Buses, yes. In the book I write about how it's just hard to get traction on the motherhood/parenting/fatherhood question. There are so many moving parts. You need fixes in government policy, like taxes and social security credits. You need workplace changes, starting with a general understanding of the real labor that parenting takes. You need economic and finance changes, so that houses aren't so expensive, and so we can all live on less. And then there's the schools issue, which has some of us working really hard for lots of money to buy houses in good public school districts, or living in cities and often paying through the nose for private school when urban districts are in disarray and hard to navigate. And that's not even the half of it. It's hard to know where to start. One can start big, with federal legislation, but that's complicated, especially with politics as they are right now. Or one can start very small and local, but raise the same issues.
Back when I was in Durham, and at a party at author Faulkner Fox's home, one of the mothers told a story about how her son was starting middle school, and she had just gotten him enrolled at a charter school, because the general middle school was deemed too rough. She had been at home all these years and was ready to go back to work, but she had just learned that the charter school didn't provide bus service.
That's all the detail I know. The group talked about it for a while, and then the discussion moved on to something else. But the conundrum stayed on my mind for a long time after.
In all our discussions of parenting and work, most of us would never point to buses as a culprit in the lack of support so many of us feel. They're not the main problem, by any means, but what I've learned is that the parenting problem is the sum of lots of small ways that parents don't get the help we need, of things that one by one feel small and petty but which add up to a climate that undermines us. You can't go after a climate, but you can take it apart and try to fix things one by one. I look around, and many mothers and fathers end up delaying a return to work, or feel like they can't go back to work, or that their part time hours are compromised, because of difficulties in getting the kids to and from school. Again, it's fine for many of us. I don't mind dropping my daughter off and picking her up. But that day when I tire of working from home all by myself, and I want an office job--well I'll be mighty glad that the school provides buses.
The mother seemed resigned to the situation. I understand that. We live in political times where we doubt that ordinary citizens can make change happen. And we are told again and again that motherhood, fatherhood, and family life are private, individual, and can't be fixed ever by group or governmental efforts of any kind, which is just plain ideological and wrong.
After the discussion, I kept wondering. What would it look like to raise a fuss about buses, to call the school district, to write to the papers, and not to limit the discussion to the simple "I want bus service" but to link it to the whole structure (or lack of structure) that supports (or doesn't support) parents and work, that makes it harder to do ordinary things, like get our kids to school. What would it look like to say, families need buses because in lieu of bus service, it's the mothers (mostly, and the few at home dads) whose lives balancing work and family are made more difficult. Because the savings on the part of the school is made up for by the unpaid labor of mothers and fathers, to raise the bus issue as a parenting issue.
I think sometimes we're afraid to make those links. We're afraid that someone will say we're insane, that there's no linkage, that a bus is just a bus. It's that small fear, or perhaps not a small fear, or being ridiculed or having someone say "you're wrong, that's silly" that keeps us from raising issues in the most immediate ways we know how, by calling school and city officials, by talking with our friends, and by writing letters to the editor.
Still, a bus, it turns out, is not just a bus, but one of many microcosms of the frustrations that families face.
And I wish that mother luck.