The Big Yellow School Bus: it's the icon of education in the USA. It's the object of dreams for my three-year-old niece, who so longs to jump on. It's the bane of travel to my 15-year-old son. It's one of the dogs' highlights, who hope to see the kids. It's the embodiment of time pressure to my 10-year-old daughter, as the bus insists she bow to the clock's unrelenting demands.
For 12 years (how could it possibly be twelve years?), our days have been structured around the bus. When only one rode, and the other was in preschool, meeting the bus became a special time for the littler one's observations. "See that rock, Mom?" he'd ask as he grabbed yet another one and stuffed into already overflowing pockets. "That one is cool!"
At the end of the day, I hurried to meet them, relishing their stories. "And today, Mom," they would tell me breathlessly, "we got to meet with our big buddies, and they helped us with our projects!"
When we brought our daughter into our lives, we structured her day around her brothers' need to meet the bus, changing her from midnight-owl-sleep times to early-bird wake-ups.
We've stood at the bottom of our driveway in sun, snow and sleet; we have walked, we have run, we have driven, we have sledded. In general, though, we've agreed walking was best, and have trudged up and down our hill as a normal part of our lives.
We've learned that buses can be late because it's too cold to start, or because they got stuck in snow. We've figured out how to adapt to a mud season that took over our dirt road for six weeks.
Almost annually, I took pictures of them boarding in September, marking time immortal as their faces changed, even as the bus (and the driver and me), did not.
At first, we walked down with two dogs who watched them come into the world. Then, the same dogs stayed at the top of the hill, and watched us walk down. Suddenly one autumn, we were leaving one lame dog at the top, while holding a leash for the bouncing puppy who couldn't understand why this yellow bus would take away her playmates. Just as this puppy grew, our faithful shadow at the top of the hill left us, too, leaving only ghostly memories we'd see in our minds as we passed her spot with yet another puppy tumbling beside us.
The bus has even been a source of pride and fear. The youngest was running — yet again — to meet the bus who nicely waited for her, her brothers already safely aboard many precious minutes before. She ran with her hands in her sweatshirt pockets, gaining momentum on the descent, careening ever further more forward and out of control. With the whole scene playing out in slow motion, as these sorts of things are apt to do, we all watched as she tripped ... fell ... rolled ... and stayed down, screaming. Blood was already gushing down her forehead and onto her pretty new birthday shirt as I started down the hill towards her. But her brother reached her first, declaring, "She needs to be looked at, mom,"and then calmly turning back to his ride in the yellow school bus.
Through the years, these moments of going down to the bus stop have been a little bit of glue in our day, even though it was a time of togetherness borne by necessity.
Of course, as they get older, their priorities shift, too. It is a stated goal now, for all three of them, to stay in bed as long as possible, with the barest of margins for getting chores done and out the door. The conversations on the walk down had become shorter, more of a quick yell over their shoulders as they ran down to meet the bus.
This year, the big yellow school bus came for only two children here. The junior could drive himself. This works well for after-school activities — and more importantly to him, it means that gets 45 minutes more of sleep.
The inequity of this has rankled the younger brother enormously. He's even stated, "You must drive me to school, too, then, mom, because I can NOT ride the bus." Much to his dismay, no amount of posturing on his part changed his mother's mind ... and he was literally without defense when I reminded him that, indeed, his brother had ridden the bus two entire years more than he would.
But finally, this past Thursday finally brought the "OK to drive siblings day." I stopped the bus that morning and told the driver their new plan. For most of these past 12 years, he's been their driver, and we've literally entrusted him with their lives. He's responded with grace and good humor, and with calm guidance and patience. We're grateful to him beyond words for the job he has done.
Back at the house, my three settled into the car together, rather happily, and set off for their schools.
The dogs and I have our own new routine. We wish them a good day. And we leave for our own morning walks, chasing sunrises at the crests of hills, often seeing the yellow school bus pass on the road below.