Walking to School Was Worth It, Even When It Rained
A mom, a daughter, and the sheer beauty of the embarrassing moment.
Third grade. “Mama…tell me a story.” My daughter, Madeline, and I are walking to school up 11th Road to McKinley Elementary. It’s a short walk, but a long walk if we are running late, which we often are for reasons that are never completely clear.
“I don’t have a story. I don’t know any stories.” We start going up the hill, which makes me catch my breath. We’re running late, but it’s my own fault. I make us walk to school every day. And she complains every day.
“We’re walkers,” I tell her. This drives her crazy, so we usually start off the day feeling fairly grumpy toward each other. I wonder why I make us do it.
“Mama, please. A story?”
“Mads…stop for a second. Your jacket is dragging,” I say, hoping she forgets her story pleading. It doesn’t work.
“Tell me a story, Mama. Pleeeease.”
I know the stories she likes. No lectures, no lessons. She likes confusion meets mistake meets spotlight—with me as the star.
“Okay fine,” I say as I shift into storytelling mode and tell her about the time I was calling my boss, Bob, and got his voicemail. Only I started to think about how next I was going to call my husband, and when I finally heard the beep, in my head I was already calling my husband, so I said, “Hey handsome, handsome! It’s your wife!” just as I remembered that I wasn’t yet calling my husband, I was still calling my boss. “I mean….it’s not your wife…..it’s your employee….Mary Doroshenk.”
Mads loves this story and laughs her big gorgeous contagious laugh.
Our moods have lightened and the patrol is still at the corner, which I take as a good sign. We enter the building. I kiss her head and watch her skip off in her pink cowboy boots and disappear into the crowd down the hall.
Fourth grade. We’re still walkers and Mads still complains. But I persist. It’s been raining nonstop this October but I hold firm.
“Mom, tell me a story.”
“I don’t have any more stories, Madeline. You know all my stories.”
I am grouchy as water drips from my hood into my eyes. Despite my philosophy against being a Sherpa for my kid I have relented, given that she has not only a backpack and umbrella, but also a massive Case-It binder. I carry the backpack while she struggles to carry the binder under her umbrella.
“You’re hitting me with your umbrella.”
No lectures, no lessons. Confusion meets mistake meets spotlight.
I start telling her about the time I was watching the Women’s World Cup final in 2011. The U.S. women were playing Japan and I was with a bunch of my die-hard soccer friends. For most of the game there was one poor lone guy in the room—Ed—a friend of the host’s husband whom I didn’t know very well. Ed seemed fairly uncomfortable watching women’s soccer with a bunch of opinionated, passionate soccer fanatics, but I didn’t pay him too much attention.
The game was a nail-biter, and I couldn’t decide which of the T-shirts I had brought was luckiest—my 1994 USA flag T-shirt (Go U.S.!) or my 1999 non-country-specific Women’s World Cup T-shirt (Go Women!). The game was tied at the end of regulation and I was freaking out. Had I chosen the wrong lucky shirt? Maybe the World Cup shirt (which I was wearing) wasn’t channeling the U.S. enough. I needed to change. Fast. But someone was in the bathroom.
Keep in mind, I had played soccer with the other women in the room for years. We never thought twice about taking off a sweaty jersey on the sidelines after a game to put on a clean T-shirt, because we were usually wearing completely unsexy, uni-boob, mega-coverage sports bras. So without leaving the room, I whipped off my World Cup shirt and put on my USA flag shirt, only to see Ed, who was staring at me from the doorway, turn bright red and dart up the stairs. That’s when I remembered. I wasn’t wearing my unsexy, uni-boob, mega-coverage sports bra that day. I was wearing my lacy-pink, see-through bra from Trousseau’s.
“Mom, you didn’t!” Madeline laughs her big gorgeous contagious laugh.
“I did, and it didn’t even help. The women lost.” Fortunately Ed moved out of the country soon after, so I never had to see him again.
Mads and I get to the school. I’m soaked, but I’m lighter. We’re both lighter. The patrol is not there, so Mads leaves me on the corner to sprint ahead. I watch her run down the path to her trailer, black high-tops splashing the rain on the sidewalk.
Fifth grade. It’s early in the year and Mads bursts into the house after school. She is still a walker but I’m not. It was decided (I’m not even sure by whom…her friends? Her friends’ moms? Me?) that the girls were old enough to walk by themselves. As so often happens in parenting, things change before you are ready, before you even know that change is coming.
Mads flies into the room and can barely talk as she breathlessly recounts how, earlier in the day, she got confused because she had something in her eye and walked right into the boys’ bathroom. But hers is no tweeny, shrinking mortification. It’s her own messy story of when confusion meets mistake meets spotlight. And she is laughing. She is laughing her big gorgeous contagious laugh. I have missed walking her to school. All those times we were walking, I thought she was the kid in my story, but it turns out, she is in her own story. She is laughing her big gorgeous contagious laugh, and I miss her, even as I am grateful to know that she is walking into her own spotlight.
Mary Doroshenk works for a nonprofit and is a walker, a writer and a mother of two, living in Arlington. She has been published in The Washington Post, Potomac Review and a variety of literary anthologies.