Sunday, October 22, 2017

My kids are old enough to walk home from the bus alone. There is no rulebook that says this; I just decided it on my own after they once asked if they could walk home themselves and noticed other kids doing the same. I have put in many years of racing to the bus at inconvenient times of day, and have well earned my badge of freedom from this difficult task. But, my middle-school child is now on the late-bus, and it arrives after dark. This bothers her, especially after she was recklessly informed by a friend of those elusive killer-clowns that had been rampant in New Jersey earlier this year.

“Mommy, please pick me up from the bus!” she begged, breathlessly, slamming the door behind her one dark afternoon, which really felt like an evening. She was coughing from having run home so quickly. “I think I saw a clown!” She seemed distraught. The clowning thing didn’t really bother me; I was pretty confident there would be no clowns hanging out on our corner, but I did remember being scared, as a pre-teen, to walk home from my own bus stop after dark, and having to rely on a nerdy neighbor whose home was closer to the stop than ours was. I’d walk near him, so if someone would try to kidnap me, I could scream and he’d hear, but after he’d reach his home, I’d run like a maniac between the four houses that separated ours, until I reached the safety of my own.

So I decided I’d abandon my cooking, homework routines, and just about everything else at 5:10 every day and be at the dark bus stop to meet my daughter. I’ll admit, I didn’t even like walking there myself the first time; I couldn’t see people more than a few feet in front of me, and suddenly everyone seemed like they could have an alter-ego of a clown. But I quickly got used to the darkened state, and came to appreciate the peacefulness of the streets in the evening, the calming effect the still night had on me, upon exiting my own noisy home.

“Every time the bus nears our stop, I look out the window to see your pom-pom hat waiting for me in the darkness,” my daughter confessed one evening, a few weeks later on one of our chilly walks home. This time together gives her an opportunity to unwind about her day, to be the focus of my attention before beginning homework and supper with the others. She can complain or cry, or brag about how successful she was on a test. It eases the transition to her entering the sometimes chaotic house, and settling into her nightly routine.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t always pick up my other kids from their earlier bus stop. I do as often as I can, but they have each other, and it’s still light outside. For her, it seems more urgent. And even though it may not be such a big deal if it were me being dropped off at this point in my life, and asked to walk home in the dark, I removed myself from my own framework and tried to really visualize hers. She felt safer with me around. I’d try my hardest to gift her that security, that bit of comfort, until the days of darkness are no longer upon us.

It was at the end of a particularly long and draining week, during which three of my kids had the flu and strep, and the finale was that my youngest child spent the day bossing me around and being overly demanding. He still had a low-grade fever and was not entirely back to himself. I just wanted some quiet in the house, and if that meant that I had to print and cut out a million coloring pages and then color them in with him, and attach them all on a string and then on to a bracelet in a very precise manner, then so be it. I literally ate lunch at 3:30 and it was a marathon of taking care of the kids’ needs with no time for myself.

Later that evening, after I completed the race, and put my youngest to bed, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. My daughter looked at me and said, “Mommy, I think you need a hug.” Now, we are not a very huggy family. We generally keep our hands to ourselves, and she had never before really offered to just come over and offer some empathy.

I looked at her with a mix of appreciation and curiosity, and asked, “Why?”

And she said, “Because you don’t have anyone waiting for you at the bus at the end of your day, who could make things better for you. I see how tired you are and how patient you were with Liad, and I’d be banging my head against the wall. I think you just need a hug.” My face became radiant; and it wasn’t just because I definitely was in need of a meaningful embrace. As a kid, she was able to appreciate the challenging work of a parent, and to give it recognition. It was a moment where I’d felt understood, saved, in a sea of other drowned ones.

All of those afternoons of rushing to get out the door in time for her evening bus had subtly paid off. She felt the warmth of my presence and how it could melt away her stress, and because she saw value in my efforts, she knew how to reciprocate the sentiment to others in need. This felt like the greatest reward.

There were many weeks this year where I doubted my capabilities and choices as a mother. I am constantly plagued with thoughts of, “Am I making the right choice?” and “Am I messing them up?” amongst other moments of self-questioning. But then, sometimes you get the answer, a big, resounding pat on the back that indeed, it was the correct decision, because your illuminated pompom means something so profound to your child. I may not always be there, shining in that solitary spotlight, ready to swoop in and save her, but those nightly walks have made changes, created the impact, pushed her in the right direction, home.

By Sarah Abenaim

 Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at [email protected]