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Tuesday, March 08, 2011  

The Wheels on the Bus (and in my head) Go Round and Round

There's this thing M. Edium does four times a week that I try not to think about too much. He gets on a bus and rides across town by himself.

Obviously, that's a gross distortion of what actually happens. About halfway through the school day, one or more of his Montessori teachers reminds him to put his coat and boots back on to wait for the school bus that will take him to kindergarten. They watch out the front window until the bus pulls up outside. Whichever teacher it is walks him across the tiny parking lot and right up to the door of the exact same bus that picks him up every day. M. Edium says hi to his bus driver by name, and sits down with the other same half-dozen kids who ride that bus ever day and who will be spending the next three hours with him at kindergarten. At the end of a 1.8-mile ride he gets off and meets his kindergarten teacher. He's done this, like, ninety times and he's never actually alone and it's a complete non-issue for him, but I'm not sure I'm over it yet. To the point where we pick him up at the end of the day instead of letting him ride the bus home. I'm just not ready for that. One of his classmates, who lives about seven blocks from us, tried taking the bus home the first week and ended up getting on the wrong one. You can imagine what a nightmare that was for that mom.

It also reminded me of something that happened when I was only a year older than M. Edium is now. My first week of summer school after first grade, I followed some kids I knew onto the bus, but as they got off at places I'd never seen before, I realized that I knew them from class, not the bus. Finally the bus was empty except for me, and I had to confess to the driver that I'd gotten on the wrong one.

She did not take it well. In fact, she screamed foul-mouthed abuse in my lost, frightened, seven-year-old face the entire 1.8 miles back to my neighborhood, and when she dropped me off four blocks from my house her sendoff to me was, and this is an exact quote which I am not making up and can still remember verbatim 34 years later, "If you ever do this again I'll beat the shit out of you." Dead serious.

So obviously my parents complained, and obviously the bus driver got in some kind of trouble, but even so. These after-the-fact remedies weren't much help to me when I was (it seemed) far from home and at the mercy of an unstable adult stranger with a large vehicle and no witnesses. That traumatic experience at a tender age left me with a lifelong fear of authority, making mistakes, confrontation, buses, beatings, and shit.

Obviously it was a different era. Get in a time machine and go back to that day, and you're three-fourths of the way to Mad Men, two-thirds of the way to Happy Days before it got lame. It would never happen today. A bus driver who pulled that in 2011 would be fired, blacklisted, imprisoned, and launched into the sun. And anyway, the one who did it to me is probably good and dead now. Someone that unhealthy-looking and rage-addled isn't likely to have outlived Kurt Cobain.

But you know what? I'm fine with picking up M. Edium at school. I don't know what I'd do if the bus came and he didn't step off it. I'm in no hurry to find out.

Besides, this way all the foul-mouthed abuse he gets on his way home comes from me.

posted by M. Giant 10:43 PM 3 comments

3 Comments:

When I was 6 or 7 I used to take the bus to daycamp. It dropped off early one day (or Mom was late to meet it, and you can imagine what position my mother takes on that), but the bus just left me standing alone on the side of the road in a neighborhood not my own. I ended up getting a paper delivery boy to sit with me on the sidewalk while I waited. I can clearly remember telling him he had to help me because he was "bigger" and he might have been about 10. He waited, Mom showed up, and no real harm done but I simply refused to take the bus on my own after that and Mom spent the summer driving me all the way to daycamp. Now, if I meet the bus on my sister's behalf, I practically have to sign an affadavit in order to walk my niece and nephew home.

By Anonymous Christine, at March 9, 2011 at 11:07 AM  

The first time I rode the bus home from kindergarten (so, 1977?)I got to chatting with another little girl, and we both rode right past our stops...to the end of the route, where the bus driver booted us. Yes, let us off in a strange neighborhood, two five-year-olds! (Again, like your story, something I cannot IMAGINE happening in this day and age without serious consequences). The boy whose stop it was let us tag along with him to his house, and his mother drove us both home.

I never saw that other little girl again--she was not on the bus the next day.

By Blogger AngieNCSC, at March 9, 2011 at 3:39 PM  

My story is sort of the flip-side of all of yours. I grew up an only child in Washington D.C. and 2 days per week I had to take the CITY BUS by myself all the way from Dupont Circle down to the Smithsonian where my mother worked.
And it was no big deal. I don't ever remember anyone even batting an eye at the fact that this 6 - 8 yr old was by herself on a crowded bus with random strangers. But that was the mid-70s for sure; things felt safer back then. At least to me.

I can't imagine this scenario happening at all in 2011. You're understandably concerned about your child getting on a sanctioned school bus. Can you fathom M.edium getting on your local Metro bus?

The more I think about it, what the heck was my mom thinking?!

By Blogger DuchessKitty, at March 14, 2011 at 3:23 PM  

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