Monday, May 30, 2016

The School Bus Matron, On Being Missed when You're Gone

This has been a tough year with Dan's school bus matron. She doesn't smile and she doesn't look me in the eyes, ever. These first two, by all means,  are not deal breakers, but she also gets extremely defensive when I ask her any question about my son. If Dan comes home without his hat, or stuffed animal, or worse, with a scratch on his face, I ask her about it! I would ask anyone who was serving as matron. But she takes it personally, as if I were accusing her of something. My son has limited language and I see the matron as one more person containing information about his school life. Information he cannot give me. 

At first I thought this miscommunication was due to language, that she wasn't understanding what I was saying, but I speak Spanish (her first language) rather fluently, and after our first heated discussion, I think we were understanding each other quite well. 

My first recourse was to complain. I called the bus company supervisor and explained how the matron aggressively responds when I simply ask a question concerning Dan. Her supervisor said she would talk to her, but it didn't make a difference. 

Then I thought, "you know what? Maybe she had a rough life, let me kill her with kindness. Let me model for her what a cordial, decent human being looks like." So I started to smile at her even more, tried to meet her gaze, tried to find any little thing to compliment her on, "oh, thank you for calling me the other day telling me you would be late." She barely looked at me and said "mmhmm." 

"What's with her?" I thought. Was she raised by wolves? Is it me? Is she happy-miss-sunshine until she gets to my block? I don't understand.

I asked my husband how she interacts with him. He said she was fine. 

I asked the babysitter. She said she was okay with her. 

Then I thought of the bus driver. He is stoned faced during our interactions. He doesn't defend her but he doesn't concur with me either.  I guess he has to ride with her and it might be awkward driving back with her if he agreed with me. Again, I reflected, "am I being an overbearing, neurotic helicopter mom? Am I going crazy here? The only thing I could surmise was that she acted this way with me because I was the only one asking questions. Again, no comprendo

Then one day, a different matron came to pick up Dan, we'll call her Betty. She was delightful from the get go. She had the biggest smile, looked me in the eye as she greeted me, and then acknowledged Dan with a loving touch to the shoulder. It was love at first site for all three of us. When Betty appeared dismounting off the school bus for the third time,  I asked the bus driver what happened to the other matron. He said the switch was just temporary, that the matron with the stinky attitude (my words) took a sick leave and would be back in a month. I couldn't hold it in any longer and blurted out how much I loved this matron, what great a job she was doing, that the other one was always so sullen and had an aggressive attitude, etc. I just let it all out, all I was feeling for the past three days. And guess what? He confirmed what I was feeling! He also must have had some pent up feelings to release because he then disclosed how miserable the other matron was, what a bad attitude she had with parents, and how wonderful it was to ride with this new matron. Finally, vindication! I wasn't crazy, someone else saw it too, he saw it too. 

There is such power in bearing witness. Knowing that someone sees what you see. Just knowing you're not crazy. 

So morning and afternoon, Betty and I would work together in the hand off of Dan; we would smile and joke, she was Julie Andrews in both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. It was divine! And get this...I would ask her questions about Dan and she would not get defensive! She would simply say she would look into it for me, or "I don't know." That really does suffice! You don't have to know the answer, just don't give me a stank attitude about it! 

I really hoped there was nothing serious going on with the old matron but I have to admit, I secretly wished she would not come back. Seth Godin, the marketing guru,  says it succinctly, "Be missed if you're gone."  I didn't miss the former matron at all. 

Although it was no surprise, I was kind of shocked to see the gloomy matron come off the bus a month later. My only consolation was that it was almost the end of the year and soon we would have a new summer school bus matron to contend with. I would just have to ride it out for a little while longer with this cheerless matron as I mourned the loss of Betty.  

This experience, however, taught me two powerful lessons.  The first; I need to value what I feel. Although I was happy for the mutual acuerdo (mutual agreement) between the bus driver and I, I need to  trust my instincts. If no one agrees with them, they are still enough. I should not need anyone to validate them. This is a constant lesson in my life. 

The second lesson is more a reminder to myself. How am I treating people? Am I living my life in such a way that people miss me when I'm gone?  How can I continuously be more like Betty? 

Maybe the challenge is in treating this matron with grace and compassion for the remainder of the school year regardless of how she behaves. Maybe she'll miss Dan and I when we're gone and she might just learn a lesson of her own. One can hope.