Joni Mitchell may have been originally inspired to lament over environmental loss in her 1970 hit, “Big Yellow Taxi” but by the end of the song she turns away from the paved over wilderness and sees what is missing in her personal life as well. That same recognition hit me hard this week as I watched all three of my kids head off to school. For the first time in over 11 years, I have a chunk of time between the coming and going of the big yellow school bus that I can devote to me.
Instead of only happiness and freedom, the big yellow school bus has also brought a bit of angst to this week, if you have to know the truth.
First off, I have three school bus runs in my day. Littlest comes home before lunch, Middlest gets home a bit after three and Biggest doesn’t come home until after 4. At least, the after 4 part is the theory we are embracing. Because so far it hasn’t happened.
Before I tell that sad little tale, I want you to think about middle school. Or, perhaps you went to a junior high school. Perhaps I should say, think about what it was like to leave your first school–the only one you’ve ever known–and head off on the big yellow school bus to a bigger building filled with a bigger mob of much bigger kids. How was that? Pretty much stunk, didn’t it?
So Biggest is really not very big. He may be 11 and quite bright, but he is a small 11 year old. As in I’m pretty sure he’ll be heading off to Prom still sitting in a booster seat. We had a party to celebrate when he broke 60 pounds. Yes, that party was this summer. At the bus stop, a pulsing mob of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders huddled around a street corner, you can tell which one is my son. Yes, he is the one just slightly bigger than his backpack filled to the brim with 6 classes worth of books.
Remember being picked on in middle school? Remember trying to fit in and rustle up some semblance of coolness even though it just wasn’t happening? Now imagine you are Biggest. The littlest middle schooler at the bus stop. Biggest comes up to boob-height on all the girls but knows he shouldn’t look there, but to look them in the eye is both terrifying and awkward what with that freaking heavy backpack. So navel gazing it is. Yes, the whole first week of middle school has been a bit awkward due to the bus stop.
On the first day of school, all the parents gathered at the bus stop, sweating due to the heat and the worry that their sweet baby would not get off the bus. And when the big yellow school bus pulled away, I was sweating due to the 99 degree sun and the fact that my Biggest, only 11 years post-baby, did not get off the bus. All those girls whose breasts are higher than my child’s head? Cheerfully screeched to me over and over like a murder of crows that Biggest didn’t get on the bus. I could hear the derision in their voices. They’ve known him for years. Someday they’ll appreciate his braininess, but right now they only have eyes for the boys playing sports instead of video games. To say I struggled to not go full-on mama-bear with those screechy little…girls…is a bit of an understatement.
When I found him, a bit tear-stained, he poured out the story.
He’d approached one bus, driven by “Sarah” the sweet lady who has been his bus driver for years. They enquired over each other’s days and such things and then she offered to call the transportation office to confirm which bus he should get on. In this era of cellular communication, she palmed her CB mike and called in. However, somewhere between one crackle and the next, the street names (we are so cool and hip as to have streets named for the alphabet) became garbled and she told him the wrong bus number. So for 45 minutes he rode about town wondering why he didn’t recognize any of the kids or the streets or anything.
After he became the sole bus rider, the driver inquired as to why the heck my now slightly panicked son was still on the bus. Of course, due to a potential hearing aid malfunction, the driver never quite made out what my son was saying and eventually grumbled, “fine! I’ll just take you all the way back to the school.”
It took a few tissues and some hugs but we managed to get over the embarrasing pall cast upon an otherwise awesome first day of school.
Fast forward to day two. As the big yellow school bus pulls up, I yell at Biggest, “Okay, I’ll pick you up here this afternoon!”
And so that afternoon I put a second coating of deodorant on and walked down to the bus stop, where I waited with all the other sweating parents for their kids to get off the big yellow school bus. This time the girls screeched that Biggest just stood in the parking lot and didn’t even try to get on a school bus. There was much giggling again as to just why Biggest couldn’t manage to get himself on the bus. “I mean, really!”
I may have growled a bit. And then off I drove to the middle school where I collected my slightly less teary but no less mortified Biggest. “Mom, did you get my voicemail?” he queried from the back seat as we drove home.
“Yep, I did.”
“Um, okay. Thanks for picking me up.”
That voicemail? The one tear-filled and a little hard to hear? It goes like this:
“Um, Mom. I thought you said you were going to pick me up today. Apparently I was wrong. Can you?”
Yes my sweet Biggest. You can always call me. And I will always come pick you up. Always.
And today, when that big yellow school bus came and took my baby away, I crossed my fingers that it would bring him back again. Smiling.