I won’t be needing this anymore, I thought to myself with almost the same amount of wistfulness that the grandma in the Dunkin Donuts commercial had while retiring her baking pan when Dunks started making muffins. In my case, it was the 3:30 p.m. alarm I had set on my cell phone that I dismissed. I did not get up from my desk.
My going-on-ten-year-old son had informed me on several different occasions that he did not need me at the bus stop, that he did not care either way if I came to the bus stop, and that I can come to the bus stop if I really want to. He had a similar answer every time I asked him, which was just about daily during the first week of school. (Apparently he could sense my reluctance to let go fully.)
My hesitation wasn’t so much that I was having a he’s-getting-so-big moment, nor was it anxiety about him getting on and off the bus alone, because there are lots of other kids at our stop. I wasn’t worried about him walking to or from the stop: even though the bus stop is down the street, we live in an enclosed neighborhood with sidewalks. It didn’t bother me that I can’t see the bus stop from our house, because if I really wanted to, I could stand halfway down the driveway and peek through the trees. Frankly, my concern was more about what other parents would think, given the fact that somewhere between the era when I took the bus to elementary school and 2006 when my kids began taking the bus, it apparently became a requirement for parents to wait at the bus stop with and for their kids.
At our old house, which was on a main road, even though we had door-to-door service, I had become accustomed to waiting. (That we were even offered bus service was amazing to me, though, given the close proximity of our house to the school.) When my older two started taking the bus in kindergarten and 1st
grade, I was so happy and full of joy not to be driving them to and from daycare every day, our bus driver was like my new best friend! I waited day after day, waving to the bus driver and waving to the kids, until my oldest was in middle school and he informed me that it was not at all cool have a parent visible.
He’d come home, we’d catch up, and then he’d do homework and I’d resume working. Sometimes I’d get so wrapped up in something that I’d forget that it was time to meet the elementary school bus. My office was on the 3rd
floor and I would hear the bus come around the corner and the distinctive sound of school bus brakes. I’d bolt from my desk and tear down two flights of stairs, bursting through the front door just as my kids were approaching the front of the bus. But one time I didn’t make it.
The bus driver wouldn’t let my middle son (4th
grade) and my youngest (kindergarten) out because she didn’t see me. My boys had to ride through the entire bus route (since we were the first stop) and I had to go pick them up at school (I knew it wouldn’t go over well if I suggested they walk home). The office called me to inform me of this, even though there was really no need. I got enough calls and texts from other kids’ parents along the route. “Is everything okay?” “Did you know your kids didn’t get off the bus?” I imagine the outreach was well-meaning, but I felt ashamed nonetheless. Thankfully my middle son, who for every year up until then had experienced being the last stop on the bus instead of the first, since the route had been reversed just that year, was there to reassure my youngest. And they knew I was home; they had seen my car in the driveway.
Because of this experience, I wrote our current bus driver a note to let her know that it was okay to let my 4th grader off the bus if even if neither of his siblings nor I are there to meet him. I am aware that every situation is different (number of kids at bus stop, busyness of the road, age and maturity of kids, etc.) and this is what works for us. Our bus driver and I exchanged thumbs ups after my son handed her the note. Every morning and afternoon, I listen for the distinctive sound of school bus brakes and know that my son is on his way. I still care what people think, but not as much as I care how my son feels about his independence and my confidence in him.