The Big, Yellow School Bus: A Cautionary Tale

  • Fact: Approximately 480,000 school buses transport children to and from school (and activities, field trips, etc.) daily.
  • Fact: 25 million children — over half of America’s school children — ride a school bus daily.
  • Fact: An average of 6 school children are fatally injured inside school buses annually.
  • Fact: About 16 children are fatally injured in the loading and unloading zone around school buses annually.
  • Fact: The average heart rate of a woman after witnessing the near striking of her child by a school bus is 890,349,834,983,948,938,498.

Okay, so I made up that last one.

This is how the story goes:

Yesterday morning Mia ran out the front door, down our driveway and across the street to wait for the school bus, just like every morning. I stood in the doorway to watch, just like every morning. As the bus approached, I waved and told Mia I love her,

           just. like. every. morning.

Yesterday was warm, springlike and misty. The bus driver had his window open. He pulled up to our stop and heard me telling Mia I love her. No, he didn’t hear that, but he heard me say something.

“What?” he yelled.
“Oh, nothing,” I yelled back. “I was just telling her goodbye.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, and started to pull away.

Mia had just crossed the street. There was no way she could have been on the bus at that point, but I couldn’t see her as that mammoth yellow vehicle was blocking my view. A million thoughts ran through my head as I yelled for him to stop. Where was she? Surely she’s not trying to get his attention, to go after it. Surely she knows to back up onto the sidewalk and stay put.

How could he not see her? She was wearing a bright green raincoat and sparkly shoes. Not to mention she’s made of rainbows and moonbeams and stardust. The girl practically glows. HOW COULD HE NOT SEE HER?

He heard me screaming and stopped. “I’m so sorry!” he yelled, shaking his head. “I didn’t see her.” Apparently, what he got from our brief exchange was that Mia wasn’t going to be on the bus this particular morning.

Under the belly of the bus, Mia’s legs, clad in faded jeans and those sparkly shoes, ran the length of the school bus to climb aboard. The doors hissed shut. I saw her silhouette through the windows as the bus driver pulled away once again. It was only after the bus had gone that the reality of what just happened, what could have happened, suckerpunched me in the gut.

Last night Mia and I had a heart-to-heart at bedtime. We went over all the safety precautions of crossing the street and getting on and off the bus and riding the bus. She told me that she had, in fact, tried to get the driver’s attention as she skipped alongside the bus. I explained why this wasn’t a good idea and what to do instead.

She yawned and asked, “You just want me to stand there and yell, Hey! You forgot about me?”

“Yes, I do,” I said. “Well, I want you to stay put on the sidewalk until the bus comes to a complete stop and then you can get on. But if Mr. Carl doesn’t see you and starts to drive away, then yes, I want you to stay where you are. The yelling is optional.”

“Mommy?”
“Hmm?”

But there was no more. She had already closed her eyes, so I tiptoed out of her room and closed the door, trailing bits of moonbeam and stardust behind me.

 

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5

Dear Mia,
Here we are, six months into 5 and part of me is still clinging to 4. While you jumped happily to 5 I quietly stole glances at a baby you in my rear view mirror.

I know why you left 4 behind without so much as a glance over your shoulder. I get it. 4 brought not one but two baby brothers. Two baby brothers who cried at all hours of the night, waking you up at midnight, 3 a.m., 6 a.m. Two baby brothers whose round eyes and tiny fingers tempted visitors away from you. Two baby brothers who needed me to hold them, feed them, change them, walk with them. And there were never enough arms. There was never enough sleep. There was never enough me. 4 was a blur. 4 is the year I wish I could do over. Somehow I would make more time. But I didn’t, and I can’t, and now I’m left with vague memories and few pictures.
The one defining memory of your year of 4 was when we took you to New York for the first time last fall, leaving your grandmothers to split duty between the boys. The joy in your smile, your step, the way you nuzzled the back of my hand with your nose, filled me to overflowing but also made it painfully clear how much we had not been with you, not devoted ourselves to you. That trip was a blessing, the way we were able to pause life as it had become, and just be. This is the reason I started this blog, really. To capture you and your brothers in the moment, to be present, to remember.
5 has brought attitude, independence, a certain lilt to your voice slanting surely to 16. You check the tags of your clothing now to be sure they say 5, though XS is acceptable. 6 is better, 4 suddenly too small. You choose your own outfits and won’t be edited so I don’t try (mostly). You talk about boyfriends and love. You tell me a boy in your class is your boyfriend and I ask what that means. “It means we play together and have fun.” And this is true so we don’t say anymore about it as you toss the stone and skip to 5 on our hopscotch.
When you were 3 you asked when you could ride a school bus. “When you’re five,” I said. And then I blinked and you were climbing the steps of the bus, waving at me from your seat. The one without a seat belt. The one whose driver I did not know. This was the first of letting go. The first of trusting the world and fate to hold you and carry you home to me.
Every day you take one more step away from 4, one more closer to 6, and I continue to play catch-up. But tonight you will still ask for an “appletizer” before dinner. Spanish-speaking people will still be from Spanishland. And you will still ask if five minutes is a short time or a long time (and won’t accept my answer of “It depends”). Tonight I will lay in bed with you and sing Winter Wonderland as I have every night for the past five and a half years, embracing our version that has morphed through the years into a Katy Perry Christmas mix.
xo,
Mommy