Riding the Bus with My Sister

Riding the Bus with My Sister

by

Rachel Simon

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Rachel and Beth’s Mother Character Analysis

Rachel, Beth, Laura, and Max’s mother is a librarian with a tumultuous past and difficult relationships with her children. When the children are little, she constantly plays games with them and cares for them. But then depression strikes her, and she has little energy for several years. After getting divorced from Rachel and Beth’s father, her decision to marry the abusive conman and kick her children out of the house is the key turning point in Rachel and Beth’s childhood. It leads them to feel abandoned by her for many years. Even when they finally reconnect with her years later, the children deeply resent her actions. However, Rachel comes to forgive her by empathizing with her and understanding the profound guilt, shame, and regret her mother feels about abandoning her children. She realizes that when her mother suffered abuse at the conman’s hands, she responded by inadvertently abusing and traumatizing her own children. In fact, this explains why Rachel is so frightened of repeating her mother’s mistakes and making poor romantic decisions out of loneliness and desperation. Ultimately, Rachel and Beth’s troubled relationship with their mother demonstrates how power and manipulation can corrupt love, and how vulnerability and communication are the best solutions to disconnection and estrangement.

Rachel and Beth’s Mother Quotes in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The Riding the Bus with My Sister quotes below are all either spoken by Rachel and Beth’s Mother or refer to Rachel and Beth’s Mother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grand Central Publishing edition of Riding the Bus with My Sister published in 2013.
8. March: Into Out There Quotes

Mommy sits Max and Laura and me down in her room and closes the door. She tells us, “Beth needs a little extra help sometimes, and whenever you see that she does, help her. Don’t you ever forget: it could have happened to any one of you.

[…]

Daddy says, “Some people send mentally retarded kids away to institutions, but we’ll never do that. Ever, ever, ever. We’ll always have room for her.
Then when they get up and open the doors I think about how we just heard two words that they never say in front of Beth: “mentally retarded.” We never ask why, we just go back to playing with her. But we know, too, not to say those words where she can hear them.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Mother (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Father (speaker), Beth , Max, Laura
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:
27. September: Releasing the Rebel Quotes

Dad realizes they are lost.

I don’t know where we are,” he admits, squinting through the blackness.

Will we get home?” Beth asks.

Somehow. I’ll get us there somehow.

She’s quiet for a minute, then she looks at him. “At least we have each other,” she says.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Father (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Mother
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:
30. October: Come Home, Little Girl Quotes

I discover that [my mother] is not the cold-hearted, mayhem-loving monster I’d imagined, but a deeply unhappy and lonely woman who somehow got caught up with a violent con man, an event that fills her with shame. […] After Beth had been sent away, he’d almost beaten my mother to death—and only then, finally, had she fled, with fifty-seven cents in her hand.

I realize I need to learn forgiveness and compassion. Little by little, season after season, my days stop seeming so dark and my nights so scary.

I tell Laura how much better I feel, that my depression is lifting; I can even write again. I tell her that it may be the hardest thing she ever does in her life, but that if she can face it, she can do anything. She relents as she listens, and one day she too picks up the phone.

Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:
31. November: The Girlfriend Quotes

[I] make out my reflection far too well, hauntingly blue and close. I cringe at the expression on my face.

Failure, it reads, and terror. The way my mother used to look when she trudged into the house after one of her dates. The way I used to feel when love withdrew. […] There is self-pity, too.

That old darkness rises within me. Don’t think about this, it says. Keep telling the world, No, I can’t, I’m sorry. Keep shutting the door.

But I do think about it. Beth is in stitches along with her friend right in front of me, and I realize with a jolt that for all her failures and terrors, I have never seen self-pity on her face. Not even a trace. Not once.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Rachel and Beth’s Mother, Beth , Melanie
Page Number: 289-290
Explanation and Analysis:
34. December: Finding the Twin Quotes

I lean against my wall, moved and chastened. For fifteen minutes I watch the flurries turn to serious snow outside my window and listen to her, and think how hard this apology must be for her—and how hard all this is for me. I had always told myself that facing my feelings about my mother was the hardest thing I would ever have to do, but now, standing here after telling my sister that I hate her, and hating myself for hurting her so, I realize that being a good sister to Beth might be even more difficult. No one can be a good sister all the time. I can only try my best. Just because I am not a saint does not mean that I am a demon.

