I live on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands where public transportation is unreliable, taxi service is expensive and the most dependent form of mass transportation is unregulated. Still, I felt it was time to teach my 12-year-old how to navigate the island without depending solely on me and my trusty 10-year-old Toyota. When I gave her instructions for catching the “safari” – the open air, unregulated form of mass transportation most popular on the island – she told me she was scared. “Yeah right,” I thought to myself. She had caught the safari dozens of times with her grandmother. But as her mom, it’s my duty to remove her fears, right? So it was her first day of summer vacation when I decided to take her to work with me. I would park my car downtown and we would take the safari to work. Rain was forecasted for the day, but it was only overcast when I was lucky enough to find a parking space. So I took my chances. My first pointer to her: when depending on the safaris take an umbrella – you never know when it may rain.
The ride to work was great, as I continued to give her pointers. She confided that riding the safari with me was embarrassing. Why, I inquired. “If you ride the safari by yourself that means that you’re independent. If you ride the safari with your mom it probably means that she doesn’t have a good job, so she can’t afford a car.” I was surprised at the junior high logic. When I asked her “where does that leave us?” she couldn’t answer. “You should never make assumptions,” I told her, “cause we can never really know.”
I counted the walk up the hill to my office a good early morning activity. By lunchtime it was pouring and VI Alert messages to my phone confirmed that we were under flood watch. My plan of walking to and from the cafeteria had to be reworked. Umbrella in hand, we caught the campus shuttle to the cafeteria. An hour later, it was still pouring – hard. We had missed the shuttle back to the office. Luckily we were able to catch a ride with a colleague in a company vehicle. There were only two seats in the vehicle, so my 5’7” daughter had to sit on my lap.
The rain continued.
By 4:50 p.m. I got concerned. I started to feel that I had made a mistake in choosing this day for our safari ride. It was raining harder and harder. And it was flooding. We walked from my office down to the bus stop sharing our sole umbrella. I was thankful though – it was a covered bus stop. Well all of a sudden gusty winds began blowing the rain directly under the bus stop. I screamed out as the cold water wet me from waist down. And with everyone one else, I jumped on the benches. By this time, it made no sense wondering if I had made a right or wrong decision – I accepted that this was going to be a learning experience different than I had planned. Standing together on the bench with my daughter, cold wind and rain blowing up against us, I began laughing. Burst out laughing! She was pissed. We were drenched. She found nothing funny to laugh at. One by one everyone under the bus stop had gotten rides. That left the two of us. Then she began: “Mommy my shoes are soaked. Now I know what my friends were talking about….” “Mommy this safari is taking too long…” “Mommy do you realize that this was the worst day for us to catch the safari…” The most impactful: “Mommy, I can’t wait to get into our Toyota, without the rims…” I assume that she added “without the rims” because she had desperately missed the vehicle that, at this time may not look the best, but served a good purpose.
On the safari ride back to town I realized that my daughter had learned more than I ever expected. “It feels so good to sit in a moving vehicle,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone could not learn to drive, like my grandmother. I must get a car,” she continued. “Mommy imagine that some people have to do this every day…”
When we made it into the car she shouted out: “Yes! Yes! Yes! I missed my car!” The look of relief on her face was priceless. She took off her shoes and showed me her feet. They were wrinkled as though she had been swimming. I must admit, this whole thing was likewise an experience for me. It reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for.
As the rain continues to pour outside, I’m now safely at home, wondering how the homeless are making out. I wish that there was no homelessness and that safe, reliable transportation was available for everyone. I can’t change everything in the world. But right now I’m grateful for everything I have been blessed with. I can guarantee you that my daughter is too. She learned a much greater lesson than I even imagined.