We were successfully on the bus. I had had the sole responsibility for getting the kids up, dressed, fed, and on the bus on time for our trip to see Joe sing in the church choir. We worked together as a well oiled machine. I was strapped down up front and the girls were asked to sit in the two back seats as we were picking up another wheelchair user who would require the back entrance to the bus. The girls understood that they were making room, they know about respecting the space that people need, and took their seats.
We picked up a lovely woman, fresh out of church, who chatted with us for a few blocks and then she waved a goodbye as she got off at home. We made another stop, this time picking up a mother and son, also on their way to church. She spoke briefly to me and introduced her son saying, "He can't say nothing, so don't expect conversation." She laughed as if she'd made a joke. Then she sat right at the back, near the girls.
Once the bus started I heard her whispering to both Ruby and Sadie, I said, loudly and clearly, "Please speak up, don't whisper to the kids." She stopped for a second, then started whispering again, this time more quickly. Again I said, "Speak up, don't whisper to the girls." I had almost said their names but realized that I didn't want her knowing them. She whispered again, after another brief stop, but louder this time because of the noise of the bus. I heard the word "website" and now was frantic for her to shut up. I didn't want her talking to Ruby and Sadie about any "website" to visit. She made noise as she looked through her purse for a card to give to the girls, presumably with the website on it. I said, "Stop!" But she didn't. The card was passed to Ruby.
We were at our stop now and Ruby and Sadie sprang from their seats and headed to the door at the front. I asked Ruby as she passed me if she had the card the woman had given her, she nodded and handed it to me. I asked if Sadie had a card too, she said 'No' and I suggested that she shouldn't visit websites that strangers suggest without an adult looking at them. She and Sadie nodded but the conversation was stalling them from what they wanted to to do, which was, get off the bus.
I got off as well and stopped to look at the card. It was from a religious group that is known for publicly proselytizing. I don't adhere to many of their beliefs, but respect their right to believe whatever they wish. I even respect those who stand on the street and thereby publicly identifying their faith.But faith that's whispered in the back of buses to children against the wish of their supervising adult, that I don't respect.
I respect you, you need to respect me.
Of course I wrote to the bus company about my concerns but was told that this is not an issue they can deal with in any meaningful way. I suspected that would be the case but felt that I needed to alert them in any case.
We've all talked about this and about how both kids could have spoken up when they first felt uncomfortable with the woman's whispers. But they, like many kids, identify stranger danger as being a male phenomenon, not a nice, old woman on a bus where they have always felt safe before.
But danger has many faces.
Danger doesn't have a single gender.
Danger isn't any particular age.
And for me, I know that next time, there will be two other voices protesting. That means the job is nearly done.