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The School Bus Blues

September 2, 2009

If you’re like me, you live your life hoping to fulfill some lofty personal goals – write a good novel (check), publish a good novel (…?) run a marathon (in training), own a house (check), have a family (check),  etc… In those rare, quiet moments in my life, I reflect on these goals and rework them, refit them, revise them to fit my real life. Some have been accomplished, some are in the process of being accomplished and some may never be accomplished no matter how much I try or dream or wish or work at them. That’s just life. Things work out and things don’t work out. A week away from 35, I realize I am on a pretty damn good path in life. Not much more I could ask for. Like the ants in our family’s new ant farm, I have carved a unique path that works for me – it would not work for everyone else and it doesn’t get me everywhere I’d like to go on the farm but it gets me down the road I’ve chosen to follow.

Then mornings like today come along snapping your head in a new direction. I was dropping our daughter off at the school bus for her 2nd day of kindergarten, her first time ever on a school bus. She has been FILLED with excitement the past few days at the idea of taking the bus. It literally was bursting out of her. But when she so quickly found herself sitting alone, not able to figure out the seat belt, she fell apart. Her little hand waved to me out the window, asking me to come inside, in front of big teary, red eyes. I hopped up on the bus and helped her with her buckle, gave her a hug and let the bus go on its way. She was waving goodbye to me out the window, like you expect. I didn’t go right to work – half an hour later I met the bus at school where she de-bussed. I was planning on hanging back and just making sure she got inside OK, but when I saw her emerge, head down, with still more tears, I couldn’t let her go alone. She told me “everyone was making fun of me, teasing me.” Should couldn’t give me specifics, but she was so hurt inside. She said she doesn’t want to ride the bus again. This is a heartbreaking moment. To witness the excitement of the past few days, the thrill of being a “big girl” riding the bus alone to school, so easily replaced by a sad reality of kids teasing her, for whatever reasons I don’t know, and no desire to ride the bus again. The change happened so quickly, one bus ride to school.

Driving to work, I realized my life is already well on its path. I’m comfortable where I am. But like a snap of the fingers, my personal goals just became the background. My real job is not to focus on my own goals right now, but instead ensure my children’s exciting and flashy new goals and dreams are alive and remain possibilities: Keep the harsher realities of life as I know them at bay long enough for these kids to dream big dreams and plant them deep inside of themselves like the little gardens of wonder they are. Make sure uprooting the dreams and exciting adventures (like bus rides to school) cannot be pulled up and out so easily by reality. Truth is, life isn’t fair, kids tease kids, and the exciting school bus can become a truly scary place for a quiet 5 year old, who has never really been “teased” by older kids she doesn’t even know, for reasons she does not understand.

I can deal with her being afraid of a new place like a new school, I’m prepared for that, but I guess I didn’t expect the teasing part. We live in a small town, a close-knit community and I’d taken for granted the issues on the bus would not be other kids picking on her. How naïve I was…and that part kills me. Everything I tried to tell her about taking the bus, all the little questions that might come up, weren’t enough – never did I think about other kids being mean to her. And that’s on me.

I know she will be fine and figure it all out soon enough. She’ll get comfortable, then she’ll get confidence, and she’ll make lots of friends. She’s probably laughing in the cafeteria right now. And yes, it’s probably good for her to go through these transitions and learn and grow from them. Kids have been doing this forever and coming out alright. And so have parents. I just never thought it would be this hard.

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