Thursday, December 6, 2007

Presume Goodwill

It was raining all day today, and I forgot my rain pants. That really, really sucks when you use your bike as your primary form of transportation. The good news is that I didn't forget to make sure the kids had their's. A cold, wet mom is a whole lot easier to deal with than three cold, wet kids. I was able to get warm and sort of dry for a few hours while the kids played at our Unschoolers' Park Day (held at an indoor play-cafe when it's raining). A cup of coffee and great conversation helped me forget about my wet feet and soaked jeans for a while.

When it was time to go, my friend and I did some kid swapping. It was still pouring, so we decided I would take the four kids and two bikes to the bus stop and we would bus home. The bus was late. Did I mention that I was cold and wet? When it finally pulled up, ten minutes late, there was only one spot left in the bike rack on the front of the bus. I shuttled the kids to the door and proceeded to load my larger bike onto the rack. I figured Macy's smaller bike could come on the bus with me. I was wrong.

"That bike's not coming on this bus," growled the driver. I was stunned.
"Excuse me?" I replied. "This has never been a problem before. People bring bikes on the bus all the time."
"Not on my bus." He stared straight ahead.
My mind went blank. What was I supposed to do now? I couldn't even think. The kids looked at me for an answer.

Not long ago I was at a workshop. The speaker was challenging us to assume the best of people in all circumstances. He suggested that we "Presume Goodwill" in all our affairs. I have a tendency to do this anyway in life, but I appreciated the reminder. It is my experience that people rarely intend to cause harm. In this case, however, I was struggling to presume goodwill on the part of the bus driver. How could one little bike really affect him? Come on, help me out. He was just being mean.

"Seriously," I asked again, "you are seriously not going to let me bring this bike on the bus?" Surely he would cave any minute. I was wet, cold, miserable, and had four kids staring at me. He refused to back down.
"You're holding me up."
"You bet I am," I thought to myself. Presume goodwill....yeah right. If I had been alone, it's possible that I would have said rude things I would later regret. With four kids staring at me, I decided to hold it together and take the high road. I took a deep breath and proceeded to swap my bike for Macy's bike in the rack. I told the kids to sit down and to get off at our stop in front of our house. I would ride home and meet them there. I took off in front of the bus, furious.

The first mile of the downtown route is slow for buses and cars, and fast for bikes. We played leap frog, that grouchy bus driver and I, several times. Each time I passed the bus, I felt strong and powerful and elated. Each time the bus passed me I cussed and swore and said things outloud to myself that I will never have to explain to my children. As cold as I was, I was going to beat that bus home if it killed me. As I rode home the second mile and the bus turned off to loop around the other side of town, I composed my letter of complaint to the bus company. How dare he! And so rude on top of it all. I was all fired up. When I got home, I knew I still had five minutes before the bus came. I parked my bike and ran inside to get the phone. As I explained my complaint I was politely told that bikes on the bus are up to the driver's discretion. Well, that just figures. This complaint wasn't going far.

As the kids got off the bus, and I lifted Macy's bike out of the rack, I avoided eye contact with the driver. I was still mad. And cold. The kids shared a few stories about experiences they had had with the grouchy driver. He's always like that, they said. He never smiles. He gets mad if you take too long fishing for quarters. We talked about one of my favorite sayings, "What other people say and do is a reflection of them, not of you." This was one grouchy driver. Could I possibly presume goodwill? Could he have had a reason for not letting me bring that bike on the bus? Maybe he can't help it. Maybe his cat died. Maybe he hates his job.

Later that evening the kids went to their dad's and I took the bus downtown to meet a friend for dinner. As I waited at the bus stop, I thought how ironic it would be if it was the same grouchy driver. It was, but he wasn't grouchy. Several of us filed onto the bus and he greeted each one of us with a smile. He even got chatty with a woman sitting near the front. I was amazed. He was a completely different person. I almost didn't recognize him. He wasn't grouchy. I wasn't cold and wet anymore. People change. Feelings change. Presume goodwill. Maybe he wasn't out to get me after all. My heart warmed. When I told the kids the next morning about my experience with the not-so-grouchy driver, they smiled knowingly. "See, Mom," said Macy, "He just woke up on the wrong side of the bed."

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