By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
For three years, I’ve jumped up from my home office desk at 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, scooped up my youngest child, got in the minivan and headed toward the elementary school. Once there, I sat in a long line-up of cars that typically starts forming around 2:15 p.m. Often I’d take a book or work with me to pass the time while waiting for the final bell to ring and my boys to come racing out. Most days, I spent the time entertaining Kate, who was just a baby when I first started making that after-school trek.
I assumed picking my boys up at school was an ideal situation and that they appreciated me being there waiting on them, eager to hear about the day’s events. I was wrong. This year, on the first day of school, my first-grade son climbed into the van at 3 p.m. and said with bitterness and longing, “I wish we could ride the bus like other kids do. Mom, why don’t we ever get to ride the bus?”
“You don’t ride the bus because your mother comes to school and picks you up. Don’t you like being picked up in an air-conditioned van and taken home by your own mom?” I said, shocked that he didn’t seem to appreciate my years of chauffeur servitude.
“I just want to ride the bus,” he said, and his third-grade brother agreed. The bus was cool.
I threw up my hands in release. “Fine. You can ride the bus home tomorrow,” I said, and they both celebrated like 16-year-olds with a new license to drive. For Pete’s sake, am I the only one who sees the irony of choosing to ride home on a crowded bus, making various stops along the way, versus being driven home by the very woman who gave birth to you?
I wrote a note to their teachers saying that henceforth the boys would be riding the super-cool bus, noting the bus number they’d need to be on and our street address. That first day, I did some serious wrestling with my own maternal control issues. What if they got on the wrong bus and ended up like two little lost puppies on a country road? What if the proverbial school bully pummeled them at the back of the bus? But I knew that, if I let myself, I could “what if” various disaster scenarios all day, and there was no point. I waited at the bus stop, peering down the street for a glimpse of the yellow behemoth coming my way.
Right on time, it rounded the corner and rolled to an easy stop in front of me. The boys popped up from their seats and bounded down the steps calling “Hi Mom! We rode the bus!” My oldest boy turned and waved at the bus driver saying, “See you tomorrow, Ms. Virginia!” She smiled and waved goodbye as the doors closed.
And that was it. No disaster. No drama. The boys couldn’t wait to do it again the next day.
It’s now been more than a week of successful bus trips, and I have to admit they were right all along. The boys riding the bus home means I’ve got an extra 30 minutes in my day. There’s no more sitting in an idling car waiting for a bell to ring. I take a 3-minute walk down the street with 3-year-old Kate, and we wait for her brothers to show up.
I asked the boys today during our walk home why the bus is so great. Adam said he likes to read while the bus chugs through its various stops. And Jack said he likes to talk to his friends. But I think the reasons have more to do with the adventure of new experiences and the freedom to make your own way through the world. Mobility and independence make for a pretty exciting package.
For me, it’s good practice because it’s one more step in a long process of letting them go and letting them grow.