December 1, 2003

I’ll Get You My Pretty Yellow School Bus

The big day had come. My wife and I had been discussing this for weeks. We’d tried it once before but quickly retrenched. But it was time: time once again to let the girls take the bus home from school all by themselves.

Two years ago, on the first day of kindergarten, we proudly stood by our first child as we waited for the school bus to arrive for her pickup. It stopped right in front of our house. I took video as we bid a fond adieu. In the afternoon we took our places as we waited for the bus to come around the corner for its triumphant return. We were both relieved to see it stop right in front of us. We waited but no one got out. We waited.

Finally, and with our collective breath held, we told the driver we were expecting to see our child. We called her name as I walked on the bus. There was a brief moment when I could see the headlines: Little Girl Lost on the Way Home From School. But I finally spotted her, way in the back, talking with friends.

It was an auspicious beginning which abruptly ended the next week when the bus driver, a substitute that day, failed to deliver our “baby” to her mother’s waiting arms.

Now, with both girls in school and we decided today would be a good day to make our second attempt. I pushed a recent news story of a 4 year old being put on the wrong school bus to the back of my mind. Time is always the most precious of parental commodities and having them ride the bus home each day would give my wife a good 45 extra minutes to do her own work. The girls were stoked. And we felt they were old enough to make this trip.

With both of us home today, my wife and I had mapped out the entire procedure. Each of us had our instructions. We let the school know we were changing the status of our girls from “Parental Pick Up” to “The Red Bus.” At midday I got a call from the school clarifying where we wanted our girls dropped off. It seemed they had everything under control and both of us were reassured.

I waved as the driver pulled up. But he kept

My wife went to school at the end of the day to make sure both girls where shuttled to the right bus. She called me just as it was pulling away from the school. I anticipated the traffic and arrived at the stop a minute before its arrival. I waved as the driver pulled up. But he kept going. “WAIT!” I yelled. Wait. I started running down the street, hoping my the girls wouldn’t have to disembark at the next stop without me. I could catch them if I really sprinted.

As I ran I watched as the bus kept going, going past the next stop. I was just about ready to turn around to get my car when my neighbor, Peter, drove by. Running down the street, yelling and waving my arms, he got the message. He stopped and I jumped in. “After that bus!” I creaked (in between short staccato gulps of air). It was a Clint Eastwood moment.

The bus finally pulled into a parking lot to cut through to the main street. There was a car between us oblivious to our chase. The closer we got the more Peter honked. But the driver couldn’t hear us over the din of the traffic. Rush hour temporarily stopped the bus and I ejected from the cockpit. Traffic cleared just enough for it to begin its turn onto the main street.

“YOU’VE GOT MY GIRLS! STOP!” Now all the cars on the main thoroughfare were signaling the driver with their horns. A crazy man running after a school bus yelling—the scenario was so obviously obvious. Or so I hoped. I ran into the crowded street (looking both ways of course).

The flapping of my arms finally caught the driver’s eye. He pulled over, all traffic stopped as he flashed his red lights for me. He reluctantly opened his door. I wondered if I looked to be the true nutcase my actions seemed to indicate. He motioned me in. “You’ve got my children!” I exhaled. “Isn’t this the red bus?” “No,” he said, “this is the yellow bus.”

Despite all of our preplanning no one told me there were two buses that came past our house. I passed flawlessly from the Land of the Indignant to the Land of the Contrite. “Come on in. You’ll never make it back to your house by the time the red bus comes. You must have been running like a stallion down that street. That’s a good half-mile. I saw you back there but I had no children to drop off so I kept going. Take a seat.” The little boy in front of me looked back in tentative wonderment. I managed a smile. Always the parent, I didn’t want to scare him.

When I got back home my wife’s car was in the driveway. I ran into the house and heard the familiar squeals of a 5 and 7 year old. “Where were you?” my wife queried in a toxic mixture of concern and disgust. “When I came home the girls were crossing the street on their own.” The bus driver isn’t supposed to let anyone off unless there’s an adult waiting for them. “I looked all over the house for you wondering how you could have messed this up. I was hoping I wasn’t going to find you sprawled on the floor with a heart attack. I couldn’t imagine where you were.”

Just then Peter arrived at our door. Like the carnie (the Wizard) in the Wizard of Oz, he had come by to make sure everyone was all right after the storm. And just like Dorothy I told my tale for all gathered around me, my adrenaline beginning to descend. I’m glad I’ll be safely ensconced at my work cubicle tomorrow when the red bus makes it reprise return to our part of Oz to drop off our little munchkins.

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