Every weekday morning I pause to look across the street as the School Bus comes to pick up my young neighbor, Ilya, who is in the first grade this year. His Dad, Michael, stands with him waiting until he is safely ensconced on the bus; the bus goes down our dead end street, turns around, and comes back by our houses on its way to deliver the precious cargo to school. Michael waits, waves as it goes by, and then retreats into his home. I watch in silent complicity from my window. I have done this. In fact, I did it for 8 years, when Caroline, my daughter, was attending the Sanibel School.
I remember the first trip we made to Sanibel, while Caroline was in Kindergarten. As we drove through neighborhoods on the Island in the morning, we would see the groups of parents and kids waiting at the appointed bus stop locations. I recall that it impressed me to see how happy they all were, standing there in the warm Florida mornings, chatting and smiling. It seemed ideal, compared to the bundled, freezing folks waiting in Maine.
When I moved to Sanibel in 2000, I became one of those cheerful Moms at the Bus Stop every morning. So, for the succeeding 8 years, every morning, there we were; making sure our kids got on the bus and reminding them of the day’s requirements. The bus stop morning ritual introduced me to new friends and established a bond with other parents. You might be asked to pick up and deliver someone’s child at the end of the day, or maybe bring them to your house for a few hours. We all helped each other out: it takes a village.
It was a good way to start the day. After I left the Bus Stop, I would go to the office and spend my day working selling Real Estate. When school got out in the afternoon, I was back at the Bus Stop, waiting. The reward for the wait is picking up your child, and hearing all the events of their day. Book fairs. Lunch trades. Unfair teachers. Crushes on little red-haired boys. Great quiz scores. Cheerleading routines. Volleyball games. Club activities. So much great stuff hot off the press!
Time passes so very quickly when children are growing. Almost overnight they are grown up and you are not required to drop them off or pick them up; and they certainly don’t want to be seen talking to you or dealing with you while they are in junior high or high school. They are now autonomous beings (or so they think), and you no longer wait at the bus stop.
I miss those days. There was a clarity of purpose and a sense of strong community with the other parents. We seemed to all be in this together, and there were parameters guiding our daily activities. Empty nesters lose all that. We lose the comfort of the rituals.
Rituals are important. Showing up every day and being counted on teaches your kids what it takes to honor a commitment, and what it means to be reliable. Perhaps my neighbor doesn’t know it yet, but he is teaching his son something important while he shivers waiting for the bus with him. This is part of the small window of opportunity we have, as parents, to model behavior for our children. One day, soon enough, Michael will join the rest of us who are retired from Bus Stop duty.
I hope when my daughter thinks of the School Bus, she remembers me waiting. I do. Perhaps that is why I stop each morning when I hear the bus, and look across the way.