Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Day My Mother Looked Like Sophia Loren and Became a Spy

I wrote about this experience a number of years ago, and I’m posting it again before Mother’s Day because it's one of my favorite stories about my mother. Feel free to comment on a favorite story you have about your mother, or your life as a mother. 

I will never forget the day my mom looked like Sophia Loren . . . and became a spy.

Her child was being bullied. That would be me, my ten-year-old self. Some woman belittled me for dropping my fare money on the city bus my friends and I rode home from our school each day. It made me feel stupid and beyond-repair clumsy. And then it was as if all the schoolchildren—about five or six of us—were fair game for any nasty comment the woman wanted to make, any nasty look she had to give. It was one of those childhood experiences you can still feel decades later.

Looking back, I think she probably didn't like chatterboxes on her ride home, perhaps after a hard day at work. But it wasn't our fault; we were students from all over the city and this was the only transportation option we had. And this fear of the woman's mean comments and looks coupled with some anxiety about being at a new school generated enough angst to tell my mother all about it.

"What does she look like?" Mom asked. That should have tipped me off right there. But I told her, and then resigned myself to this unpleasant, daily bus ride, because Mom didn’t seem to have any advice. At least this woman was not on the bus in the morning. But I know now what I did not know then: a mother knew when enough was enough.

The next day my friends and I boarded the bus after school, and there was my mother sitting in a seat toward the middle, a scarf on her head and big sunglasses hiding her eyes. Big Sophia Loren sunglasses. I started to speak to her in surprise, but she put her finger to her lips. Shh, was the message. Then slightly nodding toward the woman, she silently asked the next question. Is that her? I nodded. Wow. I wondered when Mom had boarded the bus and where. Then with a slight shake of her head, I got the last message: Don't let on that I'm here. 

I took a seat apart from her and even my friends, wondering what was going to happen next. I was nervous, but I was also thinking this was pretty cool. Mom was like a spy! Was she waiting to see if the woman would be mean to us today? Mom watched her, and I just tried to be invisible.

Maybe that’s why the woman was silent that day, because I was successfully invisible. I don't know. But at her usual stop, she got off the bus—and my mother followed her! That was when I got the last message. Something in Mom's eyes peering over the sunglasses on her way past me said, Everything is fine. Just go on home.

Oh. My. Gosh. What was Mom going to do?! I got home and nervously awaited her arrival. I don't remember who was home. My grandmother? My dad? Surely they were much calmer than I was, and they probably knew what was going on. But this was my future here! When Mom arrived, I blurted out all my questions at once. "What did you do? What did she do? What happened?"

Mom wasn't too forthcoming. She just said something like, "I let her know it isn't acceptable to speak to children this way. She won't be bothering you and your friends again. If she does, let me know. You still need to be sure to behave on the bus, however."  And you know what, the woman ignored us, but she never bothered us again.

I have never forgotten that day, and I never asked Mom for more details. Maybe it's because even as an adult, I just wanted to remember exactly how it felt that day for her to intervene for me. I guess this is what, in part, a mother does: a little support, a little protection, a little spying, and a little confrontation when necessary! Looking like Sophia Loren is optional. But you have to admit, that was pretty cool.

I’m not sure I ever did anything like that for my children, or needed to. But I hope they know I would have, even if I might look more like Lucy Ricardo than Sophia Loren while doing it. It has always been and always will be wonderful to be your mom, "kids." But before I was your mom was another mom who would have made both James Bond and Sophia Loren very proud. Don't you think?

Thanks again, Mom. I don't think there is any spying to do in heaven. But if there is, I’m sure you’re good at it!

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