at my progeny and saw them doing this.
It wasn’t a surprise — they read every time we wait at a bus stop (or anywhere else, for that matter) — but in that moment, after a morning of whining, arguing, and selective hearing, it was a gift.
It looks like I’ve managed to get at least one thing right.
Today is the seventh year that Bus Driver Appreciation Day has been a thing. In the last couple of years, it has really picked up steam, with transit agencies from across the country–including King County Metro–promoting the day. Along with the agency involvement has come a minor, seemingly innocuous change to the name of the celebration–to Transit Driver Appreciation Day.
Of course all transit drivers are fantastic and important and blahblahblah, but the purpose of this day, March 18th, is to honor BUS drivers. A good bus driver is like a superhero. Maneuvering a gigantic vehicle in traffic while managing passenger needs, trying to keep a schedule, not kill anyone, and deal with occasional (or not-so-occasional) drama has got to be ridiculously difficult—especially if you never get to go to the bathroom.
As for me and mine: We’ll stick with the original name.
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions (here and here and here and here), my fellow bus riders are a creative bunch. One of the many areas through which they express their creative energy is cursing. If there were a world cursing competition, it would be held in the back of a bus. Or at a stop.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
I am prepared to (and in fact regularly do) talk to my children about what we witness, experience, and overhear on our travels. I think of it as their opportunity to learn about the world they live in and my opportunity to teach compassion and reinforce our family’s values. Still, I have a hang-up about bad language–especially certain words–and have always been slightly fearful that my kids would join the ranks of advanced potty mouths before they even had any middle-school friends to impress.
As it turns out, it has (so far) not been an issue. Oddly, neither one of them has ever uttered a bad word—nor seemed even the slightest bit interested in those that are hurled past them with infrequent regularity. In our six and a half years of bus parenting, curse words have never come up.
Until last weekend, that is.
On Saturday, as Chicklet was sitting on the couch, obsessively reading a My Little Pony comic book, she suddenly gasped.
“Mommy, Mommy come here! Come here! This book has a BAD WORD!”
I hustled over, almost excited for an excuse to finally ban this bane from my household for good. (I have no idea why I allowed my children to be introduced to these insidious, equine, purveyors of platitudes, but I rue the day.) Looking simultaneously embarrassed, outraged, and horrified, she pointed out the offensive language:
Here is my Chicklet, on the last Monday of the academic year, heading to school the way she has every day of her kindergarten career.
She and sweet B, who attends preschool on site at her elementary school, have walked (and sometimes run) in every kind of weather, a hilly half mile each way, without missing a single day–or ever being late. A half mile is nothing to my little people, but over an entire school year, those short walks have added up. My babies walked to Portland!
Numbers aside, though, our walks have always been some of our best times together. We meet neighbors, inspect plants and insects (usually on the way home, since we’re almost always in a hurry in the morning), make up games, and talk. When we are walking, they tell me how their days went, what they dreamed the night before, and who they enjoy playing with. And, they ask a lot of questions. The kinds of questions that take time to answer. The kinds of questions that spark more questions.
One of the things I will miss most when my children are grown is our time spent on the ground together, hand in hand in hand.
One of the values Bus Nerd and I bring to parenting is a strong belief in keeping it simple. We try not to overschedule our kids because we fundamentally disagree with the idea that good parenting = schlepping your offspring from one organized activity to the next. On the contrary: We want to build a life that affords time for unstructured play, time with neighbors and extended family, and time to take on responsibilities at home.
Not having a car reinforces this way of living. It is possible (and very common) for driving parents to sign their kids up for back-to-back lessons/classes/sports that are miles apart and for any number of activities across town. It is not possible for us to do this, and I am grateful.
This doesn’t mean that Chicklet and Busling don’t get to participate in activities (though at six and four, they would hardly be deprived if they didn’t); it means that we focus on priorities and on what’s available in our own neighborhood.
Unfortunately for me, there’s a little too much available in our neighborhood.
Chicklet attends our neighborhood public school, which offers a number of great before- and after-school enrichment programs, including chess, soccer, double dutch, and drumming. She wanted to try chess (one of the few activities available for kindergartners), so she stays after school for an hour every Friday to play.