Related Characters: Rachel Simon (speaker), Beth , Rachel and Beth’s Mother
Related Symbols: Letters and Cards
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Riding the Bus with My Sister LitChart as a printable PDF.
Riding the Bus with My Sister PDF

Rachel and Beth’s Mother Character Timeline in Riding the Bus with My Sister

The timeline below shows where the character Rachel and Beth’s Mother appears in Riding the Bus with My Sister. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
2. January: The Time of Snows and Sorrow
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Rachel flashes back to Beth’s infancy. When Beth is two months old, their mother tells the neighbor, Mrs. Stein, that she’s worried. The doctors squeezed Beth’s head with forceps... (full context)
5. February: Fighting
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
The book again flashes back to Rachel and Beth’s childhoods. At Halloween, their mother has carefully made costumes for all four of her children, but five-year-old Beth refuses to... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...has to go to the hospital. One day, as a baby, Beth suddenly stops breathing. Her mother , who is chronically depressed, panics—she’s unsure what to do. She ultimately calls the doctor... (full context)
8. March: Into Out There
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...Jersey to their new house in Pennsylvania. Just after they moved there, their father left their mother , and now they visit their grandma every weekend. They love visiting, but Rachel can... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...turn to hum, she only gives her siblings two notes: “DUH duh.” (It’s “Hey Jude.”) Their mother turns on the radio, and Ringo, their new dog, barks along to it while the... (full context)
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Rachel’s mom and dad both tell their kids that they’ll need to help Beth out and care... (full context)
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When their mother goes out on a date, the kids ask why she won’t stay home with them... (full context)
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One night, while watching television on her mother ’s bed, Rachel notices her mother surreptitiously running her hand across her face. On another... (full context)
11. April: The End of Play
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Love and Family Theme Icon
...Rachel with water pistols. Everyone on the bus laughs at her. That night, Rachel tells her mother , crying, and asks her to tell Beth to stop. But her mother refuses—she says... (full context)
14. May: The Pursuit of Happiness
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...to put on the jukebox. Now that they’re older, they’re spending much less time together—and their mother is busy dating and working. They see their father every few months, and Rachel yearns... (full context)
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...constantly feared that he’d break up with her—and he did. She’s afraid of turning into her mother . (full context)
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In January, Rachel’s mother tells the children that a new man has asked her out—but he’s a hard-drinking ex-convict,... (full context)
17. June: Goodbye
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Rachel flashes back to the past: shortly after Rachel and Beth’s mother starts dating the ex-con, he makes the children move out. Max and Rachel carry a... (full context)
20. July: Gone
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When Rachel and Beth are teenagers, their mom marries her ex-con boyfriend. They go on their honeymoon and leave Beth and Ringo at... (full context)
24. August: Inside the Tears
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
...she was actually in Las Vegas. Rachel and Beth’s new stepfather was drinking nonstop, beating their mom , and forcing her and Beth to move from hotel to hotel. He’s convinced that... (full context)
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...Max, and Laura all move in with their father. They try to figure out why their mother has “gone off the deep end,” and they suspect that she is actually enjoying her... (full context)
27. September: Releasing the Rebel
Disability, Access, and Self-Determination Theme Icon
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Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
While her siblings are still angry at their mother , Beth doesn’t seem to care anymore. She goes on with her life, plays with... (full context)
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Other times in the car, Beth tells her dad about her time with her mother and stepfather in Las Vegas. But she never talks about the other “bewildering turn of... (full context)
30. October: Come Home, Little Girl
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...and tells the story of her family. The therapist tells her that she should contact her mother if she wants to improve. She feels like she can’t, but the therapist says that... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...paralegal. She feels depressed, creatively stunted, and paralyzed with fear. She also keeps thinking about her mother , remembering how she played games with the kids, taught them to write, and kissed... (full context)
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Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
During the following year, Rachel and her mother start to meet. Rachel learns that her mother is lonely and full of shame about... (full context)
32. November: The Eighteenth Hole
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Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Rachel and Beth’s mother marries a kind, generous factory worker, who helps her work through her fears about Beth.... (full context)
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Community vs. Individualism Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...about anything else or takes an interest in her family members’ lives. She stops seeing her mom and dad, and Rachel feels her critical “dark voice” latching onto all of Beth’s failures... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Growth, Change, and Morality Theme Icon
...Max visits Beth every month with his family, while Laura visits once a year, and Beth’s mother even less. Their relationships are all awkward and full of conflict. Beth and her dad... (full context)