When the young man in the pickup stopped to offer me a ride, I was still in shock. I was carrying my 20-month-old down an arterial street in Victoria during Friday rush-hour traffic last fall. My daughter’s sturdy legs and a laundry bag from her daycare bumped against me as I walked. A tear had plowed down my cheek. I gratefully declined the offer. “We got kicked off the bus,” I burst out. The man looked surprised, then nervous. Only louts get thrown off buses, right? Little did I know the pariah I’d soon become when my story hit the Internet.
We’d been heading home from my daughter Briar’s daycare—a 10-minute ride on B.C. Transit. My usually cheerful daughter was stormy that day, and, after the bus left the terminal, began shouting, “No, no, no,” like a toddler metronome. My bag of tricks—book, snack, sippy cup—did not work. Five minutes into the route, the driver intervened. “It has to stop,” he said, or we had to leave the bus. “You have to learn to control her,” he told me, and pulled over. My daughter shushed. I carried her to the front, and told the driver I had no stroller (my husband had dropped her off by bike). I asked if we could get off at an actual stop. Other passengers began shouting: “She’s quiet now! Let her stay!” The chorus continued after we were out on the curb, and the driver mumbled we could get back on. “I can’t 100 per cent guarantee she won’t cry again,” I told him. I started walking.
When I returned home, still stunned, I filed a complaint with B.C. Transit. I was promised an investigation, and that the driver would be monitored. Two weeks passed. When I received a form letter and four bus tickets by mail, it rekindled my humiliation. I just wanted a sincere apology. I emailed our newspaper, and on Sept. 26 the Victoria Times Colonist ran an article: “Crying toddler kicked off bus.”
The story ran in several major dailies, and went viral, fast. The Times Colonist received a record number of website comments, and promptly published four follow-ups. I became the punching bag for anonymous commentators across Western Canada—more than 1,500 comments in total. Even the fan site of the Vancouver Canucks couldn’t keep their mitts off the issue. According to Internet critics, I was 1) an attention-seeking princess; 2) a hippie who teaches no boundaries; or 3) a single mom who should go to college to afford a car. I couldn’t win.
TV crews came calling. Talk radio in Calgary and Vancouver waded in. A local shock jock hadn’t had so many calls since debating “what goes inside a hot dog.” A headline on the Province’s website asked: “Who’s at fault? Bus driver, or bad parents?” The “Bus Fuss” story then hopped the border. The New York Post site ran an item about it in their “Weird, but true” column. (As if nothing weirder happens in New York!) An unscientific poll on Craigslist reported commenters’ support to be “86 per cent bus driver, 11 per cent Bitch Spawn.”
Many felt I should have left the bus before being asked. “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” wrote a poster called “Old Guy.” “It’s obvious the rod was spared on the mother, too.” “They should have sent her some books on parenting or at least some children’s chewable morphine,” offered “Kevin.” Briar was labelled a brat, and someone Photoshopped the head of a slasher-movie villain over her sweet face. The story tumbled down Internet rabbit holes I didn’t know existed, such as Fark.com.
As the comments piled up, I became afraid to answer the phone, open the mailbox. I did have defenders who, for example, suggested the driver consider a career change if he requires silence to work. Lenore Skenazy, the Free-Range Kids author who gained infamy for letting her nine-year-old ride a Manhattan subway alone, blogged about my tale. Her readers were mystified. This was public transit. A grandfather in Abbotsford, B.C., sent Briar DVDs and chocolate.
Facts don’t matter in the world of Internet commentary. You can call yourself an eyewitness to an event—or Lady Gaga, for that matter. In real life, four passengers on that bus lodged complaints with B.C. Transit about this incident before the story was made public. One noted my child’s outburst was part of an already noisy bus, adding: “This bus driver singled out this woman and her child.”
After getting off that bus, I carried my daughter home the entire 14 blocks. “That was ridiculous,” fumed a young woman we met on the sidewalk, who had exited the same bus. I wish everyone agreed. But people want kids, and mothers, to keep quiet—at least if you believe what you read on the Internet.