Learning to swim is a requirement in our household, so our kids take swimming lessons. Fortunately, there is a city pool an easy walk from our home. (Unfortunately, Chicklet and Busling aren’t exactly naturals, so I see many, many sessions in our future.)
Sweet Busling has been begging to take a dance class since he could walk. (Note that he danced–on his knees–even before he could walk.) This spring, I finally relented and signed him up for a creative movement class at the community center, which happens to be right next door to the public pool. If it turns out he’s a dance prodigy who simply must take lessons at a “real” dance school (maybe at our friend Maya’s dance school!), we’ll make the effort to get him there. Until then, the community center works just fine.
Against my better judgment (and per her request), I signed Chicklet up for t-ball this spring. The practices are once a week at a neighborhood park far enough away that walking on a weekday evening is not practical. So, we walk a little less than half a mile to the closest 48 stop (don’t get me started), and then bus the rest of the way. Her games are on Saturdays at a field an easy walk from the house.
Whew! How’s that for keeping it simple?
After school’s out, there will be no more t-ball or chess, and I’ll make a rule: one activity per kid, period. Well, plus swimming, I guess—at least until they can both stay afloat.
Since the last time I posted (in August—ahem), the Bus Fam has been through a few transitions.
For one thing, Chicklet started kindergarten (!), moving us to yet another stage in our bus lives: parenting a school-age kid.
At some point, I will share more extensive thoughts about our experiences so far. For now, I’ll say we are extremely fortunate that there is an amazing preschool on site at Chicklet’s elementary school. Having one drop-off is helpful to all parents; it is the holy grail for bus parents.
We live too close to the school to qualify for a yellow bus, so we walk the half mile both to and from. The route I catch from there to work comes every half hour at peak, so timing can be tricky. Also, there’s weather. But the frantic morning rush and occasional drenching downpours are more than made up for by the joy of spending the beginning of each day on the ground in our neighborhood, hand in hand in hand.
To solidify her full-fledged kid status, Chicklet went and turned six (sniff!), which means she has reached official fare-paying age. (More on this in a later post.) We bought her an Orca card of her own for her birthday, and she wears it on a lanyard as needed. (Otherwise, it’s stored in my bus bag.) The first time she used it was on an 8-ride to Seattle Children’s Theatre, to celebrate her birthday with her oldest friend.
Sweet “baby” Busling grew all the way up; he’s four these days (!!!). On our morning walks to school, he likes to pretend we’re a family of animals—dolphins or lions or cheetahs or ponies—which can be helpful when we’re in a rush. (I’ve never heard of a slowpoke cheetah.)
We’ve taken two 8 rides to meet actual babies (C & B’s new cousins) at the hospital. And, we’ve taken several rides–on multiple routes–to visit them since.
Me? I don’t need anything–other than for my buses to keep running, that is.
If this month’s emergency ballot measure fails, and Metro is forced to make cuts, our family will lose our three most-used routes. Two of our remaining regular routes will be reduced. Only one will remain untouched.
These are not minor inconveniences that require slight adjustments. This is a wholesale dismantling of the bus system as we’ve known it.
Unlike many people who will be affected by the cuts, Bus Nerd and I have the option to buy a car. (By that I mean, we can afford one, we are able-bodied, and we know how to drive.) I have tried to prepare my mind for this possibility and have found that I am completely incapable of imagining it. Not to get all Thelma and Louise, but something has crossed over in me. This bussin’ birdie can’t go back in the car cage.
But not wanting to live a particular way is not the same as not being able to. If we cut bus service, we will cut off basic mobility for thousands of people across the county who don’t have the luxury of deciding whether to buy a car. We will take away people’s access to employment, education, health care, and vital community connections. We will marginalize our elders and our youth, our neighbors and friends with disabilities, and people who don’t happen to have $8,000+ to spend on transportation every year.
And “vulnerable populations” aren’t the only ones who are vulnerable. All of us, no matter how we get around, breathe the same air, drink from the same water supply, and suffer the effects of our warming climate. All of us pay the health, economic, and environmental costs of our car-dependent culture.
I am hoping hard that the citizens of King County do the right thing next Tuesday–because we simply cannot afford not to.
Two grateful riders celebrate the holiday:
Chicklet, upon passing a photo of the President: “I wish the 578 would take us to Washington, DC.”