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Life on the Bus

alec vanderboom

Last Sunday, my husband shouted to me "I can't believe we both have Graduate Degrees!" as we waited at a bus stop for an extremely late City bus.

His statement was provoked by the behavior of Maria, our youngest. My toddler cried as snow soaked her polka-dot stockings and pink dress shoes. Maria demanded to at home with warm clothes and a cup of hot chocolate. Helpless, my husband picked up Maria's wailing body and tried not to mind that her dirty shoes left tracks on his black wool coat. Jon looked at his wrist watch and grimly confirmed to our bus was now 22 minutes late.

"I can't believe we're in this situation and I've got a Graduate Degree! We BOTH have Graduate Degrees" he told me.

I looked at Jon in confusion. I didn't immediately understand the meaning of my husband's statement. After all, it was our gigantic $200,000 joint student loan debt which necessitated us taking the City Bus to Mass in the first place. What Catholic parishioners would be in this situation without two big debts and one modest income?

When my husband started recounting painful stories of graduate school, I suddenly "got" the irony of our current situation. In grad school, we'd spent hours hunched over lap tops in dimly lit libraries. We mastered courses in vague Latin terms and 18th Century Japanese Landscape Painting. We wrote term papers. We passed finals. We aced hours of job interviews. If not tons of wealth and worldly honor, there was supposed to be some sort of comfortable middle class existence that came as a reward to all of that hard work.

Never once, in all those years of study, did we consider that our future children would wander snow banks in their church clothes as we waited for a late City bus. In America, people with graduate degrees are not supposed to live lives without a car.

Filled with the Eucharist, I chose the right response. Instead of lapsing into self-pity, I started teasing my husband. "I'm the one who wore silk honor cords at graduation. I'm the one who is really not supposed to be here. Do you think they'll find out and revoke our diplomas?"

Over the head of a furious toddler with corkscrew red curls, Jon met my smile.

The bus arrived. We entered into a swirl of humanity. A babble of French and Mandarin and Creole surrounded us. Baby Maria stopped crying. Within five minutes we were home and happy again.

In truth, I love to ride the bus.

It's hard in the winter. It's hard that our bus system is either 25 minutes late, or worse, 11 minutes early. Yet even in the cold, playing extra rounds of "Mother May I" beat trying to strap uncooperative children into their car seats.

Surprising, my kids love the bus. I lived through countless crying fits while driving in a car. Yet we've only had one awful trip to Mass where Maria cried the full 35 minutes. Usually the kids adore the bus and become cheerful angels while swished along with strangers in a large City bus.

Yet the best thing about the bus is that it puts you firmly on God's time line. When we ride the bus, we are NEVER, ever late to Mass. Can you imagine? Trying to get to get three children church on time used to be awful. Now our bus drops us off at church 20 minutes early. We have time to leisurely check out our parish library and spend time praying before the Eucharist in a silent church. If we're ever so late that we miss the bus, we have to attend a later Mass.

Having to factor in a bus trip makes it easier to say "no" to unnecessary activities. I've dropped book clubs and church committees. I'm the only mother I know whose elementary age kids aren't on any sports teams. My groceries are ordered online and delivered to my home. My husband bikes to work. We spend only $60 a month on bus passes rather than endure car payments, car insurance, gas, car repairs and parking fees. Riding the bus is what keeps our family budget in the black each month.

Besides all of these practical things, there are amazing moments of Grace that keep happening on the bus. Once I sat next to a pregnant Catholic who was about to give up her baby for adoption. The conversation we had about our Blessed Mother was beautiful and something that would never happened if I drove my own car to the local library. Our new dentist, for example, is next door to an abortion clinic. Now as I wait for my kids to have their teeth cleaned I have a beautiful chance to pray for life.

I love having the chance to know my city on foot. I love knowing that the immigrants who speak the least English will give the kindest smiles to my noisy children. I love having gallant Latino men hold open bus doors and fix stuck strollers for me. The whole city has become more friendly since I started riding the bus alone with 3 small children.

The most amazing thing about the virtue of poverty, is that when you ride the bus, you can easily fit in another baby.

In my old life in a plush suburbia, I heard a Catholic mother remark that she couldn't possibly have a third baby at this time because they would have to buy a new car. I registered that comment in confusion. I was the Mom who purposely bought the most narrow car seats possible in order to wedge three small bodies into my back seat.

Then this past summer when our ancient, five seat belt car died three days before Vacation Bible School, I had another confusing car conversation with a fellow Catholic. This time a dear friend tried to sell me on the idea of emptying our retirement account to pay the $6,000 repair bill since "a rebuilt engine can last another 10 years. You'll be driving that car forever!" he said with cheerful certainty.

I looked at my friend with confusion. I didn't know how to express the sad cry in my heart. "I'm only 34!" I thought. "I don't want to drive a newly, repaired five seat car for the next ten years. I want another baby!"

Long story short, while I schlepped three tired kids on an awful 1 1/2 hour commute to Bible School, my husband sold our broken car. We canceled our car insurance and bought monthly bus passes. We found a new dentist and a new doctor on our local bus line. We ordered groceries online.

Sometime in heat of August, we decided that we need to switch to a new Catholic Church with an easier bus commute. We left the church where we were well-known. We resigned multiple church committees and volunteer posts. My husband is no longer a Lector. I stopped washing purificators. We quit attending our weekly Adoration time slots. We stopped seeing dozens and dozens of dear friends. The sacrifice of our "church home" hurt.

Now we're anonymous faces in a large City Church. Six months later, the change couldn't be better for our family. The graces are huge. We attend Daily Mass in a small, historic chapel that is a beautiful setting for Mass. We fallen in love with new, dear, parish priests. My daughter is getting First Communion with a CCD program that loves homeschoolers.

Even better, for two Carmelites that are poor in time as well as money, our new "rich" church is well run with many volunteers. There are no longer painful pleas for more Lectors at Lent or more members on that teeny purificator committee. Our big church fits this season of our Catholic life as parents who have overwhelming responsibilities for young children. We go to church to get refreshed and renewed by Christ. My only donation of "time and talent" is a warm smile to my parish priest after Mass.

By God's grace, I'll deliver a new baby this summer. For our first trip home with the new baby, we might hire a cab. We might rent a car. Or, we might ride the City Bus.

My husband happily discovered that the City Bus stops at our hospital entrance. Jon loves to picture shocked face of the volunteer who will carefully wheel a newborn and his mother from the hospital room to the driveway. Instead of pulling up with a scrubbed Honda or new Lexus, my husband, the man with a graduate degree, may carefully strap a newborn into an infant carrier and lead his sore wife onto the City Bus.

Humility. Poverty.

Four perfect souls as free gifts from the Lord for two parents who could never afford even one adoption fee.

God is good!