I needed to pick up my daughter from Alma’s house and I was nervous. Alma’s my idol. I’d been worshiping her at the bus stop for months, but since we’d always swapped kids at the corner, had yet to step into her house. According to Bus Stop Mommy lore, Alma designed and decorated her house herself, right down to sewing the curtains, reupholstering the furniture and hand dipping the candles.
This year, she’s the only mom at the bus stop that had a birthday gift for the bus driver. It was a gold Godiva box wrapped in a real fabric ribbon, starched into an oversized symmetrical bow in the perfect shade of School Bus Orange. Tucked under the bow was a hand-addressed envelope that didn’t have “Thanks for supporting Disabled Veterans.” scratched off first.
That was the morning I offered to put her youngest child on the bus while Alma drove her other daughter to school. In her impeccably clean car. Wearing ironed, matching clothes. And makeup.
There I stood, holding the bus driver gift, wearing my husband’s old pajamas, stained hoodie and ponytail secured with an old Fruit of The Loom elastic waistband. The other moms circled around, coffee cups trembling.
“Hey Rinehart, what’s with making the rest of us look bad? I thought we had a pact.”
“It’s not mine! It’s Alma’s. Her daughter’s too shy to hand it to the driver so I agreed to do it.”
“Well then, who’s got a pen? Let’s add our names to it.”
Alma’s the one who always has her roots touched up on time. She wears lipstick to the bus stop when the rest of us wear yesterday’s mascara. On our cheeks. I’ve never seen her nail polish chipped. She knows all the good scoop from school and has the common sense and logic to decipher the facts from folly.
She’s simultaneously finishing her Masters degree, running the Girl Scout cookie campaign and church charities. She delivers her kids on time to soccer practice and piano lessons, then cooks meals with more than two colors. All this on four or five hours of sleep each night. I know, because I’ll get an e-mail from her time-stamped “12:39a.m.” with the next one marked, “5:42a.m.” And they’re coherent.
I felt the overwhelming need to clean my house before I walked over to Alma’s…but I got over it, dug my lipstick out of a crevice in the minivan seat and headed over.
The smell of dinner wafted through the air. We relaxed in her gorgeous living room where Alma actually rested her feet on the white ottoman. “Wine?" I gazed across the foyer. There was a plant with three dead leaves. The dining room table looked as if it hadn’t seen the light of day since last Easter. The candles were leaning and every stair had a pile on it. The whines of bickering girls echoed over the banister. I finally exhaled, “I’d love some.”
And I love that "perfect" woman.