I have a guilty confession to make: I am hooked on Desperate Housewives. Though I haven’t faithfully watched every season, for its final spring season, I was glued to my television set on Sunday evenings. Of course, the joke in our house has always been which housewife I’m most like—I’ll let you draw your own conclusion on that one. But the more interesting dynamic in this show, and why I am so addicted, is how, in the end, the women stick together and will do just about anything for each other. Though I’d be hard-pressed to cover up murder for my friends, I have realized that, in many ways, there are a lot of women out there who’ve got my back…and vice versa.
This is how I came to realize that although not necessarily desperate or filthy rich, my friends at the bus stop are my circle, my circle of wagons, that is. They are the ones I go to on a daily basis to cover for me (albeit not for murder).
Last spring, I had the opportunity to go away for six days, leaving my husband at the helm. I’m at home full-time. He works full-time. I’ve been away for girls’ weekends, and we both know that he can take care of the kids for a day or two. He’s just never had the opportunity to do so for such an extended period. He was a good sport, and although apprehensive, he was glad to step up to the plate.
My week away went fine. I returned to find two healthy, if a little bit scraggly, kids. The house was not up to my comfort level as far as cleanliness goes, but it wasn’t in a state I couldn’t fix within 48 hours either. The kids seemed more independent, and my ten-year-old son even gave me a genuinely enthusiastic hug when he saw me. My husband, Jorge, admitted that with all the anxiety he felt before my departure, he actually thought it was good for the three of them to be alone for those six days. He felt closer to the kids and more appreciative of all I do.
But that’s not the whole story, of course. The success of the week was in part due to the women that helped him out—maybe not dressed to the nines like Gabby or as wealthy as Bree, but nonetheless they are the women on whom I depend when I need help, and they were there for my stand-in, too—my husband. Every afternoon while I was away, a different mom picked up one or both of my kids, gave them a snack, supervised their homework, and often let them stay for dinner. My husband still had to miss three hours or so of work a day, but he probably could not have pulled off the temporary single parent thing without my women friends.
The most interesting part of this whole story was that Jorge was afforded a glimpse into the circle of us not-so-desperate bus stop moms each morning. At about day five, he expressed some concern over what he interpreted as irresponsibility among the bus stop gaggle of women. I can’t remember his exact words, but he commented about how one mom wasn’t there one of the afternoons to get our kids so another mom took them. He went on to describe how our kids (8 and 10) were left alone at home for ten minutes while that parent picked up another child. He was surprised to hear the question one morning at the bus stop: ‘Who will be at the bus stop this afternoon to get the kids?’—in the event that one of the moms couldn’t make it on time.
While to Jorge the idea of a mom just not showing up on time without any advance notice was disconcerting, I thought nothing of it. I’m constantly late to the bus stop or forgetting that some after-school activity has been cancelled. Sometimes I’ve not shown up at all, only to realize my mistake when I get a call from Dee or Suzan, who have rounded up my kids on my behalf.
As we stand there in an early morning haze, we pass out tissues or spare gloves and coordinate after-school pick-ups. We run errands for each other. We take each others’ kids in the evening.
But our value to one another doesn’t stop with the kids. Often we stand on the corner well after the bus has pulled away with our children, sometimes gripping warm coffee mugs, as we exchange the joys and fears of our lives as wives and mothers. Not infrequently, it’s my connection with those other bus stop moms that gets me through the day, the week, and even the year. Though a few of us are dressed and ready for work, many of us work part-time or from home, so we can frequently be found in slippers and sweats, the raw frustrations of the morning rush still seething in our brains.
One morning, I was so frustrated with my daughter–all forty pounds of her sassy, eye-rolling, foot stomping little body. What was I doing wrong? What was wrong with her? Should I take her to a psychologist? Would it get better? What are reasonable consequences? And is locking her in her bedroom for the next 10 years an option?
The four of us who dawdled that morning stood there, contemplating this small crisis. The other women listened to my ranting non-judgmentally, and all commiserated at some level. One admitted to having a similar morning with her daughter. One offered a book suggestion. Another mom with a teenager gave me the long-term perspective, promising a reprieve for a few years, but then some notched-up intensity later. This more experienced mom told me it’s almost like her daughter can’t control her wackiness. So much of these behaviors are spawned by hormones, which makes it difficult to tease out the real issues from those magnified by a body and mind going through puberty.
Of course, intellectually, I knew everything these women told me was true, and I knew it before I ever arrived at the bus stop that morning. But to have these women reassure me validated my frustrations and made me feel less alone. I left feeling better about everything, regardless of what might happen with my daughter when she returned home from school that day. And I knew I was not a terrible mom. My case was not hopeless. My bus stop cohorts had assured me my relationship with my eight-year-old was within the range of normal.
That morning was not an unusual experience.
Our bus stop conversations give us the chance to vent about our kids’ slipping grades, to learn which teachers are the best and which are the worst, who to call for evening babysitting help, and what to make for a quick dinner that tastes divine. We swap diet tips, parenting tactics, and favorite novels. We support job changes, returns to school, career setbacks, and family crises. We know whose mother has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, whose child is seeing a therapist, who has tried which anti-anxiety med, and whose husband forgot his wedding anniversary.
On a certain level, my relationship with these bus stop moms is mundane, a completely normal, everyday thing that I think I often take for granted. (That’s why it never crosses my mind to worry when I’m 15 minutes late to pick up the kids.)
But thanks to my husband’s perspective on the bus stop gaggle, I can appreciate the genuine community our little circle provides. He saw one of the best gifts of my life outside of my immediate family. Jorge reminded me in a way that there are times when the most meaningful part of my day may simply be the ten minutes I stand on that corner with those other moms.