The alarm goes off much too early and she gets up, trying not to wake her husband. He works a night shift and got to bed around three hours ago. He needs his sleep. She picks up sweats and t-shirts, grabs socks and heads out to wake the girls. Today they are taking the Skytrain into town for the annual pre-school clothes shopping. It is an event she always looks forward to, with memories of doing the same with her own mother at this age.
The two girls, age ten and twelve are excited as they hurry into clothes, eat a quick bowl of cereal and grab jackets as they head out the door. Arms are thrust through jackets as they walk quickly down the street, talking simultaneously about plans for what they will pick out at the store. Annie, the youngest will as usual walk backwards in order to continue talking, while Emma shows how grown up she is by watching out for anything Annie will walk into.
They queue up at the far end of the station, so they can be in the very front of the very first car when the train stops. This is Annie’s favorite trick – to sit in front of the window at the front of the train and pretend to drive the train all the way into town. The doors open with a woosh and they pop on board, turning to look at the very first seat, and are disappointed to find someone already there.
I always sit in the front seat, for probably the same reason Annie does. The expanse of track before you, the rush of the trees on the side of the track, everything comes together to make the experience feel like an amusement park ride. I can hear the girls and their mom as they get on; see them in the reflection in the train window. When I beckon Annie to take my seat, she grins and hops up without hesitation. I sit across from the mom, chatting quietly as we both watch the girls lean into the front of the train, swaying with the movement of it. Imaginary controls spin in Annie’s hands and Emma forgets for a little while that she is all grown up and helps out. They giggle and announce each stop. Annie times the announcement “Everyone hold on – here we go!” with the closing of the doors at each stop – and they watch me out of the corner of their eyes. I just smile in encouragement and murmur conversation with their mom about kids and trains and life.
All too soon it is my stop. I thank the girls for the fine work of getting us there on time and they giggle. Emma gravely acknowledges my thanks and Annie tells me to come again soon. With a sunny wave I am off the train, watching as it pulls out of the station and their little heads disappear into the shadow of the tunnel. Their mother sits quietly next to them, peaceful in her role and ready for the day. I can only envy the creation of a memory they will pass on to their daughters, as I remember my own trips on buses like this, many years ago with my own Mom. It is as if a ghost stands next to me, a small woman with curly gray hair who used to hold my hand and help me pick out school clothes. We turn and walk into the crowd together.