The school bus stop is a scary place for moms. I usually disguised myself as an ordinary mom, hiding my pajamas under a long winter coat and high boots. But, the Super Mom inside me was ever vigilant and ready to burst out at the first sign of trouble. Of course, the other neighborhood moms were there too. If a car failed to stop at the four-way stop sign or we saw any other infraction, we’d be all over them like the Avengers. That was the elementary bus stop, right at our corner.
In middle school, there’s a different street where the bus picks up kids. It was three whole blocks away and on a busier street, far away from the stoplight which slowed the speeding drivers. When my oldest son, Garry, started middle school, he was too quiet to come out and say, “Mom, don’t come to the bus stop with me. That will make me look like a baby,” but I knew he was thinking it.
I didn’t know these middle school kids. They weren’t from our little block of the neighborhood where I knew the names, faces, and personalities who had been in and out of our house after school and on weekends for years. I didn’t know the neighbors there either. The bus stop was at an old house that had been converted to several apartments. People moved in and out quickly and I didn’t know who lived there.
The first day of school finally came. Garry left our house with his new backpack and headed north to the busy road. Luckily, I had a plan to keep Super Mom disguised, but a long coat and boots wouldn’t cut it this time. I watched him from our porch which was out of sight of the new bus stop. When Garry was about a block away, I made my move. Really, all I did was follow him. I dressed up that morning with new jeans, a light sweater, and fresh makeup to look like a woman in the neighborhood, not a mom. Lots of concealer hid the bags under my eyes that were a tell-tale sign of the tired mom.
I tried to look nonchalant and only glance occasionally in his direction instead of staring at him the whole time. Garry came to the busy road, looked both ways, and crossed. My heart leapt. There was proof that I got an A on my Mommy Report Card in the subject of Safety!
It was hard to keep my pace slow and leisurely for the brief moments after Garry turned left and was out of sight. I took several more steps and then around the corner, there were the middle school kids bunched up on the sidewalk near an old gray house. One boy was sitting on a porch step staring down at his lap. Most of the other kids were in small groups talking. A few already had the slouch posture that was more common in apathetic high school students. No one was misbehaving or bullying. At least on first assessment, this group had the potential to be nice. If there were any delinquents, they were also in disguise that morning.
Garry stepped into the perimeter of kids, stopped, and just stared across the street. This was classic behavior for my first born child. It’s amazing that he’s always made friends easily and yet shows no visible signs of interaction. As a baby at the beach, he magically drew bigger kids over who wanted to play with him. It clearly had nothing to do with his conversation skills. When I took him to the zoo, animals who were nocturnal would feel his presence and wake up to come see him.
With each step, I grew closer to the group. Again, I practiced looking them over in the way that a random woman sizes up random kids in public. I only dared to give nonchalant, yet cautious glances. I tried to hide the extra scanning that every Super Mom gives to unfamiliar kids who are with her precious child.
The crucial moment came, I was at the edge of the group. The kids were blocking the sidewalk, so I stepped into the road and walked around. None of the kids made a comment to me. No one tried to stare me down. Middle-aged women are largely invisible to teenagers so I never expected them to move out of the way for me. With my back to them now, I stifled a sigh and continued toward the corner store another block away.
I don’t remember what I bought. Maybe it was gum, a lottery ticket, or a block a cheese. There had to be a purchase to make it look like a legitimate stroll by any old lady in the neighborhood. I paid cash and quickly left the store.
When I stepped out, the sidewalk was empty. There were no kids on the apartment steps. It seemed like they had been vacuumed into the bowels of the school bus during my short time in the store. It happened so fast, I didn’t gather all the intelligence I was hoping for. Did anyone push and shove to be first in the bus? Were they kind to the bus driver? I didn’t find that out. All I got was a first impression and it was good, but superficial.
The adrenaline of my spy mission was gone in that instant and I allowed myself a full, big sigh. All that was left is the hollowness a mother has when her child leaves, even if it’s only for a few hours. The walk home felt endless. The Super Mom, the Spy Mom was gone. All that was left was Mom.